A memory implanted in my mind from my early teen years as a Yeshiva Boy — before we went
home for summer break (it was called ‘bein haz’manim ,םינמזה ןי draeh ew ,)smret neewteb ,yllaretilב
some stern talk about the way we were expected to comport ourselves during vacation. Hey, I didn’t say
we absolutely listened like perfect little angels, but the message was clear. We were pretty clearly recogniz-
able yeshiva boys and if we were out in public doing something…highly frowned upon, it would reflect
poorly on the reputation of the yeshiva. In rabbinic terms, we heard the terms (often!) kiddush HaShem
( ישהדמזדב mehSaH lullihC ,edis-pilf krad eht dna ,)yloh eman s’doG gnikamמ,םילהלמזד s’doG gninaforpב
name) — yes, I know you’ve heard invoke these terms before. It’s because this is important.
A Jew received a Nobel or some other highly prized award of distinction — we’re proud: Look at us;
our little tribe strives, we get it done! We’re smart, philanthropic, compassionate, etc. A Jew becomes the
center of scandal or horror — Madoff, Weinstein, Boesky, Baruch Goldstein, to name a few. We cringe.
Those monstrous behaviors may belong solely to the perpetrators, but the Jewish name or face is duly
Whatever you might think about this particular tribal dynamic, it’s pretty old, it’s baked into who we
are and how we tell our narratives. I can’t be the only person noting Jewish last names that pop up in the
news. If I’m not naming them here, it’s because I don’t want to splash partisan politics into this conversa-
tion. Is it some weird Jewish neurosis? I can’t say for sure but I do know that our non-Jewish friends and
neighbors seem pretty much aware of highly visible American Jews (Seinfeld, Larry David? Again — I’m
avoiding folks who are currently in some sort of hot water, in order to steer clear of the 24/7 chatter).
While our population numbers are are tiny, our presence — for better or worse — looms larger
than our numbers warrant. When some Jewish actor or politician or mogul or athlete does or says something beautiful we should feel good about that moment. And we’ll cringe when one of our own makes a
fool of themselves or worse. Most of my yeshiva rebbes are likely gone, but their words are still important.
In the public arena, may the things said and done by ‘our crowd’ will represent a feather in our cap and not
a stench that haunts our steps.