Another Perspective…. A Different Voice -Are we Targeting Hasidim?

Note to our readers:

We are often accused of taking a one-sided approach to the issues involving the Hasidic (Chasidic) community, of ignoring that there are two sides to every story and of crossing the line from factual information to hate speech. For that we apologize. It is during those times when you will see breaks in publication.  There is a fine line between opinions and facts and the message they send (perception is everything) and it is not always walked as cleanly as it should be or frankly as intended.

Here at LM we admire with significant emphasis, those like the Rabbi from New Jersey who commented on prior pages of this blog. His comments are important in the debate of how a community can live together, religious and non-religious, Jew and non-Jew together in harmony.

It takes courage to speak out.

We admire Rabbi Mordechai Lightstone (mentioned in the article below) for his tutorials and opinions or Chabad.org, some of which have graced our pages, whether we agree with them or not. We most admire people like the nurse, Blima Marcus mentioned below, who has gone on a virtual crusade to “debunk vaccination myths”. We don’t express our admiration enough.

We take issue, however, with the belief, expressed below and in the continuation of the Algemeiner article, that it is acceptable for an entire community to be groomed to study ancient texts. While their knowledge, ability to understand and parse out the details of the Jewish texts, and carry that kowledge to the next generation is, indeed, important; it cannot be to the exclusion of all else. Many of these people do not speak the language of the land, and we feel there is no legitimate excuse for that. If that same Jewish scholar is going home, having 9 children and then expecting non-religious, secular or non-Jewish members of society to foot the bills for those 9 children, he is imposing his religion on others. There is a fundamental unfairness to the rest of us, which perpetuates resentment and hate. Those who get angry and resentful should be understood in the context from which that is generated as well.

There must be a balance struck between study for the sake of study and contributing to the economic and financial continuance of that society. In the United States, we refer to the greater US. When living in London we refer to the greater UK and when living in Canada, we refer to the greater Canada. It is all well and good to be a scholar, but when you take money from society to study, you breed resentment. This blogger, for one, would love to return to study, a government and philosophy student who spent years editing translations of the scrolls of Elephantine Island for a professor at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. But it is unrealistic to do so if a family must be fed, taxes must be paid and children must attend school. We are not living in a vacuum.

Within the writing of some of the most scholarly rabbis, there was a clear understanding, if not an outright demand of the Jewish people, that we be self-sufficient. However we chose to establish our society, the religion demands that we not rely on others for support. When religion starts to encroach upon the lives and livelihoods of others, it is an imposition and unacceptable. To deem those not religious as not even Jewish or as lesser humans, which can be found in multiple teachings throughout the religious (and perhaps fundamentalist Jewish world – yes… every religion has its kooks), then the balance gets tipped and damage is done.

We, with admiration, agree wholeheartedly that there must be a way forward that provides for mutual respect, mutual tolerance, global sensitivity and a measure of love for those notable people on all sides of the debate and political divide. We thank Algemeiner for the published opinion and those highlighted within the article. 

We ask that you please read the Algemeiner article below and that you consult its original sources.  It tells a different story then most that grace our pages, but one that should be read without a passive indifference or active criticism.

With respect, LM 

Stop Picking on the Hasidim

The Orthodox Jewish community of New York is under attack. In just a few days, a 63-year-old Hasidic grandfather was beaten with a brick, another was made to strip off his yarmulke at gunpoint, a gang attacked a truck, and more. Then a shocking campaign video was posted by Republicans in Rockland County, depicting Hasidic Jews as a threat to their fellow Americans.

Those behind the video refused to apologize, and as The New York Post revealed, they had deviously plotted their modern-age blood libel months in advance.

These unmistakably antisemitic attacks are not sui generis in nature. On the contrary, the NYPD found a 101 percent increase in antisemitic hate crimes compared to the same period last year. With their distinctive black and white uniforms and visible religious head coverings, the Orthodox make an easy target for physical violence and societal prejudice.

As Rabbi Mordechai Lightstone, social media editor at Chabad.org, puts it, Hasidim “are described as all things except for the one thing we are the most: human beings trying to make it in this town like everyone else.”

The fact is that the Orthodox are growing extremely fast. With 70 percent of Jewish-Americans assimilating out of religious existence, these “black hat” communities (I refuse to call them “ultra-Orthodox”) will reportedly soon constitute 25 percent of Jewry in the entire nation.

