David-Seth Kirshner
Author of Streams of Shattered Consciousness

Are we there yet?

Our Temple recently hired a new rabbi to join the clergy team. He is young, innovative and enthusiastic, after just graduating from rabbinical school. I cannot tell you which one he attended, but its initials are JTS.

I am excited to have him on board. In my humble estimation, he has all of the critical ingredients to be an amazing pastor and rabbi.

A few weeks ago I took him to the baseball game to spend a little quality time with him and build some social capital. After all, we are going to be working side by side on many issues, some of which are hyper-sensitive. We should know each other a bit better. So, I picked a baseball game where one of our hometown teams, the New York Mets, played his hometown team from childhood, the Cincinnati Reds. My sole purpose in choosing THIS particular game was that our new rabbi is from Cincinnati. What ensued after is pure coincidence.

We arrived with just enough time to spare so we could grab a kosher hot dog. Before our tuchases twirled through the turnstile, we were one of the lucky attendees that made the cut of being within the first 15,000 fans through the doors. What did we get, you ask? Not a bobble-head. Not a cap or a golf towel. Nope. This night, we got a Mets Yarmulke in shiny blue and orange, NY Mets Colors. It even said ‘Mets’ in Hebrew! Jews, Blacks, Latinos and Asians all smiled and put them on their head as they made way to their seats to hear the Star Spangled Banner. For this game, our nation’s anthem was being sung by the children’s choir of the Yeshiva of Flatbush. Yesiree. You heard me right. Yeshiva. However, before ‘O Say Can You See,’ the choir belted out a medley of some of their favorite Jewish songs for the crowd. Flatbush kids were now singing Hinei Mah Tov in the big leagues…….double entendre intended!! The eclectic crowd all sang along.

I was bewildered. I am a rabbi that wanted to catch a baseball game. Instead, I seemed to have purchased tickets to a Jewey festival in Queens. But wait, it gets better. The fifth inning was a four-minute info-mercial on Israel, her technology and innovation and all of the wonderful things she has contributed to the world. The 7th inning stretch was a combination of ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game’ and ‘Haveinu Shalom Aleichem.’

Apparently, I inadvertently took our new rabbi to Israel Night at Citi Field, home of the New York Mets. I will take “irony” for five-hundred, Alex.

I spent my early days growing up on the west coast of Florida, circa late 70’s and early 80’s. We would ship in kosher meat bi-monthly and whisper the word “Jewish” and “kosher” when shopping in the local markets. Now, 30 years later, everyone gets a beanie at the ball game. How far we have come!

On June 3rd of this year, Arvind Manhakali of Queens, New York, a 13-year-old Indian American, won the Scripps spelling bee with the word, knaidel (sp??). Yep. Indian American won a spelling bee with a Yiddish word. Ignore the fact that every cab driver, struggling actor and hobo in Manhattan already knew its meaning even if they never had Passover at my grandmother’s house and had to hear her martyred tale about getting up at 4:30 am just to make the knaidelach (sp?). Do you think Sholem Aleichem, the Yiddish playwright, when on his deathbed in 1916 could ever envision that a spelling bee would be won with a Yiddish word spelled by an Indian American, Hindu? How far we have come!

During the presidential campaign, I was fortunate to have been given the opportunity to have dinner in an intimate environment with Vice President, Joe Biden. I was very nervous. My mother gave me strict instructions; don’t chew gum, stand up if you ask him a question and call him Mr. Vice President when you address him! And, most of all David, be formal! No small talk. He is the VICE PRESIDENT of THE UNITED STATES.

When standing face to face with him, all of those rules that I was chanting in mnemonic all week fell by the wayside.

“Mr. Biden, so glad to meet you ….and congratulations on your daughter’s engagement.”

I could see my mother wagging a finger at me in my minds eye.

“Rabbi Kirshner,” he said, “Thank you so much. And, you know what? Every Irish Catholic father has one dream; for their daughter to marry a Jewish surgeon. My daughter is doing just that!”

We both smiled and took a picture. I sent a copy to my mother.

First things first – Joe Biden has been a champion of Israel for longer than I have been alive. He has met 6 Israeli Prime Ministers and gives me a run for the money on trips to the Holy Land. He is good for the Jews.

While I always champion endogamy, something amazing was happening in 2012 in Bergen County, NJ. Joe Biden was serious when talking about his aspirations for a Jewish surgeon to join his Irish Catholic family. Dead serious.

Could you imagine in 1939 if FDR’s kid publicly married a Jew? Or Nixon? Or Grover Cleveland? Even were it to have happened, it would never take place in the public square and its pictures disseminated in all major periodicals. It would have been a source of shame or embarrassment. Today, it is a badge of pride worn by many, including the Vice President of the United States. Never has there been such a celebrated, high ranking Jewish / non-Jewish wedding since, well…..Chelsea Clinton, America’s royalty married a Jewish boy under a huppah donning a talis.

I am spending my fourth summer in as many years in Israel, with my family. About once every 36 hours or so, I find myself somewhere in this majestic land, perhaps the middle of Emek Refaim Street, over looking the Hula Valley or in an Internet Café and caught in a daze. Millions of people of different colors, accents and backgrounds are creating a Start-up Nation and making micro-mini computer chips smaller than my eye-lash that can somehow power a small continent. Soon after, they are taking the company public and going back to dream up the next new thing. Innovation and creativity and world contributions are all second nature here. Meanwhile, across the pond, Javier is wearing a Yarmulke while cheering for the Mets and Arvind is chowing down on matzah balls at the Second Avenue Deli and Vice President Biden is eating haroset at a seder with his son in law. I can only wonder if Theodore Herzl, Louis Brandeis, or even my Bubbie Leah, would believe where we are and how far we have come.

This week we began the final book of the Torah, Devarim. It is Moses’ swan-song and closes with his death BEFORE he makes it into the land, flowing with milk and honey and micro-processors. Isn’t it interesting that an entire five-series book, all about journeys – banishment from Eden, setting sail on the Ark, Abraham “Moving Out”, Joseph and his brothers being sold and searching and an entire 40 year exodus – concludes without ANY arrival? I doubt it is an accident and I contend it plagues us still, today.

In each of those narratives I can hear a journey where my kids are whining in the back of the car, “are we there yet?” But when we arrive, they know it and we know it. They jump out and run and play, worry free. We run our hands through our hair and question how we didn’t kill them along the way. But, we have arrival and we know what it looks like.

So, I think WE might have arrived. Only thing is, we don’t know it.

About the Author
David-Seth Kirshner is the senior rabbi of Temple Emanu-El, a Conservative synagogue in Closter, New Jersey. He is the past President of the NY Board of Rabbis and the NJ Board of Rabbis and is a Senior Rabbinic Fellow at the Hartman Institute and serves on the Executive Committee of the JFNA. Rabbi Kirshner was appointed to the New Jersey/Israel Commission by Governors Christie and Murphy. Rabbi Kirshner is a National Council member of AIPAC and an adjunct faculty member at the Academy for Jewish Religion, (AJR). He is the author of Streams of Shattered Consciousness, featured in The NY Times Book Review (Feb '24) and has over 11,000 copies in circulation in its first three months since publication. He has spoken on his book and topics connected to Judaism and Zionism across the world.