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The Haves and the Have Nots

If there are 8,000 Jews in Perth, and the collective capacity of the Synagogues can accomodate approximately 3,000 people, and using the flawed assumption that during Kol Nidre, and possibly for the Rosh Hashana day one mid morning rush, that all our Shules were full, it still means that 5,000 Jewish people did not attend a Synagogue Service during the Yomim Noraiim.

Some have their reasons.  This year, given that Yom Kippur was on Shabbat, the need to work was not one of them.

I was talking today to a person who adamantly affirmed that they had not stepped foot into a Synagogue, nor had they any intention of doing so.  When I probed deeper, I suspected some form of insecurity.  Perhaps the person could not follow the service, or felt uncomfortable with religious expression.  Not so.  It is not G-d that this person has a problem with.  Their disdain was for the people around them.  “I can’t stand the fashion show, the one-upmanship, the judgemental stares, and the flaunting of wealth.”

I don’t defend the person’s viewpoint, but whether this is perception or reality, it doesn’t matter.  It saddens me that people think this way.  I wonder how many, not only of the 5,000 people who were not in Shule, but of the 3,000 people who were in shule, also feel intimidated in anyway – by the culture, attitudes, and general environment around them?

One of the features of the Synagogue service is that of equality.  Whether you stand as learned or uneducated, wealthy or poor, with yichus or without – we all stand on equal terms in front of our creator, and we all petition on behalf of one another.  There are no intermediateries, and aside from some functional or technical roles, we hold uniform responsibility as a kehillah. 

What struck me as most concerning was the notion that Synagogues pay homage to the wealthy.  The bare reality is that no Shule would exist without its donors and benefactors, and that it is entirely appropirate to extend honour and recognition to those who sustain the very existence of the institution.  On the other hand, focussing the accordance of honours to those who can afford to be generous, to the exclusion of those who cannot, does signify a status symbol and reliance.

Simcha is a poor man.  Yet he managed to buy fresh fish for YomTov, pay Kapparot for Yom Kippur, to donate to the Shule, to buy his Arba Minim.  It was a strain for him to buy six Challot for each Chag at a cost of $30, to pay $15 to the Mikveh, and to respond to the JNF appeal.  All up the Yom Tovim cost him more than $500, which is more money than he has the ability to save in a whole year.

Zissel is materially well provided for.  For YomTov he bought a new Armani suit.  He drove his Limosine to Shule, with his grandfathers Tallis beside him as he does three times every year.  He gave $5,000 when he got called up for Shlishi, which was about a third of what he earnt in bank interest alone on that day.  He is proud that his family has contributed to the community for generations.

So who is the better Jew? 

The reality is that the community is made up of all types of people.  Both Simcha and Zissel think that they are richer than the other in their own unique way.  And true to Jewish form, they are both right.  What we have lost focus of is that they are not there to judge one another in a fit of jealousy.  They are there to be judged by Hashem.  Judged we have been, not on what our comparative net worth may be, but each according to our own means, our own level of effort, and our extension of committment towards involving ourselves in the religious activities of our community.

There is a growing polarisation between those who can afford to be comfortably Jewish, and those who struggle to meet the costly endeavors of day to day Jewish living.  There is equally a growing polarisation between those who have a regular Shule routine, and those who are affronted by the very idea of putting a foot into Shule.  In some instances there may be a correlation between the two.

I can only contend that nobody in the Perth Jewish community was denied a place in the Synagogue due to affordability.  Perth, as with every Jewish community has a socio-economic spectrum of wealthy and poverty stricken Jews.  However these are not the Jewish haves, and the Jewish have nots.  The real Jewish haves and have nots are between those who have the capacity to be in Shule and contemplate their personal relationship with G-d (without the slightest contemplative judgemental glance at their neighbour) and those who close out their opportunity to truely embrace Jewish spirituality.   

Maybe the ostentatious environment that my friend fears is a cop out excuse after all?  The underlying message in their claim is that the reason for going to Shule is in fact to be seen – so that the outfit does get noticed, or that the contribution is publically recognised.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  If we go to Shule for the purpose of other peoples approval rating, and not for the purpose of our own self introspection, then we have really missed the point completely.

I’m sure there are many other reasons that people will  provide for avoiding the Synagogue.  I have met plenty of people who stay away from Shule because they are angry with other people, but I have never met a person who  stays away from Shule because they are angry with G-d.  The reason is, because there is no better place than Shule to tell G-d that you are angry if you so desire.  Even that is a permitted spiritual response.  If this is the case then it simply follows that if we are angry with each other.  It further follows that when it is an issue between people and their opinions, then it is very easy to do something about it.  The superme irony is that this is what going to Shule on the Yomim Noraim is all about.

Maybe next Rosh Hashana there will be 5,000 more Jews in Perth who desire to be in Shule on Yom Tov, to be one of the Jewish “haves” instead of one of the Jewish “have nots”.

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