September 07, 2002


'BURN YOUR SIDDUR' AWARD NOMINEE: Our newest award is for crazy and/or nonsensical things said or done by rabbis or Jewish laypeople which either reflect poorly on Jews, encourage stereotypes, or just plain make you shake your head in disbelief. It is based on a comment by Rabbi Rolando Matalon of Congregation B'nai Jeshuran ("BJ") in Manhattan, who once charged that if we as congregants didn't contribute to a certain charitable cause that he favored, we "might as well burn your siddur [prayer books]."
This week's nominee concerns on effort by a French rabbi, Pauline Bebe, who is in charge of a long-established congregation in Paris. The synagogue has been in the same building for decades, but recently the neighborhood has "changed," and is now occupied predominantly by Muslims who are immigrants from North Africa. This turn of events has had predictable results, as these young African Muslims haven't taken too kindly to having a synagogue in their midst, and vice versa; there have been several incidents of anti-Semitic vandalism. So this rabbi has begun an international campaign to raise money so that they may build a new synagogue in a different area, one that is predominantly Jewish and far away from the African Muslim riffraff.
Now the subject of resurgant anti-Semitism in Europe is something that certainly should not be trivialized. But it's something that should be encountered head-on, not run away from. Essentially, what this temple is doing is looking for international financing in order to undertake white flight. Why is this? Didn't a large perentage of America's Jewish community move away from inner cities in the '60s and '70s, without a dime of money from any worldwide channels? It's a well-established phenomenon- every time I'm around old Jews I still hear how bitter they still are about how the old neighborhood changed (sometimes ignorance can be comical), and last year on the High Holidays I sang at the last standing reform synagogue in Jersey City, which was populated almost entirely by people over 70 who never got the memo about the post-'67 white flight from JC and Newark. I've even heard reports that's there's been "white flight" by Jews in Jerusalem- not away from blacks or even Palestinians, but from "black hats"- ultra-Orthodox Jews who don't work (as they study all day and collect government welfare checks) and thus contribute nothing to their neighborhood's economy.
Could you imagine if an American synagogue today tried to start a nationwide drive for money so they could move out of their old, inner-city neighborhood because it had become predominantly black and local kids had broken in a few times? They might get the money, but (rightly) they'd get an NAACP boycott first.

Posted by Stephen Silver at September 7, 2002 09:33 PM

What about Gary, Indiana?

Lots of Jews "old neighborhoods" also happen to be inexpensive places that immigrants can easily afford. This will always be the home of the newest Americans (or French in this case).

Posted by: at September 27, 2004 10:41 PM
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