Kvetch, defined by the OED as:
to complain habitually, gripe; as a noun, a person who always complains,
describes our people from the start. After our liberation from slavery in Egypt we complain:
“Freedom is nice. Where’s the water? Where’s the meat? Slavery had better accommodations.”
As we read Exodus this month and next, I am newly inspired to leave the kvetch behind and embrace instead our expressions of enthusiasm, our words of welcome, our voices of celebration.
This past summer Rabbi David Wolpe offered a giant complaint about a Bar Mitzvah celebration that went way over the top. Rabbi Wolpe called the celebration, in which young Sam Horowitz descended on stage amid Las Vegas style showgirls and danced in front of all the guests at his reception: “egregious, licentious, and thoroughly awful.” He then ranted for multiple paragraphs about the great tragedy this was for contemporary Judaism.
Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson publicly disagreed with Rabbi Wolpe in an open conversation before Rabbi Wolpe’s congregation. Rabbi Artson reminded us that it is a good thing that Judaism doesn’t demonize materialism. And then he asked us to imagine ways to teach the Jewish message of an over the top celebration.
He concluded that as this kid’s rabbi he would offer:
“Remember that when your parents chose to do this over the top celebration, they did it for your Bar Mitzvah, not your twelfth birthday, not your fourteenth birthday. They did it because however far people drift from piety and religion, saying ‘Our kid is connected to Torah’, is even for ostentatious Jews, still important.
“Now let’s build on that. Why is it that specifically your ‘Torah birthday’ is the one when people go over the top? Then we could segue into: Are there other ways that we could celebrate that in ways that might be more compatible with standard and traditional Jewish values?”
Rabbi Wolpe’s kvetch feels a lot like many Jewish reactions to the latest Pew survey.
Or like calls from Jews worried about the Jewish identity of kids and grandkids because the kids don’t observe Judaism like their grandparents. They fell in love with and married Jews and non-Jews and almost all of them have vibrant Jewish homes where they raise their kids as Jews. They don’t keep kosher the same way though.
In response to these concerns and others, I would like to follow Rabbi Artson’s example - let us offer some reasons to celebrate.
In the wake of the last century, that Jews have become desirable spouses for non-Jews is a victory. That Judaism has become a desirable path for non-Jews, even those not married to Jews, is also a victory.
When we find creative and new ways to support each other with our Judaism - through our synagogues and communities - we succeed.
Our Judaism thrives and grows and evolves when we open doors.
Our ancestors took risks - they braved the desert, they entered into a contract with the universe to pursue life, and they built a Judaism that survived exile. In the last hundred years we have built a new nation and multiple enthusiastic reactions to a changing world.
In this season of celebration, let us liberate our voices of celebration.