Something crystallized for me earlier this week, a real-life realization of a story someone once told me.
The story: An Israeli who taught in an Orthodox school was seen by her students while driving on Shabbat. They accosted her -- how can you drive on Shabbat, don't you know it's forbidden, you are a sinner -- to which she replied, and what about you? You are forbidden to live outside of Israel. We each choose how we sin.
It might be distressing to acknowledge, yet it was one of the wisest theological comments I'd ever heard. Everyone picks and chooses the components of their own Judaism. This is simply true, as much as we might intend -- or pretend -- otherwise.
That said, it was just an instructional story until Sunday, when I tossed a friend into the back seat of an airplane, got into the front seat, and flew out to Montauk for lunch.
I stuck to my kashrut principles once we got there, but it was she, not I, who said tefilat haderech -- something I should say but generally don't -- at 3,500 feet over the south shore of Long Island. Unsurprisingly, a discussion started after I stuck with my salad and declined the corn fritters. Does being stricter about kashrut but more lax about prayers make me a worse Jew? A better Jew? A hypocrite?
Perhaps there's something to be said for the way Jews get along seemingly everywhere other than here, namely by acknowledging that, yes, we each do this a bit differently, in our way, but we are all respected parts of the same community. Maybe we Jews of New York should try it. We won't, of course, but maybe we should.
Cheeseburgers on Pesach? Jewish Tattoos? Shaking girls' hands? They're all different shades of the same thing, and not so much about what we practice as much as how we choose to do so. On a micro scale, in any case, the combination works out nicely: I fly the airplane while she says tefilat haderech, but all in all I'm the cheaper date.