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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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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Yehuda Sabiner, the Gur Yeshiva Community Should be Proud – Chesed… Save One Person and Save the World

Yehuda Sabiner by the Forward

Meet Israel’s First Hasidic Med School Student

Does every Jewish mother want her son to become a doctor? Not always. If you’re a member of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Israel, where many young men are expected to spend their days learning Torah full-time, many mothers in these communities would much rather say, “my son the rabbi” than “my son the doctor.”

And while there are ultra-Orthodox doctors, many of whom immigrated from abroad or found religion later in life, a Hasidic doctor who grew up in a local Hasidic community is as rare as a unicorn.

For Yehuda Sabiner, the path to medical school was an unorthodox one. The son of the dean of a Hasidic Gur yeshiva in Jerusalem, Sabiner, now a 29 year-old father of three, said that he has wanted to enter the medical profession since he was four years old, when he innocently asked his pediatrician what he would have to do to become an MD.

When he told his parents that he wanted to be a doctor, they saw it “as a cute thing that children say,” he recalled. But when he continued insisting on his chosen profession at age 16, it ceased being amusing and became a source of concern for members of his family.

“As I grew up, I saw you can do it as a religious mission, as hesed[lovingkindness], which is very important part of the Jewish tradition. My mother had tears in eyes and said ‘I thought we passed the hard times,’” Sabiner told the Forward. But as he continued in yeshiva, getting high marks in Talmud and appearing to be on track to eventually become a rabbi or a religious court judge, his parents began to relax, although he would occasionally bring up the subject of medicine throughout.

While the ultra-Orthodox world is anything but monolithic, its overall workforce participation is significantly lower than in the national-religious and secular sectors, and many members of the most fervent Haredi communities shun secular studies and higher education.

According to figures released by the Israel Democracy Institute in December, some 45 percent of Haredim live in poverty and just under half of Haredi men are unemployed. Employment figures tend to be lower among members of “Lithuanian” or non-Hasidic Haredim. Despite these figures, however, there has been an increase in the number of Haredim studying for professional careers and the average Haredi monthly income increased by eight percent between 2015-16, “reflect[ing] a rise in ultra-Orthodox salaries among those employed,” according to the IDI. These gains can be credited to the “rise in the number of well-educated members of the ultra-Orthodox community and the advancement of ultra-Orthodox workers in the labor market (as a result of a combination of appropriate skills and education, and government programs).”

Sabiner’s dreams did not fade after his marriage. When he again announced that he intended to become a doctor, his parents replied that it was an issue for him and his wife to handle, while his new bride broke out crying.

“It almost destroyed our marriage,” he recalled, describing how her wife had thought she was marrying a future rabbi.

However, she soon had a change of heart and “came to me with tears in eyes, still upset, and said she won’t be the one to destroy my dream.”

Enrolling in a academic preparatory program run by the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Sabiner worked hard to make up all of the education that he missed attending a Haredi school. “I didn’t know anything, even the ABCs, [certainly] not to write or read in English,” he said. Studying late into the night, his wife helping him, and he gradually began to approach the level of education necessary to undertake medical studies.

After he left the Technion’s Haredi program and integrated into their primary track together with secular students, social life was initially awkward but he was soon accepted by his peers as just another student.

“The beginning was very strange,” he recalled. “It already began in the entrance of the building. The guard stopped me and wouldn’t let me go in: ‘What are you doing here?’ Girls were terrified to sit next to me, but after two weeks the ice melted and I have probably the best fiends of my lifetime here.”

Back in the Hasidic community, Sabiner initially kept his studies secret, but after he let the cat out of the bag he said he was surprised by the response.

“I give classes in my shul about halacha and ethics and medicine,” he said. “I cannot say that I’ve had any problems in the last couple of years.”

And despite their initial reluctance to support his dream, once he had chosen his path, Sabiner said that his parents became his biggest supporters, both financially and emotionally, giving him the breathing room to finish his studies.

 

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Quebec, Canada and the Battle with Government over Education and Obligations to Children

Yohanan Lowen, right, and his wife, Shifra, are taking the Quebec government to court. They are seen here outside their Montreal apartment in 2017. (Benjamin Shingler/CBC)

Ex-Hasidic couple’s battle with Quebec government over education to go to trial

Yohanen and Shifra Lowen, former Hasidic Jews who claim the Quebec government didn’t do enough to ensure they received a proper education, will finally get their day in court — a year from now.

A trial pitting the Lowens against the province has been set for Feb. 10, 2020 in Quebec Superior Court, five years after they first filed a lawsuit against the province.

Their lawyer, Clara Poissant-Lespérance, said its outcome will be pivotal in determining the government’s obligations towards children educated in religious communities.

“The trial will give an answer to those very important questions about if the government did enough to make sure children receive a proper education,” she said.

The Lowens are seeking a declaratory judgment which, if they win, would force the province to take steps to ensure children in religious communities are taught the provincial curriculum.

Named in the lawsuit are the provincial government and Hasidic schools in their home community of Tash, a secluded ultra-orthodox Hasidic community in Boisbriand, Que., about 30 kilometres from Montreal.

Representatives from the local school board, the province and youth protection services will be called to testify.

 

Yohanen Lowen alleges that, when he finished school at 18, he could barely add or subtract, couldn’t read and write in English or in French, and was left unequipped to find work.

He broke ties with his home community a decade ago and now lives in Montreal with his wife and four children. He is unemployed and is still working toward his high school diploma.

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Izzy Posen, a Hasidic ultra-Orthodox Jew, What he Faced to Leave the Community – BBC

https://www.bbc.com/news/av/embed/p06xypvd/46843532

https://www.bbc.com/news/av/uk-46843532/inside-the-hidden-world-o

Video

Inside the hidden world of Britain’s Hasidic ultra-Orthodox Jews

Would you be able to leave everything you have ever known behind in order to follow your dreams?

That was the choice Izzy Posen, a Hasidic ultra-Orthodox Jew faced when he decided to leave his isolated religious community.

He told BBC World Service how his life has been transformed since breaking free.

Video produced by Trystan Young and Alice Porter.

Listen to more stories from The Newsroom.