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.

Measles, Currently the Most Contagious Virus and the Misinformation Spread to Insular Communities

FEAR, MISINFORMATION, AND MEASLES SPREAD IN BROOKLYN

IT WAS OCTOBER 31, a balmy day in Brooklyn, and Alexander Arroyo was walking around his neighborhood dressed as an octopus, pushing his 2-month-old daughter in a carriage, as his wife chased their toddler through the after-school Halloween trick-or-treat crowd. As the family filled their bags with candy, Arroyo’s phone rang and he stopped to answer it, trying to hear over the din of excited children. Arroyo is the director of the pediatric emergency department at one of the biggest hospitals in Brooklyn, Maimonides Medical Center, and two days earlier, a 15-month-old girl had come to the ER with a fever and a rash. He’d been waiting for a call to confirm the diagnosis, and this was it. The test had come back positive: The girl had measles.

 

WHEN THE GIRL had arrived at the ER, she was put in a busy area, where children with earaches or broken arms typically sit. No one suspected measles, because, thanks to routine childhood vaccination, the disease was declared eliminatedin the United States in 2000. Although there had been localized outbreaks since then—among the Amish in Ohio, visitors to Disneyland in California, and the Somali American community in Minnesota—neither Arroyo nor most of his staff had seen a case firsthand. Suspecting ­measles was like thinking “maybe that’s a unicorn,” Arroyo says. “It doesn’t really cross your mind, because measles shouldn’t exist anymore.”

Still, several measles cases had been reported in a different part of Brooklyn. And after a few hours, Arroyo’s team began to worry that the child in their care might be another. They put a mask over her face and wheeled her into an isolation room, with two sets of doors and air circulating under negative pressure to prevent airborne particles from escaping.

By then, however, “the bomb had gone off,” Arroyo says. Measles is considered one of the most contagious diseases in existence. If a person with measles walks through a room with a hundred people who are not immunized, up to 90 of them will get the disease. The virus is spread through coughs and sneezes and lingers in the air for up to two hours. Some 122,000 ­people come through the Maimonides emergency room every year. The hospital, located in Borough Park, serves one of the most diverse patient populations in the country, from ultra-Orthodox Jews to immigrants whose first language might be Mandarin, Russian, Hindi, Punjabi, Arabic, or Uzbek. Many are working-class cab drivers, manual laborers, and restaurant workers who bring their children to the ER at night, when their shifts are done.

Dr. Alexander Arroyo in the waiting room of Maimonides Medical Center.

NATALIE KEYSSAR

Standing in the street that Halloween, Arroyo thought about the dozens of patients who might have been exposed—in the waiting room, the hallway, the exam rooms—from the time the girl came into the hospital until she was placed in isolation. He looked down at his daughter in the carriage, dressed as a clown fish, and thought, “She’s not vaccinated.” She was still too young, as were other babies who might have been in the ER. He knew that his team would have to figure out right away who, exactly, had been breathing the same air as the infected girl. He waved down his wife, who had been making her way down the street with their toddler, and asked her to take the baby carriage. Then he headed home to make phone calls. “I saw my life falling into a pit of measles,” he says.

Arroyo is an amateur kickboxer, lanky and athletic. He hurried down the street, talking by phone with the hospital’s infection-control nurse and mapping out a plan. At home he changed out of the octopus costume and logged on to the hospital’s electronic medical records to check what time, exactly, the girl with measles had entered the ER. He called the other doctors who had been on duty to see if they remembered any pregnant mothers or immunocompromised children who would have been especially at risk.

He also called the hospital’s IT department to help backtrack through medical charts. His team generated names of 55 children who had potentially been exposed to the disease, then asked the New York City Department of Health to cross-reference it with vaccination records. For the MMR vaccine (against measles, mumps, and rubella) to be effective, the immune system has to be mature enough to produce antibodies to the virus. Young babies’ immune systems are not sufficiently developed, so children generally receive an MMR vaccine at 1 year old and another at age 4 or 5; those who had come through the hospital but had not completed both doses were considered at risk.

On the Maimonides list were a 12-month-old, a 10-month-old, and three babies younger than 6 months, including one who was just 17 days old. All were vulnerable, and Arroyo realized he was already running out of time. To prevent infection, the children needed to receive MMR shots within 72 hours, and young babies would have to be given immunoglobulin, a form of temporary protection, within six days. The infection-control nurse began making calls to those babies’ parents.

 

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Measles in NYC Spreads Outside Community – Sunset Park

Measles spreads to Sunset Park as confirmed cases rise to 466

The measles outbreak has spread to Sunset Park with three non-Jewish individuals, including two public school students, contracting the disease. AP Photo/Seth Wenig

2 public school students among those infected

New York City’s measles outbreak, mostly contained to the Orthodox Jewish community in Williamsburg, has now spread to Sunset Park as three people outside the Orthodox community — including two students — have contracted the disease.

Neither child was vaccinated, but they were allowed to attend school due to religious exemptions, according to the Health Department. They did not, however, go to school while infectious, and both had spent time in areas rife with measles.

Deputy Commissioner Dr. Demetre Daskalakis sought to assure the community that public school students are not at an increased risk of getting the disease.

“We are confident there is no increased risk of exposure at New York City public schools both because the recently diagnosed children from Sunset Park were not in school while infectious and because of the high vaccination rates of students in these and all NYC public schools,” Daskalakis said.

