Probably no more than the top 10 percent of Brooklyn’s Orthodox Jews will ever shop at Pomegranate, the luxury kosher supermarket recently featured by The New York Times columnist David Brooks in a column titled “The Orthodox Surge.”
Brooks chose the upscale kosher version of Whole Foods as the fulcrum of an admiring piece on Orthodox Jewish life in America, writing of the Orthodox “sense of collective purpose” and the “external moral order” that governs Orthodox Jewish lives.
It’s nice of Brooks to give Orthodox Jews some positive press after so many scandals within our community and among other religious denominations. But his praise is misguided at best and agenda-driven at worst. Personally, I wish social critics would look elsewhere for their ideological ammunition and leave us alone.
Brooklyn now has enough upper-middle-class Orthodox Jews that a gourmet mega-market like Pomegranate can be an overnight success. But as in general society, and maybe more so, the upper stratum is just cream floating on a sea of working-class and working-poor parents struggling to get through each week and blessing the Almighty for each day.
The average Orthodox Jew in Brooklyn cannot afford Pomegranate, and thousands each week rely on food pantries stocked by organizations like the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty and Sephardic Bikur Holim. Approximately two-thirds of New York’s needy Jews live in Brooklyn. The average Orthodox family, including those living in the suburbs and on Manhattan’s swank West Side, lives on a tight budget, and that includes many of those 10-percenters. They struggle to keep up with household bills, yeshiva tuition for their numerous children, support for community needs and extravagances like any other American.
By extolling the “trendy” minority of Orthodox Jews, Brooks not only misrepresents who most of us are and where we are headed as a community. He also reinforces the peer pressure so many already feel to keep pursuing that brass ring rather than owning our material limitations and imbuing them with sanctity and purpose.