Elie's Expositions

A bereaved father blogging for catharsis... and for distraction. Accordingly, you'll see a diverse set of topics and posts here, from the affecting to the analytical to the absurd. Something for everyone, but all, at the core, meeting a personal need.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Isn't Anyone Shy Anymore?

There's a good discussion going on in Shifra's blog about chillul hashem, specifically in terms of observed behavior at various amusement parks during chol hamoed Sukkos this year. This is a topic that bothers me at an extremely gut level. As I mentioned in one of my comments to Shifra's post, when I see identifiably "frum" (scare quotes extremely intentional) Jews publicly acting in a pushy, rude, or inconsiderate manner, I literally feel ashamed to be Jewish, let alone observant.

Without reiterating all the excellent points made in Shifra's post and the comments, I want to raise a related question. There's an oft-quoted line about the typical - or perhaps the ideal - character of the Jewish people:
"Shlosha simanim yesh b'umah zo: Rachmanim, Bayshanim, Gomlei Chasadim." "Three qualities are integral to this People: they are compassionate, bashful, and engage in acts of lovingkindness." (Talmud Yevamos 79a)
It seems to me that while we have managed to retain our focus on the first and the third of these character traits, we have - as a people - completely lost our value for the middle one, bayshanim, bashfulness. Tzedaka organizations abound, chessed is emphasized in countless sermons and divrei torah. But we've moved so far from being bayshanim that the very term "pushy Jews" has become a well-known slur.

OK, forget about anti-Semitism; that's a faulty example. And of course, I'm not talking about individuals; there are very many nice, mentchlach frum people out there. But ask yourself whether anyone - us included - has an image of the typical Jewish and/or frum person as being shy, quiet, unassuming, yielding, extra careful to avoid making a public scene at all costs? Have you ever heard a Rabbi's sermon or read a d'var torah praising these qualities, and giving practical examples on how to cultivate them? When did these traits stop being characteristic of our people, as they are meant to be?

There's a popular book from a couple of years back about modesty and intimacy in relationships, "Doesn't Anyone Blush Anymore?" by Manis Friedman. I think we are long overdue for a followup, titled something like "Isn't Anyone Shy Anymore?". Though I'm skeptical that such a book will accomplish much. As a people, we need a fundamental change in our outlook and the image we project to the world - and I don't have a clue how to make that happen.

But I guess the first question would be, how on earth did we ever get the way we are now?


At 10/18/06, 3:16 PM, Blogger Ezzie said...

Too many people wanting their children to have everything they didn't, resulting in people who think everything is coming to them? It's one of many possibilities.

People don't teach proper middos often enough, and I am a firm believer that this is more true in larger cities, particularly NY/NJ. The more 'rushed' everything is around you, the more you are forced to 'fend for yourself' in all the little things. This leads to a subconscious disposal of basic manners.

People like to point to the great way people responded on 9/11 as a testament to how 'nice' and 'great' NYers are. While that was great, rallying in a time of crisis is not surprising or incredibly extraordinary. People aren't generally 'bad' people who are completely selfish. They simply lose focus of what's important, getting swept up by what's going on around them on a daily basis.

What's important is to have that kindness, that derech eretz, that kavod ha'adam, that unselfishness - *all* the time, not just when it's desperately needed.

If doing it for its own sake isn't enough, look at these posts and see what happens when we don't.

At 10/18/06, 6:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that history probably plays a part. There is a fear of being the "meek" person who gets shoved around. Some members of the general public hold to a stereotype of Jews as weak, sheep-like, and non-confrontational.

(That may sound strange to East Coasters, but here in Texas, I've run into people who asked me why the Jews didn't fight back against the Nazis. 'Why were they so weak?' History lessons - the Warsaw Ghetto, Hannah Senesh, and so on -- are very needed.)

Maybe we Jews are over-compensating for that perceived weakness and have gone to the other extreme.

At 10/19/06, 5:14 AM, Blogger mother in israel said...

According to Dr. Gordon Neufeld, shyness in children is a protective trait that prevents children from "bonding" to others outside the family. Unfortunately our culture doesn't respect this, and encourages gregariousness. Kids are told, "Don't be shy" and praised when they go willingly to caretakers or are comfortable speaking in public. Also, children today spend less time with their parents and have to adapt to many other adults and children. That is one theory about why people are less shy than they used to be.

Mor about Neufeld's book:

At 10/19/06, 5:41 PM, Blogger Elie said...

Ezzie, Miriam, and MiI, thanks for your well-thought-out responses, and thanks Ezzie for the followup thread in your own blog.

I see some truth in all these points. I also think, following on Miriam's point and one made in Ezzie's post's comments, that a lot of our negative traits and behaviors - as individuals and as a people - are due to the circumstances under which we were forced to live for so many generations. For example, I have tried to understand the concept many "frum" people seem to have that it's "OK" to cheat non-jews, as a holdover from when the Jews lived in European ghettos under rules that were blatantly discriminatory, and cheating the "goy" was the only way to survive and get back even a piece of your own. Similarly, we had to become "pushy" to keep from being pushed around. But even if true, this is a historic explanation, not an excuse or justification for this sinful behavior to continue in vastly different environments.

Again, what strikes me so sharply is that not only have we lost the quality of "bayshanim", we have gone, as a group, to the opposite extreme. As an obvious example, how is the stereotypical ethnic Jew portrayed in Hollywood? Fran Drescher (the Nanny), Jackie Mason, Rhoda Morgenstern, etc. Loud, annoying, brash, in your face - the exact reverse of a "bayshan"!

It's really an astoundingly drastic sociological change. Maybe only the moshiach can fix this one.

At 10/19/06, 7:41 PM, Blogger socialworker/frustrated mom said...

Such an interesting discussion. Good thoughts.

At 10/20/06, 2:52 AM, Blogger Ezzie said...

Well put, Elie.

At 1/31/07, 1:17 AM, Blogger Lady-Light said...

Elie, I agree with what you see; I would perhaps change your word, 'bashfulness', and use 'humility' instead; when my children were little, I was so makpida on teaching them proper behavior, by which I mean, respect and consideration for others. I was very concerned with their being polite to others, and socially conscious of their actions in general. Today's parents pashut don't care - they are more concerned with themselves. I sometimes am appalled at seeing little 'frum' kids running wild with no regard for anyone (including the adults)around them. And their parents are either 1)conversing with friends and totally oblivious, or 2)nowhere to be found.
Solution? Don't have any, except that maybe we should institute 'frum parenting classes'??!
(p.s. may I say, thank you for visiting my blog again, and it is an honor to be listed on yours!)


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