Lakewood, NJ and an Expose – Who is Imposing Views on Whom and Is it Anti-Semitism or Justified Resentment?

Lakewood in Ocean County has become a destination for Orthodox Jewish families. (Aristide Economopoulos | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

Race, religion, corruption and politics: A guide to the crisis in Lakewood

Lakewood is home to a huge Orthodox Jewish community and the rapid growth has engulfed the town, igniting tensions between the religious and secular societies on many levels.

Each day, we will explore some of the major issues in the community, including the welfare fraud investigation, housing problems and the strains on the education system.

LAKEWOOD — The drive into Lakewood from the Parkway could be confused with any other stretch of county road near the Pinelands. There are farm stands, strip malls, modest neighborhoods and an occasional open field.

Then, you cross the border into Lakewood and the landscape changes immediately. There are suddenly crowded townhouse developments, new multifamily houses going up and members of the Orthodox Jewish community on every sidewalk.
 
Lakewood represents the convergence of almost every issue in New Jersey – race, religious freedom, discrimination, corruption, local politics, school funding, overdevelopment and transportation woes.
 
What makes it unique is the unprecedented growth of the town combined with the complex issues surrounding the booming Orthodox Jewish community.

While tensions have been rising in Lakewood for years, the turmoil has escalated in recent weeks with a showdown over school funding and a high-profile welfare fraud investigation.

The town thrust into the spotlight this summer with the arrest of 26 members of the Orthodox community accused of lying about their income to collect more than $2 million in public assistance.

The arrests brought renewed attention to Lakewood and highlighted what residents of the Ocean County town already know – Lakewood is changing. This once-faded resort community has become the most complex town in New Jersey.

What makes Lakewood unique?

Lakewood is booming. Thanks to an influx of Orthodox Jews, it has been New Jersey’s fastest-growing town over the last 20 years. It has one of the highest birth rates in the world. Housing is going up at an unprecedented pace.

“It’s probably the most attractive place in the United States today for a young Orthodox Jewish family,” said Rabbi Aaron Kotler, one of the leaders of the Orthodox community. “That’s a phenomenon that certainly didn’t exist when I was growing up, 20 or 30 years ago. But it’s a reality today.”

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With Resentment Jew Against Jew…The Upcoming Israel Vote and Similarities to Counties in NY and NJ

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CreditCreditSergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

How Jewish Should the Jewish State Be? The Question Shadows an Israeli Vote

JERUSALEM — For years, the resentment had been building.

In Israel, Jewish men and women are drafted into the military, but the ultra-Orthodox are largely exempt. Unlike other Israelis, many ultra-Orthodox receive state subsidies to study the Torah and raise large families.

And in a country that calls itself home to all Jews, ultra-Orthodox rabbis have a state-sanctioned monopoly on events like marriage, divorce and religious conversions.

A series of political twists has suddenly jolted these issues to the fore, and the country’s long-simmering secular-religious divide has become a central issue in the national election on Tuesday.

In a country buffeted by a festering conflict with the Palestinians, increasingly open warfare with Iran and a prime minister facing indictment on corruption charges, the election has been surprisingly preoccupied with the question of just how Jewish — and whose idea of Jewish — the Jewish state should be.

“I have nothing against the ultra-Orthodox, but they should get what they deserve according to their size,” said Lior Amiel, 49, a businessman who was out shopping in Ramat Hasharon. “Currently, I’m funding their lifestyle.”

This election was supposed to be a simple do-over, a quick retake to give Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a second chance to form a government and his opponents another shot at running him out of office.

Instead it has become what Yohanan Plesner, president of the nonpartisan Israel Democracy Institute, calls “a critical campaign for the trajectory of the country.”

Blame Avigdor Lieberman, the right-wing secular politician who forced the new election by refusing to join Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition with the ultra-Orthodox. The hill Mr. Lieberman chose to fight on was a new law that would eliminate the wholesale exemptions for ultra-Orthodox men to serve in the military.

Ultra-Orthodox lawmakers wanted to water it down. Mr. Lieberman refused to compromise.

It may have been a ploy to grab attention, but it struck a nerve. Almost overnight, Mr. Lieberman’s support doubled, and he became an unlikely hero to liberals.

