Dear Memphis Jewish Community Center administrators,
I am a proud Jew. I am not a strictly observant Orthodox Jew, nor am I an indifferent, assimilated cultural Jew. I have devoted years to strict textual adherence, and I have devoted years to firm religious rejection and inaction. Throughout my life, I have found myself on all points of the religious spectrum, thus granting me a unique perspective from which I view the current debate regarding the opening of the MJCC on Shabbat.
Though my ideals have changed and my level of observance has fluctuated, I have forever held the belief that to be born a Jew is not something that should be taken for granted. To be born a Jew is to inherit the illustrious history of a people that has time and again refused to submit to assimilation. To be born a Jew is to inherit a sense of pride that is distinct to Judaism. We are members of the most incredible, improbable people that the world has ever seen. As Mark Twain put it, “All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains.” Despite the plethora of reasons to feel unique, we are nevertheless losing the sense of pride that once fueled our unlikely existence.
With the release of the Pew Study on American Jewry, we were rudely awoken by the realization that American Jewry is in peril. Many are proclaiming their detachment from Judaism and accepting their fate of absolute immersion into secular culture. We are losing our sense of individuality.
As a Jewish institution, it is expected to lead by example in reaffirming Jewish pride. Though the Jew is an advocate of equality and a champion of acceptance, we must forever be mindful that we are different than those around us. We live among them, but we do not live with them. I speak not as a close-minded isolationist. Rather, I speak as a Jewish youth who would prefer to die than to see his people assimilate because of sheer indifference. I am not a rejectionist, I am cautious.
Despite its underwhelming size, the Memphis Jewish community is one of the most vibrant communities in America, boasting an exceptionally high affiliation rate. You may disagree, but I firmly believe that much of that success is owed to the fact that we act as a unit to consistently reaffirm the aforementioned pride that we are at risk of losing.
The MJCC is one of the last Jewish Community Centers in America to remain closed on Shabbat. Though a large portion of the Center’s membership is either non-observant or non-Jewish, closing on Shabbat has served as a symbolic gesture since its founding in 1949. We are different. We are not superior, per se, but we are special. We have a culture and a history that is awe-inspiring, and certain fundamental Jewish principles ensure that we never forget that. Shabbat sets us apart from the rest of society. It gives us a day in which we come together to focus on Judaism, on growing as a community, on ourselves. It reaffirms that sense of pride on a weekly basis.
Alarmed by growing assimilation, fully believing that the opening of the MJCC on Shabbat will signify an unprecedented, dangerous level of assimilation, guided by immense Jewish pride, and believing that the success of this community depends on a collective effort to affirm Jewish pride and distinctiveness, I wholeheartedly oppose the opening of the MJCC on Shabbat, and pray that you see the merit in my argument.
With the utmost respect,
Gabriel Goldstein ’14