Rabbi David Ingber is the spiritual leader (and main draw) for Romemu, a fast-growing congregation on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Its quest for spiritual meaning can hardly be disassociated from Ingber’s personal journey.
Born and raised in a Modern Orthodox family, Ingber, 44, was drawn to ultra-Orthodoxy while on a gap-year program in Israel in the late 1980s. He described the next five years as “flipping out.”
“I was completely God intoxicated,” he said.
But after years of study at Yeshiva Chaim Berlin, an ultra-Orthodox yeshiva in Brooklyn, Ingber decided he’d had enough. “I felt that Orthodoxy with all of its beauty [had made me swallow] all of the bathwater, and it was making me sick,” he explained.
The next 10 years marked a period of soul-searching. After turning his back on Judaism, Ingber looked to Eastern spiritual practices as a way to fill the void. Working nights as a waiter at Carmine’s, a restaurant on the Upper West Side, he would fill his days with yoga and meditation.
True to his openness to other religions, Ingber described his struggle as “the prodigal son myth.”
“I was trying to find a way back to Judaism, but I wasn’t sure I had figured it out,” he said.
Some news, apparently, is fit to print, but not too boldly. Take, for example, the demure self-censorship on display Saturday in the New York Times’ eye-opening report, headlined “On Island, Largely Blue, an Exception: Trump Tower,” on the handful of New York City neighborhoods that voted for Mitt Romney over President Obama. Overall, the city voted Obama over Romney 81% to 18%.
The headline and the first five paragraphs were about the two isolated election precincts on the Upper East Side of Manhattan Island where Romney won half or more of the vote. It wasn’t until paragraph 7 to find out that the main news began to trickle out: that the “deepest single bloc of Republican support in all the five boroughs” was a four-square-block section of Gravesend, Brooklyn, “dotted with Sephardic temples and yeshivas.”
Finally, well into the jump, we learned that Romney “enjoyed strong support from a range of neighborhoods with large populations of Orthodox Jews.” Many precincts in Borough Park, Kew Gardens Hills and Sheepshead Bay (which is largely Russian, not Orthodox) voted 90% GOP. A note on the accompanying map gave you the money quote: “Mr. Obama’s worst precincts were in Orthodox Jewish areas like Ocean Parkway and Williamsburg in Brooklyn and Kew Gardens Hills in Queens.”
The map shows the city’s 5,286 precincts as a sea of blue and red dots, shaded darker or lighter to indicate higher or lower percentages of partisan leaning. The darkest red voted over 80% for Romney, while pale pink gave him 50% to 65%. In addition to the broad swathes of dark red running down Brooklyn from Hasidic Borough Park down Sephardic Ocean Park to Russian Brighton Beach, there are dark red clusters in mostly Italian-American Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, and mostly Irish-American (and storm-ravaged) Breezy Point, Queens.
“Dear Jew: You are entering a dangerous place. Shield your eyes.”
That’s the Hebrew-language text on a huge billboard that an Orthodox group has paid to post alongside a Brooklyn highway.
The “dangerous place” is Manhattan. The danger isn’t specified, but it’s clear they’re not talking about muggings.
Presumably directed at ultra-Orthodox Jews traveling to Manhattan for work, the billboard puts a stark spin on the new study out yesterday from the UJA-Federation of New York, which raised the possibility of an impending Orthodox majority among New York Jews.
New York’s Orthodox Jews and non-Orthodox Jews exist in separate, parallel worlds. In the broadest terms, each group has its own borough. Brooklyn Jews are poor, young, and religious. Manhattan Jews are rich, old, and more secular.
While Brooklyn’s Jewish community is exploding, Manhattan’s is shrinking. And judging in part by the highway billboard, the ascendant Brooklynites have little regard for the declining Manhattanites.
Hoping to preserve its massive growth, the ultra-Orthodox community has been on a war footing in recent months, striking back against web access in its homes and yeshivas by holding a massive anti-Internet rally and promulgating new bans against web use.
The billboard, which has been up for at least a few weeks, seems to signify the opening of a new front in the same war. The billboard was sponsored by an organization called the Congregation of Yad Moshe, which appears to have ties to New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind.
There’s no explanation on the stop sign red billboard, but the message is clear: Manhattan is unkosher. Stay in Brooklyn.
On the fringes of the Occupy movement’s May 1 rally in Manhattan’s Union Square, a group of older Jewish activists gathered under the yellow banner of a leftist Jewish summer camp and prepared to march.
“We have to be here,” said Judee Rosenbaum, longtime staffer of the unremittingly progressive Camp Kinderland. “It’s what we do. It’s what we are for. It’s what we support.”
Rosenbaum, whose days as a Kinderland camper are 64 years behind her, was one of a handful of Kinderlanders who had come out for what activists hope will be the reawakening of the anti-corporate Occupy movement, which has been largely dormant since protesters camping in a park in downtown Manhattan were evicted in November.
Occupy activists had called for a “general strike” on May 1, culminating in the afternoon rally at Union Square and a subsequent march to Wall Street. Thousands turned out to the rally and march, though claims made in the days before the event that the protests would effectively shut down the city proved to be vastly overblown.
Founded in 1923 by Jewish Communists, Kinderland is perhaps unique in the degree to which it has maintained its activist traditions. Its theme this summer? “Occupy.”
Asked why she had come to the protest, current Kinderland camper Bonnie, 11, answered: “My mom.” Bonnie’s mother, Catherine Fitz, explained: “I think this is an important moment…I don’t think I would forgive myself if I let my kid miss it.”
You wouldn’t expect a host to say anything bad about his guest of honor. But American Council for World Jewry chairman Jack Rosen was especially gracious about the message delivered by President Obama at a fundraiser held at Rosen’s Manhattan home.
“He made, I think, a solid case for having stood with Israel on the crisis issues facing Israel, which are security cooperation and Iran,” said Rosen, a real estate developer who came to prominence as chair of the now-inactive American Jewish Congress.
Rosen, who has raised money for both Democrats and Republicans, called the Forward a couple of days after the event. He readily conceded that Obama came with hat in hand. Besides raising cash, he also wanted to send an inclusive message to Jewish leaders.
“He came because fundraising took place, but I also think he wanted to reach out and have a dialog with the Jewish community, and that was an added benefit here,” Rosen said of the November 30 event. “We had a frank discussion on the issues that mattered to the community, certainly with regard to Israel.”