For years, says Jason Pearlman, a veteran right-wing political operative, the two main axes of Israeli politics, religion and the Palestinians, had been “zip-tied” together. Mr. Netanyahu’s longtime coalition was just such a merger — right-wing voters, who favored a hard line toward the Palestinians, and the ultra-Orthodox, who promised a bloc vote in exchange for concessions on religious issues.

“What Lieberman did was to snap those zip-ties, popping the axes back apart,” Mr. Pearlman said.

Secular and liberal leaders from the left and center responded by effectively joining forces with the right-wing Mr. Lieberman against the prime minister’s ultra-Orthodox and religious-nationalist allies.

These rebels say that the mushrooming ultra-Orthodox population, with its unemployed religious students and large families subsidized by the state, is imposing excessive fiscal and social burdens on other Israelis. They are demanding more pluralistic options for marriages and conversions.

They were appalled that the ultrareligious parties were willing to grant Mr. Netanyahu immunity from prosecution, arguing that Mr. Netanyahu was buying his way out of jail by allowing Israel to be turned into a theocracy.

And they are furious at the growing influence of a quasi-evangelistic group of religious-nationalist Jews who espouse anti-feminist, anti-gay views and a far-right, messianic ideology.

“It’s becoming more and more alarming,” said Nitzan Horowitz, leader of the left-wing Democratic Union party. “People are starting to feel threatened.”

The ultra-Orthodox parties insist that they are simply defending a status quo that dates to Israel’s founding and is meant to preserve study of the Torah by its most pious devotees. A compromise with Israel’s then-fledgling religious community gave Orthodox rabbis control over family and dietary laws, among other things, in exchange for their support for the new state.

The ultra-Orthodox now make up only 10 percent of eligible Jewish voters, Israeli pollsters say — compared with 44 percent who consider themselves secular — but they have kept and added to those concessions thanks to their ability to extract promises in exchange for their political support.

“We’re not becoming a smaller minority, we’re becoming a larger minority,” said Yitzhak Zeev Pindrus, a lawmaker from the ultra-Orthodox party United Torah Judaism. “But we’re trying to keep it the same way it is.”

The religious-nationalists dismiss the criticism of their intentions as anti-Semitic self-loathing.

“They’re on a hate campaign against anything that has a Jewish aroma to it,” said Eytan Fuld, a spokesman for the right-wing Yamina party.

 

To continue reading in The New York Times, click here.

 

What Could Become of Israel if the Ultra-Orthodox Parties Win Additional Knesset Seats and a Dystopic View in TV

The cast of Autonomies.

Israeli TV show puts wall between secular and ultra-Orthodox Jews

‘This is the reality that currently exists in Israel,’ says the creator of Autonomies

War rages in the heart of the Middle East. Jerusalem is captured. Concrete walls go up, and a deep distrust spreads across the holy land.

The well-worn tale is used as the backdrop to multiple Israeli television dramas. Yet for one show, it is not Arabs and Jews who are doing the fighting, but Jews and Jews.

Currently touring film festivals across the world, the six-part series Autonomies envisions a clash between secular Jews and the deeply religious ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, Jews.

In this vision, set in the near future, civil war has cut the land into two countries. The coastal State of Israel is nonreligious, with the cosmopolitan city of Tel Aviv as its capital. Jerusalem is a walled, autonomous city-state, run by Haredi rabbis.

At first glance dystopian, the show is in fact an artistic extrapolation of real-life rifts in Israeli society. Many Israelis increasingly see secular-Haredi disaccord about the future of the state as a greater concern than the Palestinian issue, and fear it could tear the country apart from the inside.

Earlier this year, disagreements between secular and religious politicians shattered attempts to form a coalition government and dragged the country into a second round of elections. On 17 September, Israelis will go back to the polls following a campaign in which political parties have sought to exploit internal animosity.

Yehonatan Indursky, an Israeli filmmaker who wrote Autonomies with the writer Ori Elon, says the show takes divisions in Israel “to extremes, and tries to show what can happen if we do not wake up and try to find the way to live together and respect one another’s way of life”.

