Racism In The Orthodox Community

Bill McCaulley writes: Dear Mr. Ford:

I would wish to respond to a posting concerning racism among Orthodox Jews. I came upon the post recently I realize my reply is not timely, but I am greatly intrigued by the subject. As an American negro who underwent an Orthodox conversion superintended by a Chabad rabbi in conjunction with the RCA (I underwent a Conservative conversion in the 1970’s during college), I’d wish to share some observations.

I concur that the experience of racist speech and behavior can be disconcerting, but I do not think such phenomena justify the discontinuance of Jewish observance.I don’t underestimate the emotional pain that can result from onas devarim and lashon hara. After all, Rabbi Akiva’s talmidim perished because they were insufficiently solicitous of one another’s dignity and sensibilities. .Additionally, the Midrash states that for the sin of engaging in lashon hara one can forfeit one’s helek in Olam HaBa. If I speak pejoratively of another Jew, my merits are transferred to the subject’s account and the sins of the subject are transferred to my account. Trillions of mitzvot accumulated during a lifetime (Shabbos, Yom Tov, Talmud Torah, tzisis, mezuzah, , tefillin, chesed, tzedka, kashrus observance) can be obliterated in an instant. Moreover, converts are often idealistic, sometimes inordinately so. We forget, as I recently related in another blog, that whilst the Torah is perfect, people are imperfect. Consequently, when we interact or observe Jews who do not conform precisely to the directives of Torah, we are discomfited With maturity and experience, we come to acknowledge the disparity that obtains between theory and reality. We further realize with experience, and learning mussar and hashkafa, that everybody makes mistakes, people are multifaceted (the guy who makes a negative remark about a minority may be the first person to come to the aid of a minority person who is in distress), and as it states in the Gemara in Rosh HaShana: if we overlook other people’s shortcomings, the Aibishter will overlook ours.

My experience is that converts are usually extremely dedicated to Yiddishkeit. I think this derives from the fact that people enjoy and appreciate something for which they have to work far more than if it is given to them. Like a working class college student who has to compete for scholarships, take out loans and wash dishes at the school cafeteria to support himself and pay for his education, the acquisition of his degree will mean more to him than his counterpart who grew up in Beverly Hills or the Five Towns and had everything served to him on a silver platter.

. Many convert for the incorrect reasons. They perceive of religion as a panacea or they have emotional, psychological or social needs that they think Judaism can satisfy. A man or woman who converts to Judaism for the right reason will not relinquish his Torah observance in consequence of some fatuous remark.I don’t question the person who states that he is leaving the fold because of racist experiences. The person did not embrace Judaism for the right reason. If he had his reaction would be: “I’ve worked too hard to become Jewish and it means too much to me. No one is taking it from me”. It is for this reason that I would recommend that conversion candidates undergo a psychological assessment to determine their fitness to become Jewish, just as candidates for military service are evaulated psychologically to determine their fitness to enlist… Such a requirement would obviate a great deal of diasappointment and frustration.

Please be well.
HaShem should vouchsafe you continued success
Lommer deleben Moshiach.
Guten Chodesh and Guten Shabbos.

Yours faithfully,
Bill McCaulley

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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