TRADITION Questions: Airport Lounges & Shul Kiddush

Chaim Strauchler Tradition Online | May 30, 2024

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On the Airport Lounges and the Shul Kiddush: Social Exclusion, Inclusion, and Identity

What is it?

With its platinum cards and elite levels, the modern economy generates formalized social divisions. Jewish life is in many ways an oasis from such gates and games. Whereas at sports arenas and within airplane cabins, consumer classes are ever more finely diced, the shul and its kiddush are great equalizers. On a regular basis the rich and poor pray, study, socialize, and fress together. As stratified identities spread within society, how can Jewish life avoid pressures to create separations between people while continuing to embody a culture where people regularly care for one another?

Why does it matter? 

Religious communities provide a “third place.” What is a third place? A first place is where people live; a second place is where they work or go to school. A third place is any location that doesn’t fall into the first two categories. Coffee shops, parks, and community centers can all function as third places. Third places can be maintained by businesses, governments, or community associations, yet each will inevitable do so differently.

Charitable fundraising campaigns have long maintained third places utilizing donation levels to differentiate among supporters. Yet, they have done so to preserve social norms of equal access to the services those institutions create. We understand that our schools and shuls must proclaim kol dikhfin yetei ve-yekhol—we serve everyone best when we serve everyone together.

Chaim Saiman and Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt, writing in the pages of TRADITION’s materialism summit issue suggest:

Luxury is no longer a lifestyle that some who happen to be Orthodox share with other high net-worth Americans. Rather, as the norms of frum society shift, luxury has become a central part of an aspirational Orthodoxy. Attaining it no longer requires Jews to assimilate into the broader American sphere because it has been wholly assimilated into frum culture. American frumkeit itself has become a luxury brand.

Part of luxury is exclusivity. The “frumkeit brand” already makes use of informal exclusivity. As it develops, how will this exclusion become formalized in membership cards and service levels? How will rising expectations of the food and decor at kiddush raise subtle walls around its carefully curated tables?

What questions remain? 

In creating a non-tiered community, has Modern Orthodoxy excluded lower economic strata who might have done well at a “lower price point”?

Is a lower middle class Modern Orthodox model tenable? Does it exist “out-of-town”? Why doesn’t it exist in the New York area or in other larger metropolitan centers?

Have our children “bought in” to the upper middle class lifestyle such that they can no longer distinguish between their Judaism and their social economic status?

Rabbi Chaim Strauchler is an Associate Editor of TRADITION.

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