J.J. Goldberg

A Haredi Essayist on Finding Beauty Where You Least Expected It

By J.J. Goldberg

  • Print
  • Share Share

Rabbi Avi Shafran is the public affairs director of Agudath Israel of America, the Haredi advocacy and social service organization. On the side he writes a weekly column that goes out by email and appears in various publications and websites. I get it in my mailbox and I almost always open it up to see where he’s going this week. Sometimes it’s a predictable polemic in defense of Orthodoxy and Orthodox Jews; sometimes it’s a not-so-predictable comment on current events. And every so often it is an observation about the world and humanity and the soul that can take your breath away.

His latest column is an example of the third category. It’s an observation about the majestic beauty of a waterfall he went to see that can be reached only by driving through the gritty downtown of Paterson, N.J., and what it taught him about human relations.

We’re not big vacationers, both by temperament and economics. Most trips we take, boruch Hashem, are for family simchos and such. But we try to take two or three days off each summer for a car trip – in recent years, in search of waterfalls. We enjoy the sounds and sight of cascading water, are rejuvenated by the grandeur of the Creator’s handiwork and often find that we actually learn something – beyond geology – from the experiences.

We’ve found some wondrous falls in upstate New York and Pennsylvania. But a waterfall we almost missed, en route to another one more distant, was the “Great Falls,” a part of the Passaic River. They are said to be the second-highest falls on the east coast (second only to Niagara). More striking, though, than the mighty torrent of water the falls send thundering over a rocky ledge is their location: downtown Paterson.

One drives through grimy streets looking for them, almost certain that some mistake has been made, that there must be another Paterson in New Jersey, or that it’s all a joke and the “falls” are only effluent from some industrial sewage pipe. And after managing to find the sign and entering a rocky, rudimentary parking lot, things don’t look much more promising. After a moment’s walk, though, one is transported suddenly into another world, one of astounding power and beauty.

His lesson is that you can find beauty in places you least expect it, including in people who you’re inclined to dismiss because of what they’re like on the outside. The column is written for his fellow Orthodox Jews, and my guess is he’s referring at least partly to non-Orthodox Jews, but the lesson is pretty universal.

Something more, though, was also made sharper by the Paterson falls: How often does it happen that we find certain other people… well, tiresome… grating… unpleasant? For some of us, ahavas Yisrael [love of fellow Jews], despite all the homage we may pay it, can be one of the most challenging mitzvos we face.

Klal Yisrael [the Jewish people], after all, is easy to love; Reb Yisrael [Jew Sixpack], oftentimes, less so.

Yet each of our fellows, no matter how superficially unimpressive or even disagreeable, holds a spark of holiness. Well-hidden though it may be, somewhere, in its own place, it glimmers.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Rabbi Avi Shafran, Paterson N.J., Agudath Israel

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.