By S. Friedman
Recently, a friend invited me to a fundraising barbeque on behalf of a yeshiva that he is supportive of. I obliged to attend, and it was explained to me that rather than a traditional parlor meeting with a guest speaker, an informal barbeque can be more effective in attracting a crowd. And a crowd it did indeed attract.
The food selected was more lavish than the typical refreshments served at a run-of-the-mill parlor meeting, but it was the “extras” that I think warrant attention.
First of all, there was a “cigar roller,” who was churning out fresh stogies as fast as he could. The hosts were graciously encouraging one and all to partake in this wonderful delight as the participants became lost in a haze.
Additionally, there was a bar, which in itself could be interpreted as unnecessary and out of place. However, and I do not think this is a small point, the bar was serving beers. Beer and cholent at an intimate shalom zochor is one thing. A bunch of young to middle aged men sitting around on a random weekday night with a longneck bottle in their hands is another. Some of you don’t need further explanation, and for others, further expounding will do no good, but I will attempt anyhow.
This is not an article about smoking or alcohol; one’s personal vices is their own business. This is an issue of demeanor in public and what is considered an indulgence by our society. Cigars and beers in a public setting are sophomoric and boorish. More aptly put, it is grubb. Fine wines and expensive liquor can at least be dressed up as the “finer” things of society, but beer?
I don’t find the yeshiva that this was benefit was held for at fault per se. It’s the “crowd” that they were catering to. At first I thought this might be an ugly case of “the ends justify the means,” but then I realized how the majority of the participants were indeed relishing the atmosphere.
Who are we that our fathers, brothers and sons are sitting around with cigars and beers while enjoying live entertainment in the name of supporting Torah? Have we been so thoroughly influenced by American culture that a makeshift “kosher” night club is how we draw crowds as opposed to talmidei chachomim imparting words of wisdom?
I do not have my head in the sand, nor am I as naïve to not realize that grown men have been inviting their friends to summer barbeques replete with cigars and beers for quite some time. What strikes me is the comfortable and casual way that such an event can occur – with the rather loutish behavior – so open and public.
When I was younger, I most definitely heard of men who had expensive cigars, but I have a hard time recalling if I ever saw someone smoking in public. I believe that even a few years ago such an event would have either never made it past the preparation stages, or if it would have occurred, it would have been met by round opposition.
What happened in a few years? What is now acceptable, and what will be acceptable in a few years from now? Who are we acting like?
I ask these questions as we approach Rosh Hashanah. We blow the shofar each morning to announce the imminent arrival of the ultimate King of Kings. However, Hashem declared His kingship over us.
In Kelm, during the month of Elul, there was a small sign hanging which read, “Ein melech b’loi am. (There is no King without a nation.)” This was meant to remind everyone that in order to properly proclaim Hashem’s sovereignty over Am Yisroel, we must truly act like His people. The nations of the world are not fit to be considered the flag bearers of Hashem’s empire.
To be worthy of being His subjects, perhaps we have to assess our actions and determine if they are in line with what is expected of Klal Yisroel. If we cannot be discerned from our non-Jewish neighbors, what gives us our unique identity? If we don’t act like the Chosen Nation, then who are we? Whom will He be King over?