All too many times the “McMansion” issue is just a socially acceptable form of Orthodox bashing. “Why do these Jews have to destroy our communities?” “The Orthodox have no respect for our aesthetic.” “Don’t they have any shame?” These are only a few of the comments lurking not so deep beneath some Conservative or Reform Jews’ Sunday afternoon observation of “Oh my God–look at that disgusting, gauche brick thing that they put up on what used to be the Cohen’s lawn!”
The bottom line is Orthodox Jews have figured out how to earn a little bit of gelt, and when you have seven kids, anything less than a mansion can get a little bit tight. Granted, I find most Orthodox Jews in the “Five Towns” of Long Island and other locales guilty of overindulging in a nouveau-riche aesthetic that makes even the most polite blush.
Likewise, many Orthodox Jews may have a Mercedes in the driveway and spend Passover in luxury hotels in Florida but can’t afford to pay up their synagogue membership dues. (It took close to 15 years for one Long Island synagogue known for its so-called wealthy congregants with mega-McMansion homes to raise enough funds for a synagogue-rebuilding project).
And yes, I am sorry to say but many Orthodox Jews in the Five Towns, Teaneck, New Jersey, and Brooklyn, New York, have little respect or notion of a public aesthetic that’s tasteful, modest, and respectful of a community’s history. That said, when you have a lot of kids, what is most important is not looks but space. Kids require space, Shabbat company requires space, and hachnasat orchim (welcoming guests) requires space.
Its not Orthodox Jews who have a problem: it’s the rest of the Jewish community that gawk at the mansions of celebrities and take vacations to Newport, Rhode Island, to admire the palaces that were built by wealthy WASPs.
Of course, people who find the need to have mikvahs (ritual baths) built into their homes are pathetic, but let’s be fair and honest: Are they any more pathetic than the rest of America that dreams about having a pool in their backyard?