Peter Braun
Born in Prague; former Skokie resident

Better Respecting Secular Jews and Ultra-Religious Jews

I need to again return to my having been called a toenail by an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man. I was at a fundraiser and he spoke to the crowd. I thought Chabad always reaches out to the less religious. I did not realize that some religious people seem to truly dislike or hate less religious people. I did have a religious teacher once teach me something beautiful. He mentioned all Jews are part of a flame. The religious are the blue part of the flame, the less religious are part of the yellow flame. However, we should be unified and realize we are part of the same flame.

It seems like not all ultra orthodox feel this way. Many are open and tolerant and accepting of differences, but some are not.  I have even read that Israeli and secular Jews are not considered real Jews and that we don’t count.   Well, let’s talk about secular Jews,  Jews solving problems, contributing to the world, and making the world a better place.

To start, Secular Jews don’t just talk about the importance of saving a life, we actually do it. We put out fires as firemen, we are lifeguards and save drowning victims; we are emergency medical responders;  we prescribe lifesaving drugs, we perform surgeries, we police your neighborhoods, we grow your food, we work in disease control, we purify your water;  we stock your grocery shelves, we deliver your food by truck;  we put roofs on your homes to keep you dry; we install heating in your home to keep you from freezing;  we are not toenails. We are part of the whole body of Judaism. In a flame, if the Orthodox are the blue part, we are the yellow part. We are a part of the Jewish flame.

We are good human beings who deserve respect.  Nobody needs a Ph.D. in religion in order to be religious or spiritual or to believe in God.  Almost every great folk singer or poet or songwriter or country singer is spiritual regardless of how well educated they are. You can learn to be a good person by just having eyes and ears and noticing all the evil around you and being sensitive to it.  You don’t just need to read about it.

As a counterpoint, and in respect of religious people, it certainly would be nice if secular people also respected religious people more.  Maybe all of us should appreciate having food on the table more; we should appreciate being able to get up in the morning; we should appreciate a cool breeze (a Makhiyah?); appreciate a nice sunset; or appreciate a simple, nice bath; and better appreciate our many blessings by saying blessings.   We should not be unhappy or suicidal because we don’t have a BMW.   We should not need every new tech gadget that comes along.  We should not be unhappy because we live within 1400 square feet instead of 8000 square feet.

We probably don’t use our time overly wisely.  We spend thousands of hours watching sports or gambling on sports, and hundreds of hours playing video games and exploring virtual worlds.  We should watch fewer violent shows and horror movies and view less adult content.  We are on Facebook way too much (and so are our fellow religious people, however.).

We can certainly learn a lot from religious values and value systems and traditions.   And we should certainly visit the sick more often than we do, and support each other far better than we do; instead of dropping and dumping our friends every time they have a serious problem or health problem.

But religious people can learn volumes of knowledge and wisdom from secular people. We actually study math intensely and require it. Doing so makes us better businesspeople, better with finance and investment, better consumers.  Why are any religious people minimizing math and science?  I would love to know more about science.  Doing so helps you become a scientist, do research, create new drugs and health solutions, develop poison serums; cure diseases,  desalinate seawater;  propel engines,  create artificial limbs;  cure hearing loss and vision loss.  Do religious people not want to be involved in improving an individual’s health or curing ailments?   When you become more aware of the miracle of our biology and physiology, you come to appreciate G-d even more.

With math, we help people prepare for retirement; we are experts with loans and credit; we know what is and is not a good value; we know how to better budget and live within a budget; we plan better; we allocate resources better; we know how to measure and build and cut and align things better; we become better engineers.  What is evil about any of these things?  Even religious people use phones and the internet.  Someone had to design, engineer, manufacture, and program and develop these tools of learning and communication.  Why call those people toenails?   They are problem solvers.  They improve and support life in many ways.  Anyone who helps solve the problems of life is a good person in my book.

Many secular people are generous, many of us are creditors and not debtors;  we spend less than we earn;  we donate to worthy causes.  We are not toenails.

Our lives have balance; we work; we socialize; we play; we entertain; we read; we learn; we work out and exercise, and we have balance in our lives. We only read the Torah or study ethics during the weekend, or we only study ethics and Philosophy during Sunday school and in college. We spend the rest of our lives living our lives and not reading about how to live life but actually living it.  We act and not just debate or discuss.  We are people of action.  We don’t talk about saving a life; we actually, really do it.  Do you?

We can learn from you, but you can learn from us.  Knowing nutrition is a good thing; exercise is a great thing. The healthier your body and brain and stomach, the more energy you have to study, work, and read and live.  Being strong helps you do more jobs.  Many jobs require a degree of physical strength and flexibility.  Physical labor is fine.  People who use their body tend to be very happy.

Lastly, we work long hours; we come home to prepare dinner; we do laundry; we help our kids with their homework, and we prepare for work the next day.  We do not have time for immoral or sinful behavior.  If we committed immoral behavior, it would tend to negatively affect our friendships, family life, and job competence, all of which are things we don’t want to lose.  We tend to be moral just in order to keep our jobs.

We are not all toenails.   We are just trying to live well and get by.  We can certainly learn from you too if you stop isolating and hiding all your solutions instead of sharing them; but you can learn from us, too.  We have some of our own solutions as well.    Pinhas

About the Author
Born in Prague of the Czech Republic. Moved to the U.S. in 1968, during the Czech Spring. The son of two Holocaust Survivors, orphans, who worked in healthcare or science. I have a brother who is a Klezmer musician in Chicago. I studied creative writing during college at Northwestern University in Evanston. For my career, I have mainly worked in IT, as a desktop publisher, database publisher, and intranet web publisher. For writing, I have written user manuals, help files, and training manuals.
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