An example of the way these people have recently been picked on is the public reaction to the measles crisis that recently swept New York. With a health ban that was placed only on yeshiva schools, many began to blame the Orthodox for not vaccinating their children. Never mind the fact that most of the schools with unvaccinated students weren’t even Jewish, or arguably that the common denominator between those who refuse vaccinations isn’t religion but being white, rich, and well-educated.

Regardless, by painting the vaccination crisis in New York as an Orthodox Jewish issue, the national conversation is skewed away from the reality that nine percent of Americans (30 million people!) are reportedly anti-vaxxers. Furthermore, it is an Orthodox nurse, Blima Marcus, who is leading the way in teaching healthcare clinicians how to effectively debunk vaccination myths for the American public.

The problem is that this bias leads directly to the short-sighted and dangerous “us vs. them” mentality that pits public opinion against minority groups. In her New York Times article “Is it Safe to be a Jew in New York?” Ginia Bellafante points out that the societal intransigence to take action against the blaze of anti-Orthodox bigotry stems from stories like these that carelessly stoke the “existing impressions of backwardness.”

I believe the flames of insidious bigotry must be quenched with the soothing waters of public education.

Mayor Bill de Blasio recently appointed Deborah Lauter, previously of the Anti-Defamation League, to run the new Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes. They should follow the advice of Elan Carr, US Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism, who recently remarked that fighting antisemitism must include “philosemitic education” about positive Jewish contributions to society.

Rabbi Moshe Dovid Niederman, arguably the most politically active Hasidic Jew in New York City, laments the ignorance surrounding the contributions his community offers the general public. “I think most New Yorkers would be surprised to discover that our non-profit, United Jewish Organizations (UJO) of Williamsburg, provides social services to anyone, regardless of religion, race, or creed.”

Although most of Niederman’s clientele are Hasidim, he advocates for fellow New Yorkers of all backgrounds who are referred to UJO. “We help anyone who walks in the door,” Niederman says, “it could be food stamps, housing assistance or whatever else they need.”

This public service ethos is derived from Jewish spiritual theology, which places a moral mandate on its followers to engage in “Chessed,” colloquially translated as “acts of loving kindness.” As Professor Jack Werthheimer writes in his article “What You Don’t Know About the Ultra-Orthodox,” the Orthodox have made “Chessed” into an “art form” by creating hundreds of aid programs, known as “Gemachs” — a Hebrew acronym for “Gemilut Chasadim,” literally, “the giving of loving-kindness.”

In the marketplace of ideas, cultural contributions from these most visible Jews should be cherished and protected as a national resource. In these communities, young men are expected to dedicate their post-high school years to studying at Kollelim, yeshivas of higher learning, where they pour over the ancient texts from morning until night. The purpose of this higher education model isn’t to obtain a degree but to engage in study for its own sake.

To continue reading in Algemeiner click here.

Rockland County, New York and a Legislative Meeting with More Residents Outside Than Inside

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Speakers sound off at packed Rockland Legislature meeting, with hundreds still outside

NEW CITY — Tuesday night’s county Legislature meeting turned into a venting session for distressed community members, with speakers letting loose about legislators Aron Wieder and Laurie Santulli, unsustainable growth, anti-Semitism, a proposed summit to address divisiveness in Rockland and more.

“You want to fix the anger?” speaker Lauren Marie told the legislators. “Do your jobs!” She was later removed from the room for shouting at another speaker while many spectators rose and cheered for her.

The atmosphere was intense from early evening, with hundreds waiting on line outside to get into the 7 p.m. meeting. The Legislature’s auditorium quickly reached its capacity of 220 people, though, and officials estimated that another couple hundred people remained outside, behind locked doors. Sheriff’s deputies were all around, one with a police dog.

The Legislature, with 13 members present, opened the meeting by moving directly to public comment. The audience included several Orthodox and Hasidic men and women, but the overwhelmingly majority appeared to be non-Orthodox.

Many speakers began their remarks by noting that they were not anti-Semitic or that their concerns were not about religion. Speakers who warned against over-development and called for fair treatment for all received applause. Several speakers who tried to defend Wieder or the Orthodox community were interrupted or booed.

The Legislature wound up not officially discussing its two agenda items, which were moved to committee. One called for praising those who condemned a controversial video shared by the Rockland County GOP last week, which many condemned as anti-Semitic, and the second called for a community summit in 2020 to address the county’s tensions.

Several speakers did comment about the lack of a resolution requested by Santulli to censure Wieder. Santulli wanted Wieder censured for calling a Clarkstown blogger “the anti-Semite of Rockland County” after an Aug. 23 press conference and for comments Wieder made about state Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee at an Aug. 15 Ramapo Town Board hearing related to development.