The drama’s protagonist, Broide (played by Assi Cohen), is a Haredi man who moves contraband, smuggling pornography and books banned by the religious authorities into Jerusalem. He is one of a few who crosses between the two sides and is soon caught up in a controversy that could reignite the war.

Yehonatan Indursky.

 The Israeli filmmaker Yehonatan Indursky, pictured, wrote the show with the writer Ori Elon. Photograph: Dpa Picture Alliance/Alamy Stock Photo

 

 

 

The series comes off the back of the writers’ hit Netflix show Shtisel, which received acclaim for sensitively and lovingly portraying Haredi family life, and has been renewed for a third season. Autonomies instead paints a much bleaker scene.

“Autonomies gives a kick in the stomach. And sometimes it is painful and hard to watch,” Indursky said.

What is fascinating for many viewers is how similar the setting of Autonomies appears. Israelis today lament a nation already divided, with the Haredim often living in their own neighbourhoods, women covering their hair with wigs and men wearing black coats and hats.

To secular outcries, ultra-Orthodox politicians have sought to ban public transport and other activities on the Jewish holy day of rest, and outlaw non-kosher food in supermarket chains. They feel their way of life is under threat.

Meanwhile, resentment against them focuses on hefty government stipends given to the community, as many men do not work but study religious texts. Almost half live in poverty.

Indursky grew up in an ultra-Orthodox family in Jerusalem but has not been part of the community for years, although he keeps close links with family and friends. He said he had received two main responses from Israelis to the series, both of which saddened him.

“One possible answer is that this is really not a dystopia but rather a utopia,” he said, adding some viewers backed the idea of separate countries to end seemingly irreconcilable differences.

“The second possible answer is that this is not a dystopia – this is the reality that currently exists in Israel. And in a way, that’s part of what we wanted to show through the series.”

The fissure between secular and ultra-Orthodox communities has already spiralled to the point that it ignited a political crisis this year.

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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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Jewish Law Does not Address How a State Should be Run… A “Halachic State” is Unworkable, Ben Gurion’s Misjudgment

Bezalel Smotrich.

WHY IS RELIGIOUS-ZIONIST SMOTRICH DREAMING OF A HALACHIC STATE? – ANALYSIS

For the second time in the course of the current election campaign, senior United Right MK and Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich has talked openly about his desire for the State of Israel to be run by Jewish law.

In June, he said he wanted to “restore our judges as of old,” “restore” Torah law to the Jewish state and for the country to be governed “as it was governed in the days of King David and King Solomon – by Torah law.”

The general perception is that it is ultra-Orthodox (haredi) lawmakers who are more stringent on matters of religion and state issues and more willing to wield their political power on such issues.

So why is it that the most prominent politician speaking about a halachic state, a state of Jewish law, is actually from the religious-Zionist community and not the ultra-Orthodox?

“The haredi belief is that we are still in exile,” said Avrimi Kroizer, a haredi political strategist and former adviser to former Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat. “On the ideological level, they do not believe that it is the path of God to bring the redemption through a secular state.

“Any participation and recognition in the haredi world with the state and with its institutions is a post-facto, flawed recognition with no ideological basis,” said Kroizer.

Eli Paley, chairman of the Haredi Institute for Public Affairs and publisher of Mishpacha Magazine, puts it even more starkly.

“The haredi community is dedicated to Jewish law but doesn’t see a state, in its modern concept, as the right vehicle for promoting Jewish law,” he said.

“Jewish law is something the ultra-Orthodox want to implement in their daily lives, but it is not relevant to how a state should function.”

In short, the haredi community does not view the State of Israel differently from any other country where Jews might live, be in the US, Australia or anywhere in between, and see no religious significance in it or its establishment.

Therefore there is no grand vision of running the country in accordance with Jewish law.

The ultra-Orthodox parties do intervene on matters pertaining to the so-called status quo on religion and state, arrangements involving Jewish personal status issues such as marriage, Shabbat, independent education systems and kashrut.

But these issues were part of a set of guarantees made by David Ben-Gurion to the ultra-Orthodox community in pre-state Mandatory Palestine over such matters, and the haredi parties state, frequently, that they simply seek to preserve these arrangements.

