D’varim: Are we there yet?

D’varim: Are we there yet?

Our temple recently hired a new rabbi to join the clergy team. He is has just graduated from rabbinical school at the Jewish Theological Seminary; he is young, innovative, and enthusiastic.

I am excited to have him on board. He has all the critical ingredients to be an amazing pastor and rabbi.

A few weeks ago I took him to a baseball game, to spend a little quality time with him and build some social capital. After all, we are going to be working side by side on many issues, some of them hypersensitive. We should know each other a bit better. So I picked a baseball game where one of our hometown teams, the New York Mets, played his hometown team from childhood, the Cincinnati Reds. My sole purpose in choosing this particular game was that our new rabbi is from Cincinnati. What followed was pure coincidence.

We arrived with just enough time to grab a kosher hot dog, and we were among the first 15,000 fans through the doors. What did we get, you ask? Not a bobble-head. Not a cap or a golf towel. Nope. This night, we got a Mets yarmulke in shiny blue and orange, the team’s colors. It even said “Mets” in Hebrew! Jews, Blacks, Latinos, and Asians all smiled and put them on their heads as they made way to their seats to hear the Star Spangled Banner. For this game, our nation’s anthem was sung by the children’s choir of the Yeshiva of Flatbush. And even before “O Say Can You See,” the choir belted out a medley of some of their favorite Jewish songs for the crowd. Flatbush kids were now singing Hinei Mah Tov in the big leagues. Double entendre intended! The eclectic crowd all sang along.

I was bewildered. I am a rabbi who wanted to catch a baseball game. Instead, I seemed to have purchased tickets to a Jewy festival in Queens. But wait, it gets better. The fifth inning was a four-minute infomercial on Israel, its technology and innovation, and all of the wonderful things its has contributed to the world.

The 7th inning stretch was a combination of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game’ and “Haveinu Shalom Aleichem.”

Apparently, I inadvertently took our new rabbi to “Israel Night at Citifield,” home of the New York Mets. I will take “irony” for five-hundred, Alex.

I spent my early days growing up on the west coast of Florida, circa the late 1970s and early ’80s. We would ship in kosher meat bimonthly and whisper the word “Jewish” and “kosher” when shopping in the local markets. Now, 30 years later, everyone gets a beanie at the ball game. How far we have come!

On June 3rd of this year, Arvind Manhakali of Queens, New York, a 13-year-old Indian-American, won the Scripps spelling bee with the word “kneidel.” Yep. An Indian American won a spelling bee with a Yiddish word. Ignore the fact that every cab driver, struggling actor, and hobo in Manhattan already knew its meaning even if they never had Passover at my grandmother’s house and had to hear her martyred tale about getting up at 4:30 a.m. just to make the kneidel. Do you think Sholom Aleichem, the Yiddish writer who died in 1916, could have envisioned that a spelling bee would be won with a Yiddish word spelled by an Indian-American Hindu? How far we have come!

During the presidential campaign, I was fortunate to have been given the opportunity to have dinner in an intimate environment with Vice President Joe Biden. I was very nervous. My mother gave me strict instructions: Don’t chew gum, stand up if you ask him a question, and call him Mr. Vice President when you address him! And most of all, David, be formal! No small talk. He is the VICE PRESIDENT of THE UNITED STATES.

When standing face to face with him, all of those rules that I was chanting in mnemonic all week fell by the wayside.

“Mr. Biden, so glad to meet you… and congratulations on your daughter’s engagement.”

I could see my mother wagging a finger at me in my mind’s eye.

“Rabbi Kirshner,” he said, “Thank you so much. And, you know what? Every Irish Catholic father has one dream: for their daughter to marry a Jewish surgeon. My daughter is doing just that!”

We both smiled and took a picture. I sent a copy to my mother.

First things first: Joe Biden has been a champion of Israel for longer than I have been alive. He has met six Israeli prime ministers and gives me a run for the money on trips to the Holy Land. He is good for the Jews.

While I always strive for endogamy, something amazing was happening in 2012 in Bergen County. Joe Biden was serious when talking about his aspirations for a Jewish surgeon to join his Irish Catholic family. Dead serious.

Could you imagine in 1939 if FDR’s kid publicly married a Jew? Or Nixon’s? Or Grover Cleveland’s? Even were it to have happened, pictures would not have shown up in all major periodicals. It would have been a source of shame. Today, it is a badge of pride worn by many, including the vice president of the United States. Never was there such a celebrated, high ranking Jewish / non-Jewish wedding since, well, Chelsea Clinton, America’s royalty, married a Jewish boy under a chuppah.

I am spending my fourth summer in as many years in Israel with my family. About once every 36 hours or so, I find myself somewhere in this majestic land in a daze. Millions of people of different colors, accents, and backgrounds are creating a start-up nation and making micro-mini computer chips smaller than my eyelash that can somehow power a small continent. Soon after, they are taking the company public and go back to dream up the next new thing. Innovation and creativity and world contributions are all second nature here. Meanwhile, across the pond, Javier is wearing a yarmulke while cheering for the Mets and Arvind is chowing down on matzah balls at the Second Avenue Deli and Vice President Biden is eating charoset at a seder with his son-in-law. I can only wonder if Theodore Herzl, Louis Brandeis, or even my Bubbie Leah would believe where we are and how far we have come.

This week we begin the final book of the Torah, Devarim. It is Moses’ swan song, and closes with his death. He never makes it into the land flowing with milk and honey and microprocessors. Isn’t it interesting that an entire five-series book, all about journeys -* banishment from Eden, setting sail on the ark, Abraham “Moving Out,” Joseph and his brothers being sold and searching, and an entire 40 year exodus – concludes without any arrival? I doubt it is an accident and I contend that it plagues us still.

I can imagine each of these as a journey, with my kids whining from the back of the car: “Are we there yet?” But when we arrive, they know it and we know it. They jump out and run and play, worry free. We run our hands through our hair and question how we didn’t kill them along the way. But we have arrived and we know what it looks like.

So, I think we might have arrived. The only thing is, we don’t know it.