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The GOP in Rockland “Fearing Takeover” is Supporting a DA Candidate Allied with the Same “Feared” – Stirring Hate Soup…

A storm is brewing in Rockland County, N.Y., a campaign ad says.

As dramatic music pulses in the background, the Rockland County Republican Party’s video first targets what the party considers overdevelopment in the county of about 329,000 people.

Then it takes a turn. County Legislator Aron Wieder, an Orthodox Jew who supports new housing developments, is “plotting a takeover” that threatens “our way of life,” the advertisement proclaims. After the video asks what’s at stake, the words “Our Families” are overlaid on a photo of a white, non-Orthodox couple and their children posing on a front lawn.

……..

Development, and how much of it is too much, recently has been a flash point in Rockland County. A town board meeting in Ramapo this month featured nearly two dozen speakers complaining that 220 planned housing units favored ultra-Orthodox Jews at the expense of secular residents, the Rockland/Westchester Journal News reported.

In March, Rockland County banned unvaccinated children from public spaces amid New York’s largest measles outbreak in decades. Day said during a news conference at the time that authorities would not search for unvaccinated children, but parents who were found to be in violation could be charged with a misdemeanor. The action came at a time when health authorities were raising concerns about decreased vaccination rates and measles outbreaks in communities including ultra-Orthodox Jews. An outbreak in Rockland “has mainly affected the Orthodox Jewish community in Spring Valley and Monsey,” the lohud.com news website reported.

To read the article in its entirety click here.

Oded Forer – Creating a Civil Law Free of Radical Influences, the Draft, an Israel for All Jews [Video]

 

Parliamentarian Oded Forer: ‘Make Israel Normal Again’ (with VIDEO)

The number two on Yisrael Beitenu’s list wants to end power of Israel’s religious parties

In a TLV Internationals event moderated by The Media Line, parliamentarian Oded Forer, number two on the list for the Yisrael Beitenu party, spoke to a crowd of largely new immigrants about why they should support his party in the September 17 national elections. The gathering was the first in a weekly “Sunset Series” taking place in August, with different parties represented each week.

TLV Internationals serves as an advocate for new immigrants to Israel with the national government. With a following of over 60,000 young men and women from a multitude of nations, backgrounds and professional fields, the group has built the largest expat community in Israel.

he September vote is the second to take place this year, after Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud party failed to garner enough support to form a government after the April 9 vote.

Forer highlighted three major components of Beitenu’s platform: Creating a government free of religious influence, allowing public transportation on Shabbat and requiring Haredim, or ultra-Orthodox Jews to be subject to the military draft.

“What we want to do is make Israel normal again,” Forer said. “We want to allow people to live the way they want.”

Forer expressed his belief that his party can double the number of seats it received in the first election to 10 or 11 this time by focusing on the increasing discontent of secular Israelis over the demands of the religious parties.

If Beitenu wins enough seats in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, he said it would advocate for forming a center-right unity government together with two other parties, Likud and the Benny-Gantz-led Blue and White faction. Such an alliance would almost undoubtedly garner the minimum 61 seats in the 120-member parliament needed to form a coalition.

“It doesn’t matter who the prime minister is, but what kind of government we have,” Forer said.

One of those attending the event was Brian Shaposhnik, who made aliyah (immigrated to Israel) from Toronto in 2013. He did not vote for Yisrael Beitenu in the April election but believes the party is pro-LGBT rights.

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Anti-Semitism and Pollsters – Not Understanding the Nuances – Social Hostilities of Religious Norms

What the Pew report got wrong about religious restrictions

NEW YORK (JTA)—A recently released Pew Research Center report about global restrictions on religion focuses mostly on discrimination against, and the persecution of, various religious groups in different countries. Jews are prominent targets as always, “harassed in 87 countries… the third-highest figure for any religion.”

But the report also turns a spotlight on Israel, yielding headlines like the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s “Israel has almost as many religious restrictions as Iran.” The headline and the report beneath it were picked up by myriad media.

But the Pew report, by not differentiating between the types of “religious restrictions” or “hostilities,” might lead readers to false conclusions.

The report ranks Israel’s “social hostilities related to religious norms” as “very high,” following more than two dozen countries in the “very high” category like China and Iran, and its “governmental restrictions” on religion as “high,” behind countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait.

Pew also cites Israel as having the sixth highest level of “interreligious tension and violence,” presumably referring to Arab Muslim attacks on Jews and vice-versa.

