By CJ Srullowitz
What will you be doing on Sunday, August 7, 2011?
I’ll tell you what I won’t be doing; I won’t be participating in the Eleventh Annual New York City Triathlon.
A triathlon, for those who don’t know, is a race that combines swimming, bicycling and running. A colleague of mine from work had begun training for a triathlon, and recently a good friend of mine did too. So I thought, as I often do: Why not me?
For several years now I have been trying to fend off middle age with various attempts at whipping myself into shape. Racing in a triathlon became the big carrot at the end of a long stick. So for the past few years, on and off, I have been in “training.” What this means, for an overworked, under-disciplined person such as myself, is feeble, inconsistent attempts at running, biking and swimming.
While I have been running for years, I’m down to about twelve miles a week, not nearly enough to compete in anything but the shortest of road races. As for biking, once I got my Driver License, biking had become superfluous. Just the other week I got (by “got” I meant “pulled out of my parent’s garage”) my first bike in twenty years. And swimming? Don’t ask.
I had heard about the NYC Tri and figured that was the one I should aim for because (a) I am a denizen of New York City; and (b) who could pass up the opportunity to swim in the Hudson River? But, sadly, I discovered that the NYC Tri was being held two days before Tisha B’av, and decided not to compete. Is there a heter to swim competitively during the Nine Days, particularly during shavua shechal bo? I wasn’t interested in finding out. Halachic considerations aside, I just wasn’t comfortable with the idea of jumping into the Hudson two days before Tisha B’av.
So I figured, as I often do: There’s always next year. I was certain that with Tisha B’av in August next year being a leap-year, there would be no conflict, as these public events are usually set around the same time every year.
I was wrong.
Tisha B’av next year is on a Tuesday. The NYC Tri is the Sunday prior. Again.
I checked the dates for previous triathlons, and to my surprise and dismay, in four of the past five years, the NYC tri always fell out the Sunday before Tisha B’av. The English dates were in a broad range; but on the Hebrew Calendar the dates were eerily consistent. What could account for that? Even I, a red-white-and-blue blooded American Jew, was beginning to wonder: Was it actually possible that the organizers of this event were discouraging Orthodox Jews from participating? What else could it possibly be?
So I emailed one of the organizers of the event. Why were the dates of the Tri so varied?, I asked. Her answer surprised me. The currents, she wrote back, have to be favorable between 6 and 9 in the morning. And you know this so far in advance? I asked. Years in advance, she responded.
It turns out that calculating the currents has a lot to do with the lunar cycle, the same lunar cycle that sets the Jewish calendar. So the organizers can not create the event around a certain date on the Gregorian calendar-as they do for the New York City Marathon and the U.S. Open tennis tournament; they have to take into account the moon’s position. Nothing to do with Jews.
I breathed a sigh of relief.
There is a tendency among some Jews to suspect anti-Semitism at the first whiff of anything that remotely interferes with, or even inconveniences, the Jewish community, a feeling that anything that can be chalked up to anti-Semitism should be chalked up to anti-Semitism. This mistrust is misguided-and potentially dangerous.
It’s not that I don’t believe anti-Semitism exists; it does, even in America. But a knee-jerk reaction-particularly when so many other factors are at play-is uncalled for.
The recent reaction to the arrest, conviction, and sentencing of Shalom Rubashkin is a case in point. Even assuming that he was singled out and punished overly harshly, there is no reason to insist that anti-Semitism is the cause. Was anti-Semitism at play? No one can know for sure.
“But what else can it possibly be?” some have argued. Allow me to explain.
People-and by people I include goyim-have motivations that go beyond sticking it to the Jews. Those motivations include career advancement, money, and fame. Rudy Giuliani was renowned for arresting people in extravagant fashion. He did so in order to achieve notoriety and advance his political career (ps: it worked).
Some judges are simply harsh, and hand down long sentences, for reasons that have nothing to do with the Jewish nation.
But one fact is incontrovertible: America has demonstrated little tolerance for anti-Semitism and anti-Semites.
Helen Thomas, the first lady of American Journalism, a woman so highly respected that she had a personal front-and-center seat in the White House press room made a short, awful, clearly anti-Semitic comment. Inside of 24 hours, she was gone. There was no question she would be fired. There was no question she would be banned from the White House.
Mel Gibson, for all his fame and money, makes known his hateful feelings toward the Jews, and is dismissed as a crackpot.
It isn’t fair and it isn’t smart to call people anti-Semetic if they aren’t. We should make absolutely sure we know people’s motivations-usually impossible-before playing the anti-Semitism card. If we don’t know for sure, we should not assume. Our place in American society certainly calls for being dan lekaf zechus. We owe America, as a malchus shel chessed at least that much.
And another reason: If we’re wrong, we may just create a self-fulfilling prophecy.
CJ Srullowitz, when not training, is a financial advisor in New York City, and blogs at www.luleidemistafina.blogspot.com.