NEW YORK (JTA) – Like many High Holidays worshipers, Andrew Steinerman had traditionally dealt with the Yom Kippur prohibition on wearing leather footwear by turning to Converse’s classic Chuck Taylor high-top canvas basketball shoe.
Not anymore. This year the prominent Wall Street analyst sported a pair of black Crocs to his Modern Orthodox shul on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar.
And he wasn’t alone.
From secular beachgoers in Tel Aviv to right-wing Orthodox settlers in Hebron, Crocs – the bulbous-toed, open-back, rubber summer shoe – already were ubiquitous in Israel. Now, reports from several synagogues across America suggest, Crocs have surpassed Chuck Taylors, Keds, flip-flops and a host of other options to become the Yom Kippur shoe in the United States.
"It was so comfortable; I couldn’t believe how cushy it was," said Steinerman, who opted for the subtle suit-matching black rather than one of the flashier Crocs colors. "Converse doesn’t have the right support. This was a big upgrade."
From Facebook to My Space, Internet users have discussed the Crocs-on-Yom Kippur trend. And the reviews were not all positive.
"They made their synagogue on Tisha B’Av. Grown men were actually wearing them to shul, with socks underneath!!!! The horror of it all!!!!" cried a My Space user known as Azamra DJ. "Me & my Converse All Star High Tops will be there in force, protesting the infiltration of the fast days of these atrocious Crocs!"
Jenny Comita, a features editor at W, also was down on the trend, which she noticed during services at Park Avenue Synagogue, a Conservative congregation on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
"Wearing my high heels, standing during Neilah, I was very jealous of the people wearing Crocs," she said, referring to the closing service of Yom Kippur. "But I don’t think it looks very good. It sort of ruins the effect. Women shop for this. It’s a day when you are out, people are seeing you."
Comita offered a no-leather, fashionably and religiously correct alternative: Espadrilles, with their trademark flexible, rope soles.
"They make them for women with a wedge heel," she said.
"I saw a woman from an Orthodox synagogue wearing them; they looked so chic. They look good with a skirt, unlike Crocs, which are so wide and boyish looking. And they would seem to be halachically cool – no leather."
Comfort was the issue for Harold Messinger, the prayer leader at Beth Am Israel in suburban Philadelphia and a cantorial student at Gratz College. But he also gave a great deal of thought to color: In recognition of the holiness of the day, Messinger went with his kittel-matching white.
"My wife had to order them," he said.
It was actually the second rubbery Yom Kippur for Messinger, who last year was forced at the last second to grab a more flamboyant pair from his parents’ closet after forgetting his tennis shoes.
"Not only were they comfortable," Messinger said, "many congregants came up and said what a great idea."
The only problem, he added, is that Crocs might be too relaxing for Yom Kippur.
"I started wondering, ‘Should I feel guilty about feeling comfortable?’ I didn’t enjoy it fully because of the guilt over enjoying the little rubbery foot massage," Messinger said. "At one point I started thinking that I should call the Crocs people and get a little endorsement deal. I’m thinking I have 800 people looking at my feet. But then I started feeling guilty again. People shouldn’t be looking at my shoes when they’re supposed to be davening."
Deborah Brodie, a freelance book editor, was unapologetic about how comfortable she felt in her pale green Crocs during services at Minyan Ma’at, a well-known egalitarian chavurah minyan in Manhattan.
"I’m a little too old to worry about that," she said. "I need to be able to stand long enough to focus on the davening. The cushioning of these shoes made it possible. It didn’t feel indulgent; it helped me think about the words on the page instead of my feet."
At least one leading arbiter on all things kosher, the Orthodox Union, has given the comfy rubber shoes the seal of approval.
In a Yom Kippur backgrounder on its Web site, the O.U. declared, "Crocs are fine."