New Haven Rabbi laments American Jews' preoccupation with liberalism
Rabbi Greer, head of the New Haven Yeshiva, operates a gun-wielding civil patrol in his neighborhood.
NEW HAVEN, Connecticut - "My tendency is to do what needs doing," says Rabbi Daniel Greer, who leads the Yeshiva of New Haven.
The rabbi, who thinks there is always something that needs to be done regardless of what people will say, is in a constant state of endeavor, which frequently stirs controversy.
Greer lives by the model that falls between withdrawal and involvement, between enlightenment and separatism, between assimilation and tribalism. It is a very American model - even if extreme - of Orthodoxy: assertive, assured, even arrogant.
"There is no other country in the world that makes Jewish life possible like the United States," he says.
He will fight against some of its institutions for the right to be different - occasionally angering the surrounding society - but his main strength lies in angering other Jews, whose community organizations and institutions he dismisses with a facial expression of revulsion.
"They kept silent when Jews were murdered in Germany ... the Jewish organizations are no longer Jewish. All the Jewish Federation people married non-Jews, and if they didn't, then their children did."
Clearly, Greer is not one to mince words for fear of offending anyone.
We need the guns "so they'll understand that we're serious," Eliezer Greer, one of Rabbi Greer's sons, says. He is dressed in a black T-shirt with a white square in the middle emblazoned with the slogan: Edgewood Park Defense Patrol. Twice a week he dons it over his ritual fringes and white dress shirt and takes to the streets of this New Haven neighborhood, for a three- to four-hour shift. Local police concede that crime is down in the neighborhood, but that's not enough for Eliezer. He wants the police chief, Francisco Ortiz, gone.
He's certain the mayor will get rid of him, because he simply won't have a choice. "I am part of the community, part of the neighborhood," the rabbi says. This neighborhood - a mixture of Jews and Christians, whites and blacks, educated and ignorant, workers and unemployed - is now his project. As harassment and crime increased - and after his son, Dov, returned home one day bruised from an encounter with street thugs - the rabbi acted at once: The civil defense guard he formed works to prevent crime and the campaign he launched is aimed at ousting the police chief, whom they term "lazy."
The brief public furor over the neighborhood patrol had two focal points: Black leaders were worried about harassment of blacks, and civil rights advocates objected to the patrol's bearing live weapons. Greer appeased the first group and persuaded them he had the neighborhood's interest at heart.
The others he ignored - what's he got to do with those liberals? He does not neglect to mention that many of them are Jews, like David Warren of the Anti-Defamation League in Connecticut, who took issue with the group "that is trying to enforce the law itself." Greer always spots the Jews among those standing in his way.
The rabbi's involvement in this neighborhood neither begins nor ends with the civil patrol. A non-profit organization he established buys run-down houses, renovates and rents them to suitable tenants - not necessarily Jews. The homes are painted a uniform color, trees are planted, new kitchens installed. In the yard of one such house an old well pump was restored to working order. There are already dozens of houses like this located within walking distance from the yeshiva. The neighborhood face-lift is changing things for the better.
It's hard not to appreciate this enterprise, even in view of the controversial personality behind it. But let no one dare call it "tikkun olam," Greer says, using the Talmudic term for repairing or perfecting the world, a phrase that has become the mantra of the more liberal Jewish movements in American. "It's an Orwellian term, 'New Speak,'" he seethes, offended, or pretending to be so. "Tikkun olam is the way of people who call themselves Jews to conceal the fact that they have no Jewish content left."
Greer has no affection for the institutions of the Jewish community - so pathetic, so groveling. In the U.S. of all places, he says, where a person can be a proud Jew, they opt for limp subservience, for being "not too Jewish."
In any event, Greer says, "the U.S. has two Jewish communities." One is "dwindling," until it disappears. "Liberals," he calls them, and coming from him it isn't praise. He says they "aren't serious" and are therefore "assimilated." Greer is acerbic, an extreme example of this mindset, but not the only one among the Orthodox to view with a degree of scorn and arrogance the direction in which the other streams of Judaism are headed.
In opposition to them he places the model of the Orthodox community, varied and splintered though it be, which shares a "common interest," he believes. Greer thinks this is all that will remain of the huge American-Jewish community.
"They're trembling," Greer says of the other streams, "frightened by the start-up gang that's grabbing a more central place." Besides, he adds, "their grandchildren won't care if they marry a Catholic or a Navajo," so there's no call to take their sensibilities or opinions into account.