For a few hours, I didn’t think about the fact that today was the third anniversary of the day I returned to Sacramento after my three months of homelessness in Los Angeles.
There’s a religious Jewish movement called Chabad, which is famous for being pretty aggressive about outreach. When my family was visiting Italy one fall, it was members of Chabad that spotted us and welcomed us, inviting us to join them for services and dinner. Their energy can also be alienating: if you so much as walk on the streets of Brooklyn on a holiday like Passover with brown hair, or hey even with hair, period, a Chabadnik will probably approach you and ask if you’re Jewish. But Chabad, unlike other more dour and insular Hasidic groups, puts an emphasis on DIY, populist joy — dancing, singing — and bringing people together. That’s one of the reasons it’s growing. The other reason? It doesn’t charge membership dues.
As their website puts it, “Most often a Chabad House does not charge membership–if you are Jewish, you are a member.”
It’s a nice idea! It’s also the kind of idea that makes most rabbis go, “Oy vey.”
Most synagogues rely on annual membership dues which, for families, are in the four-figures. Most American Jews don’t belong to synagogues. The NYT this week connected the dots and, in the process, started a much needed conversation about paying to belong.
If someone is holding a very sharp implement against your skin, that’s not a time to act like you’re in a flea market.
You might call a man you don’t know “chief,” but when that man is a judge and you are the defendant, you should probably go with “Your Honor.”
The obvious thing to do is to trot down to the store with the bag of empties and exchange them for money, right?
I am not uniformly miserly. I allow myself the pleasure of good beer, periodic meals out at places where the entrees cost more than ten dollars, and, now and again, a vacation. But waste still feels deeply difficult.