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Clooney’s Bashert, Rabbi Lennon and Chasidic Slumlords

Clooney’s Bashert, Rabbi Lennon and Chasidic Slumlords

George Clooney’s Bashert

I know I’m a year late discussing "Up In The Air", but after finally seeing it last night I found it one of those movies that succeeds in its purpose because, if nothing else, it leaves you thinking and talking about it the next day. George Clooney’s character, Ryan Bingham is a consultant who flies around the country to fire people on behalf of weasely employers and has so little attachment to anything that, when a pilot asks him where he’s from, he looks around the plane and says "I’m from here." Predictably, Clooney’s lifestyle has an expiration date and he meets his match in Alex, another airborne exec, who leads him to finally contemplate putting down roots. Spending time with a lovelorn younger coworker who dreads growing old alone prods Bingham along the road to a committed life. Spoiler alert: Let’s just say there’s no wedding cake in the ending. The overt message of the film is the classic Hollywood romantic-comedy notion that iife is meaningless until you marry someone, but the more subtle one is that the character had to be at the right place and time in his iife, and with (seemingly) the right person to accept commitment, in his case in middle age.

It made me think of the angst-filled world of Jewish singles where, sadly, too many people who find benefits in the single life feel pressured into tying the knot, largely to fit in or to ease the concerns of others. While there are plenty of lonely people longing for their bashert, there are also those who are simply not the marrying type, or not yet the marrying type, and they shouldn’t be treated like there’s something wrong with them. Rushing them to the chuppah is a benefit only to divorce lawyers. The Jewish community should continue helping singles who want to find partners, but at the same time develop more tolerance for people for people who may, or may not, find their match in their own due time.

Imagine: Rabbi Lennon

For some reason I have no memory of what I was doing the night John Lennon, died, although I was a teenager at the time. I do recall people in my Jewish day school the next year wearing black on his yahrzeit. Who knows if the late lamented, peace- and unity-loving Beatle had a disproportionate number of Jewish fans, but it’s clear that he did have an impact across a large segment of the American Jewish community. The 30th anniversary of his death made me wonder if there was a Jewish figure in recent history who had the same stature in the community. Theodor Herzl? The Lubavitcher rebbe? Jerry Seinfeld? So I posed the question "What if Lennon had been a rabbi?" to three actual rabbis, getting mostly tongue-in-cheek answers. " I suppose he wouldn’t have wished for no religion, and maybe (we hope) had fewer sexual partners," said Rabbi Jill Jacobs. My friend Rabbi Arnold Samlan, who works for the Jewish Education Project and blogs as "The Notorious Rav," suggested "Well, he probably would have been criticized by the JCRC for saying the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. And would he have been a Jew-Bu?" Rabbi Bradley Hirschfield of Clal brought it home with this thought: "I would start by taking seriously that he was a rabbi, or if it’s easier to accept, a rebbe. My guess is that for many, his work reflected what many Jews of a certain generation were most proud of in Judaism."

Are Chasidic Slumlords Religious?
We could talk for hours about the Village Voice’s cover story this week about chasidic slumlords, but neither of us has time. Is this using anti-Semitism to sell papers or holding unholy hypocrites accountable? You be the judge. Not to justify anyone’s bad behavior — it’s a sad fact that some supposedly religious Jews think it’s halachically OK to mistreat non-Jews — but I was intrigued by the comments of Isaac Abraham, a tenants activist in the city’s public housing projects, about private properties that are vandalized as quickly as they can be repaired. "The landlord isn’t the one punching holes in the walls," said Abraham. "He doesn’t put graffiti up. He doesn’t rip out the toilets! When the landlord pays the bills, the residents — they should consider their home as their castle and instead they destroy it." That has nothing to do with how much heat or hot water is provided, but when will the Voice make a list of the city’s worst tenants? The best quote in the article goes to sociologist Sam Heilman, no stranger to The Jewish Week’s pages and an expert on the Orthodoxy who said "Let’s be clear, we’re talking about Orthodox Jews, not religious Jews." and the question we need to ask is not "Does their Orthodoxy lead them to being a slumlord," but rather "why doesn’t their Orthodoxy prevent those of them who become slumlords from acting this way?"

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