“This is the time to act. Measles is a highly contagious disease. If you are spending time in Williamsburg, Borough Park or other areas with measles activity in or around NYC confirm that you are immune to measles by looking at your vaccination history or by consulting with your healthcare provider.”

Daskalakis urged anyone living, working, studying or playing in areas with measles like Williamsburg and Borough Park to get vaccinated.

The total number of confirmed cases across the city has risen to 466 — 43 more since April 30 — and an additional 181 since Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a public health emergency on April 9.

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Williamsburg, Brooklyn and a Passover Plague – Get Your Children Vaccinated or Don’t Attend Seders with Others

Signs warn of the dangers of a persistent measles outbreak in Williamsburg.

A measles outbreak is dividing families in this Orthodox Jewish community. Passover could make it worse

 

New York (CNN)As one of the holiest Jewish celebrations of the year arrives, families in the Hasidic section of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, face a dilemma.

“Say you have six kids that want to come to the Seder, with all the grandchildren,” said Eli Banash, 32, a member of the Orthodox community who works in Williamsburg.

“Grandmother wants everybody to come. One family didn’t vaccinate the kids. Five did. The five families are saying, ‘We’re not coming unless they don’t come!’ With Passover, it’s going to intensify.”

persistent measles outbreak has hit this ultra-Orthodox enclave and led city officials to declare a public health emergency.

Passover, which begins at sundown Friday and ends April 27, marks the Exodus story from the Bible and is celebrated with large gatherings and ceremonial meals. But community leaders and health officials fear the holiday may further fuel the spread of the highly contagious disease.

Already, 359 cases of measles have been confirmed in Brooklyn and Queens since October, mostly in Williamsburg. The outbreak began when, according to health officials, an unvaccinated child became infected with the illness while visiting Israel.

“The concern is that with Passover and increased travel, we’re going to be putting more people at risk,” said New York City’s health commissioner, Dr. Oxiris Barbot.

Across the country, measles cases have jumped to the second-highest level in a quarter century, with 555 cases confirmed in 20 states, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Because of measles’ long incubation period, we know this outbreak will get worse before it gets better,” Barbot said in a statement this week.

A pamphlet directed at Orthodox communities helped fuel the fear of vaccines

In Hasidic Williamsburg, bearded men walk hurriedly in long frock coats crowned by black hats. Women in ankle-length skirts push strollers on crowded sidewalks and Hasidic boys with spiraling side curls dart through the streets in bunches.

In an insular community where some don’t take kindly to intrusion, residents blame the outbreak largely on a hardline minority opposed to vaccinations, or anti-vaxers. The close-knit neighborhood — where residents explain the insularity as a way of preserving the community’s identity — has seen heightened tension in some families, especially as Passover preparations got underway.

Blima Marcus, a nurse and past president of the Orthodox Jewish Nurses Association, has been holding small workshops with the nurses in Brooklyn and New Jersey to educate members of the ultra-Orthodox community who are fearful of vaccines.

The fears were fueled in part by a slick 40-page booklet being distributed in Orthodox enclaves about the dangers of vaccines. The booklet is directly aimed at the Orthodox community, partly written in Hebrew and filled with snippets from the Torah. Yet Marcus and Orthodox Jewish leaders say there is nothing in Jewish law that prohibits vaccinations.

To continue reading on CNN click here.

Playing with Human Life, Biological Warfare and the Ultra-Orthodox – Lawsuit for the Right Harm Others

Biological warfare: Williamsburg residents sue city for right to not vaccinate

Five Williamsburg residents are fighting for the right to not vaccinate themselves and their children amid a growing measles outbreak in Brooklyn, filing suit against the Department of Health in an effort to quash an emergency health declaration that slaps unvaccinated locals with stiff fines.

The plaintiffs, who filed a complaint in Brooklyn Supreme Court on Monday, argued that the roughly 300 known cases of the potentially fatal illness do not justify the city’s decision to override their religious objections to the MMR vaccine, according to their lawyer.

“We don’t think the so-called ‘outbreak’ has reached a level that requires the extreme response of forcing vaccinatio­ns,” said Robert Krakow, a Manhattan attorney specializing in vaccine injury lawsuits.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and city Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot announced on April 9 that unvaccinated residents of four Williamsburg zip codes — where some 250 of the total 285 measles cases had been identified — would be subject to fines of up to $1,000 in response to the outbreak, which has exclusively affected members of the borough’s Orthodox Jewish communities.

And while Krakow’s clients represent a mix of Jewish and Gentile Williamsburg residents, they all object to vaccination on religious grounds and claim the city’s latest move to stem the virus’ spread constitutes a gross overreaction, and that less drastic measures, such as quarantining infected individuals, should have been explored first.

“We don’t think the city should be in the business of forcing people to vaccinate,” said Krakow. “Quarantine can be imposed for the people with active infections.”

The measles virus can be contagious for weeks before symptoms show, and the attorney said he was not aware that several Williamsburg yeshiva’s had been cited by the city for admitting unvaccinated students amid an ongoing exclusion order, including one school where more than 20 students were infected, according to the Health Department.

The plaintiffs further allege that measles can be actually be contracted and spread by the inoculation, and that vaccinating “[enhances] the risk of harm to the public” through a process referred to as viral shedding.

“That’s something that happens, and we don’t know a lot about it,” Krakow said.

Viral shedding refers to the process by which viruses spread, but is a term used by members of the anti-vaccination movement to propagate the myth that vaccines cause outbreaks, according to a Science-Based Medicine report.

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