When Israel is placed in the company of such countries, an uninformed reader might be led to imagine Israel as a violent Jewish theocracy, with rival religious groups shooting it out on the streets of Jerusalem, the mass repression of non-Jewish citizens and the jailing of people for practicing their faiths. But no such things were cited, of course, since no such things actually happen.

The only specific description of religious restrictions that happen in Israel contained in the 126-page report was a single sentence: “In Israel, drivers who operated cars near ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods on the Sabbath reported incidents of harassment, including name-calling and spitting, by ultra-Orthodox residents.”

Such rude behavior should be beneath any Jew, certainly any Jew claiming to be religious. But such behavior, not sanctioned in any way by the state or the rabbinate, does not merit Israel’s inclusion among a list of countries where religious minorities are interned, as in China, or where police have raided religious minorities’ homes and places of worship, as in Iran, or where the Islamic State is currently active.

Decades ago, when I was studying in a yeshiva in such a neighborhood, Israelis who were not Sabbath observant would sometimes purposely drive through the main street, where people were enjoying peaceful Sabbath strolls, seeking to goad the locals. No one was spat upon, but angry calls of “Shabbos!” were indeed shouted at the visitors. The late Bostoner Rebbe, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Horowitz, once told a writer that “Shabbos” was not a word ever meant to be shouted.

But even ill-mannered reactions to provocations are hardly the stuff of “religious hostility.”

As to “governmental restrictions on religion,” the report makes reference to the fact that “all countries in [the Middle East] defer in some way to religious authorities or doctrines on legal issues.”

In Israel, this refers to the fact that the haredi Orthodox Chief Rabbinate sets the terms of official religious life and Jewish personal status, from determining whether or not a certain restaurant is kosher to whether or not two individuals can marry there. Marriages of any sort that take place outside the country, though, are legally recognized, leading some Israelis to take quick trips to Cyprus to obtain marriage licenses.

There is indeed opposition among some Israelis to the power afforded the country’s official Rabbinate in matters of Jewish personal status. But many Jewish Israelis—a majority of whom are either haredi (“ultra-Orthodox”), dati (nationalist religious) or “traditional” Jews—accept the need for a single, central standard-bearer regarding conversion, marriage and divorce.

The Chief Rabbinate’s fealty to traditional norms of halacha (Jewish religious law) effectively rejects the legitimacy of conversions and divorces overseen by non-Orthodox rabbis, which is seen by non-Orthodox Jews in the U.S. as outrageous.

“Why,” they ask, “should Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist or Humanistic Jewish rituals not enjoy the same respect in Israel as Orthodox ones?”

From a non-Orthodox perspective, it’s an entirely valid question. And we Orthodox Jews need to understand why fellow Jews are so hurt by the Chief Rabbinate’s approach to personal status issues.

But there’s something non-Orthodox Jews also need to understand: The Chief Rabbinate’s position doesn’t stem from any animus (despite some uncouth comments by Israeli politicians and rabbis who seem to have never met a Jewishly committed non-Orthodox Jew). It stems from a commitment to the religious laws that have preserved the Jewish nation for millennia.

In Israel, the existence of the Chief Rabbinate helps ensure that conversions and divorces meet standards that all Jews can accept, preventing the sort of schism that, tragically but undeniably, has developed here in the United States as a result of the dire sociological upshot of non-halachic conversions and divorces.

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Jews Being Attacked in NY but No One is Making a Big Deal of It, Why?

Everybody Knows

As the leading targets of hate crimes, Jews are routinely being attacked in the streets of New York City. So why is no one acting like it’s a big deal?

 

The incidents now pass without much notice, a steady, familiar drumbeat of violence and hate targeting visibly Jewish people in New York City.

Early on the morning of June 15, a Saturday, two men in a white Infiniti drove around Borough Park, a vast,  traditional Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in central Brooklyn. Surveillance footage posted on the local website BoroPark24 showed a man jumping out of the car’s passenger side as someone in a shtreimel and long black jacket walked down the sidewalk in their direction. As the car idled, the passenger approached the Jewish stranger, lunged at him in a linebacker-like stutter-step, and then darted to the waiting vehicle, which promptly sped away. Levi Yitzhak Leifer, head of the Borough Park Shmira neighborhood patrol, said there were at least six and as many as nine reported incidents that night involving the same vehicle. Beresch Freilich, a rabbi who serves as a community liaison with the NYPD in Borough Park, said that some of the targeted individuals sensed a violent intent: “The car passed by going back and forth, and they felt it was trying to run them over.”

