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Eytan Kobre

My baseline for comparison is admittedly weak

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

I

 

’m with Akiva Adelson. Not literally, of course. Actually, sharing Reb Akiva’s company could be problematic, since I’m not sure he exists. He’s the “fellow” who plugs a cutting-edge concept in Pesach experiences — “Passover 2019 in New York” — which Boro Park’s KRM Kollel Supermarket is promoting in its pre-Pesach advertisements.

In ads festooned with pictures of the Bronx Zoo, the Intrepid, and other iconic New York Chol Hamoed destinations, KRM invites consumers to “Feel Right at Home” this Yom Tov — because that’s exactly where they’ll be, courtesy of the store’s full line of low-priced groceries (and no, I’m not getting so much as a macaroon, stale or otherwise, to talk this all up). I heartily agree with Akiva when he enthuses that “all I can say is, wow…. This was without a doubt the best Passover experience ever,” although my baseline for comparison is admittedly weak since Passover in New York is the only kind I’ve had for decades.

To be sure, the ad copy for the experience might oversell it in some ways. The list of enticements includes, for example, “heimish catered meals.” But if I were you, I’d be hesitant to try using that particular phrase at home. I’m not sure the lady of the house, or whoever else has primary responsibility for meal preparation, will take kindly to the “C” word. “Whaddya think this is anyway, a Pesach hotel?” “Um, yeah. It even says so right here…” “Ah yes, I see. Take that page and use it to line the bottom shelf of the fridge — now.”

The same goes for dangling before readers the freedom to “check in/check out at any time.” Really now? Until you do your part to clear off the table and take out the overflowing garbage, you ain’t goin’ nowhere, my friend.

And then, there’s the promise of “in-house entertainment & speakers.” The fear of which is precisely what motivates so many people to seek out Pesach venues far, far from home.

Other listed advantages of the stay-at-home Pesach include more spiritually oriented ones like “private Sedorim” and “chalav Yisrael.” But it might be that the most Jewishly resonant advantage of all is missing from the list — saving a bundle. Perhaps the best argument for a Yom Tov in scenic Boro Park made possible by Costa Rican cleaning help, instead of traveling all the way to her country for eight days, is the extra cash you’ll have to spend on a whole bunch of necessary or desired things, each costing a fraction of that exotic Pesach getaway and perhaps lasting much longer.

 

SHTICKY SITUATION Recently, a 79-year-old billionaire Jewish philanthropist became embroiled in scandal after media reports accused him of repeatedly engaging in inappropriate verbal harassment. This individual is very well known for the major funding he has provided for various projects aimed at fostering Jewish continuity, such as the Birthright trips to Israel for young Jews and the Hillel Jewish campus organization.

I’ve always thought of this fellow as either profoundly confused, or conflicted, or both. He is, after all, a professed atheist, yet founded a program that, according to the statistics, has helped encourage in-marriage among young Jews. He has given money for Orthodox Jewish outreach, yet says that for him “Jewish history began 300 years ago, because before that, all Jews were religiously observant and halachah was the dominant criteria of Jewish culture. After that, Jews were slowly and inexorably unburdened of limits — and our creativity soared. Jewish pride is not about laying tefillin. In fact, it has nothing to do with Jewish spiritual devotion….”

Upon the emergence of the recent allegations against him, he was forced to acknowledge engaging in a long pattern of verbal harassment. He characterized this as his brand of harmless humor, stating: “I deeply regret cavalierly making comments in professional settings that were boorish, disrespectful, and just plain dumb. They were part of my shtick since before I had a penny to my name, and I unequivocally meant them in jest. I fully understand why they were inappropriate. I am sorry. I never intended to cause any embarrassment, discomfort, or pain.”

Reading his words, what jumped out at me was his reference to his jokes as “part of my shtick.” Shtick, shtick… why was that word so familiar to me in connection with this person?

And then I remembered. A number of years ago, author Samuel Freedman wrote an opinion piece in the Jerusalem Post whose headline used that same word — shtick — to refer to this rich boor’s habit of publicly ridiculing Orthodox Jews.

Freedman noted that at a Jewish organizational dinner, and with Orthodox Jews in attendance, this person had ridiculed Orthodox Jews as “coming from another planet.”

Earlier, at a Hillel dinner marking the departure of the group’s head to become president of Yeshiva University, this same philanthropist got up to address the crowd “dressed in a caftan and shtreimel, false peyot dangling past his ears… [and] launched into a monologue about how the [honoree] was leaving ‘the world of the goyim,’ the world of ‘orgies’ and ‘women rabbis,’ for the ‘world of the tzaddik.’” Perhaps, given this behavior, it’s not surprising that one of the beneficiaries of his philanthropic foundation is YAFFED.

Freedman wrote that this man “represents the unprecedented clout of a new breed of super-rich, mega-donors whom none dare offend. His kind of invulnerability is the bill the rest of us pay with our quiescence.” But the scandal in which he’s now entangled shows that he’s not endlessly invulnerable, and that the victims of his outrageous verbiage will not forever remain quiescent. He now claims to be innocent of any intent to “cause any embarrassment, discomfort, or pain” to his female victims. Was that also the case when he cruelly mocked chassidim in front of hundreds of fellow Jews?

Perhaps it was safe for him to heap public derision on Orthodox Jews, who are one of the most vulnerable targets in the contemporary Jewish world. After all, what he did was the Jewish equivalent of appearing in blackface, and I can guarantee he’d never dare try that at a public dinner.

But eventually, his bigoted attitudes and out-of-control mouth were going to catch up with him, and now it seems like they have. After all these years, it appears that his shtick has gotten him stuck.

Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 757. Eytan Kobre may be contacted directly at kobre@mishpacha.com

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