THAT IS NOT the case when it comes to the religious-Zionist community, and specifically the hardline wing of the sector.

Rabbi Ronen Lubich, president of the religious-Zionist activist organization, points out that the founding principles of the religious-Zionist movement hold the State of Israel as something holy, the “foundation of the throne of God in the world,” as Rabbi A.Y. Kook, the founding father of religious-Zionism, expressed it.

“The State of Israel isn’t just an ordinary state for Jews or a refuge to protect them from antisemitism for religious-Zionism, it is meant to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” said Lubich.

Indeed, the religious-Zionist movement refers to Israel as the first sprouting of the redemption, an idea which anathema to the ultra-Orthodox community.

The rabbi also observed that in the early years of the state senior religious-Zionist rabbis such as Rabbi Moshe Tzvi Neriah, a student of Kook, and former Chief Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog openly talked of the application of Jewish law in the state because of the belief that the Jewish people needed to be redeemed not only physically through the establishment of a state but spiritually too.

These and other rabbis eventually stopped discussion such ideas in the 1950s when it became clear that they could not be implemented and would also frighten the secular public.

But in recent years, the hardline wing of the religious-Zionist community has grown in numbers and influence, and now leads the traditional religious-Zionist parties, as well as many yeshivas and educational institutions in the sector.

Bayit Yehudi leader Rabbi Rafi Peretz, for example, is a student of Rabbi Tzvi Tau, president of the Har Hamor yeshiva in Jerusalem and one of the most senior and influential leaders of the hardline community, while Smotrich too belongs to this wing of the religious-Zionist movement.

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Israel and the Most Radical of Its Ultra-Orthodox – In Pictures, Those who will be in their Pursuits Israel’s Undoing

Pit an Ultra-Radical Jew Against an Ultra-Radical Muslim and the Muslim Wins… Why?

Because while Muslims are learning the Koran (the sacred book of Islam), which Muslims believe is the “actual word of G-d”, they are also learning to be soldiers, to speak other languages, the importance of education and how to function within their own society.

Fundamentalist Muslims, in contrast to radical Jews, understand the importance of education. To even the most religious, there is a power to knowing the languages of one’s neighbors and his laws.

To even the most educated of Koran scholars, there is a strength in learning to fight in an army, to learning to defend one’s land.  Moreover, unlike the most fundamentalist Jewish Israelis, who have the audacity to live in Israel, accept Israeli social services and social healthcare, but would be more than happy to hand over the land to Israel’s many enemies, the most fundamentalist Muslims in the surrounding countries are nationalistic as much as they are religious.

The governmental authorities in Islamic countries would not be tolerant of the behavior that the government of Israel permits. And there is a wisdom in that for Israel’s surrounding Arab neighbors.

When Israel’s fundamentalist Jews gain a majority in Israel, parliamentary control and a religious rule of law, which the numbers tell is an inevitability, Israel will be wholly unable to defend itself and its destruction will be imminent. On the one hand, Israel’s most radical want all Israelis to be radicalized. On the other, were that to happen, who would defend Israel against its neighbors? While Israel’s most radical are burning flags and soldiers in effigy, they are doing no more and no less than playing into the hands of Israel’s far wiser neighbors. When Israel’s government permits the most religious to occupy its land without participating in Israel’s army, Israel is making itself vulnerable, at the expense of the secular society that at some point will be powerless to defend against its neighbors.

The following is a photo-essay of Israel in pictures. In our view it is emblematic of  the greatest danger to Israel, the danger of the radical forces within Israel proper.

Out of respect for those photographed, we have not posted the article below in its entirety. We only took pieces. Some of the pictures are not with the captions in the original article. We therefore encourage you to click on the link and view the photo essay as it was intended. We believe it is extraordinary.

We have posted without permissions and our posting the below should not be viewed as an endorsement of this site by the authors of that article or their blog.  It should also not be presumed that they would have come to the same conclusions we have. They may feel quite differently.

We ask that you draw your own conclusions.

In pictures: The ultra-Orthodox Jews who back Palestine

The community in Jerusalem neighbourhood of Mea She’arim are rarely photographed

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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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