On a Saturday night in mid-January, Steven, a student and member of the Chabad Hasidic movement in his late teens, was returning to his apartment on Empire Avenue after a trip to the gym. (Nearly all victims interviewed for this piece asked to be identified by first name only, due to their involvement in ongoing legal cases). Steven saw what he described as a “rowdy group” of between six and eight “older teens” gathered on the sidewalk on a poorly lit stretch between Schenectady and Troy avenues. One of the teens sucker punched Steven in the back of the head as he walked past. “At first I honestly thought a car ran into me—it was such a blow.” Steven was then struck in his right cheek and fell to the sidewalk. He realized he was outnumbered but some irrational part of him couldn’t accept the insult.

“I charged towards them like in a frenzy, with blood on my hands and my face, and I started trying to give him a thing or two,” he remembered of his run toward his main attacker. They exchanged a few blows before the entire group fled. The teens made no attempt to rob Steven, and there was no clear motive for the assault. In retrospect, given the force of the first strike against a vulnerable spot on his head, Steven thinks the attack could have gone much worse for him. “I was very, very lucky,” he said.

Steven’s attackers can be seen on surveillance footage entering and leaving the area in which the ambush took place, although the attack itself was not recorded, making the case difficult to pursue as either a hate crime or an assault. Steven said he talked to the NYPD’s hate crimes unit, which is called in at the discretion of a precinct’s commanding officer or a borough’s on-duty executive officer when a crime has a suspected hate motive, but that no elected officials reached out to him. It had been months since he had heard from law enforcement about the case.

The attack had made Steven anxious and moody in the months after, but one of his grandfathers was a Talmudic master who had spent seven years in Stalin’s gulag after World War II and only escaped the Soviet Union in the 1970s. “Me getting punched in the face—I think of it almost comically,” Steven said. “It’s a part of being Jewish.”

On May 1, at the corner of Carroll and Albany in Crown Heights, a property manager named Jack Blachman heard a woman screaming and saw two Jewish girls, whose ages he estimated at 14 or 15, running down the sidewalk. Behind them was a “big, tall dude” who Blachman described as “very agitated” and later identified as Hispanic—apparently the girls had not moved out of his way. “I asked him what was going on and he started screaming at me, accosted me, yelled, ‘you Jews, you’ve created this cult,’” said Blachman. “Then he spit in my face.” Blachman recorded the incident—including the spit—and the video eventually ended up on Twitter. There is generally great viral potential in footage that appears to capture acts of bias, yet Blachman’s video currently sits at a mere 479 retweets.

Chayyim, a Satmar Hasid, was struck as he was walking home from synagogue in south Williamsburg with his 11-year-old son on a Shabbat night in late November of last year. “It was a very good punch to the back of my head,” he recalled, a blow that sent his shtreimel and yarmulke tumbling to the sidewalk. “It threw me off balance—it took me even a couple seconds to get my vision back. He hit me pretty hard. It felt like initially it might have been a glass bottle falling from the top of a building or something like that.” The street had been “pretty empty,” and the punch had no obvious motive.

Chayyim ran after his attacker and was able to get a close view of him, quick thinking that helped the police identify and apprehend the assailant a few days later. The suspect turned out to be a Hispanic man in his early 30s who had recently been arrested for lashing out at paramedics treating him after an apparent overdose on K2, the dangerous synthetic marijuana alternative sold throughout Williamsburg and Bushwick. The attacker was charged with assault, but the punch was so inexplicable that a hate motive could not be proven.

Like Chayyim, Yehuda, a Satmar Hasid living in Williamsburg, did not try to draw attention to an attack against him in the neighborhood in early May, when a teenager punched him in broad daylight. “He was silent, he didn’t say anything before and after. I cannot say what his motive was,” Yehuda said. He explained there is a sense of fellow-feeling between Williamsburg’s Jews and their neighbors that one shouldn’t lose sight of. He recalled that the day before our conversation, in early July, he observed a young African American man attempting to hop a subway turnstile. A Hasid approached the barrier and helpfully swiped the man into the subway system.

The increase in the number of physical assaults against Orthodox Jews in New York City is a matter of empirical fact. Anti-Semitic hate crimes against persons, which describes nearly everything involving physical contact, jumped from 17 in 2017 to 33 in 2018, with the number for the first half of 2019 standing at 19, according to the NYPD’s hate crime unit. Jews are the most frequent targets of hate crimes in New York City, and have been for some time (although this number is somewhat skewed by the fact that swastikas, which are by far the city’s most common hate incident, are automatically categorized as an anti-Jewish hate crime).

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