Thursday, February 12, 2009

Dating Arabs

Thirty four families. That’s how many Charedi families from the ultra Charedi town of Beitar Illit have contacted Yad L’Achim about an unbelievable problem according to a popular Israeli magazine. The following is a sidebar in an article dealing with Israeli women who marry Arab men:

It can happen anywhere. Even in the chareidi Jerusalem suburb of Beitar Illit. Thirty-four families from Beitar have already contacted Yad L’Achim for help in extricating their own daughters from budding or serious relationships with Arab men. Young Arabs are all over Beitar, working as stock boys in the city’s supermarkets, as bus drivers, as construction workers, and municipal laborers.

Given the shocking statistic, the city’s rabbinical council issued a boycott on all stores that employ Arabs; for several days after the ban there were no Arabs working the aisles at the Rami Levi and Shefa Shuk supermarkets, but today it’s back to business as usual.

“No matter how many times girls hear the facts, when they are pampered and pursued, they become convinced that for them things can be different,” says Ruth Kirshner, employed by the Beitar municipality to deal with problem teenage girls.

Mrs. Kirshner says the pattern is pretty consistent: girls with learning difficulties, economic pressures, and tension at home are ripe for the attention the young Arabs shower on them. “A Jewish girl is a feather in the cap of an Arab suitor. He gets hold of a fancy car and money for lavish, expensive gifts. One girl said to me, ‘The Jewish boys just don’t have money for nice gifts like the Arabs have.’

“A girl doesn’t just wake up one morning and decide to have a relationship with an Arab,” Kirshner continues. “In a home where there is unconditional love and support, there are generally no surprises. Still, mothers have to pay attention to what’s going on with their daughters. There are certain alarm bells: is she disappearing for many hours without a solid explanation? Is she coming home with new clothes, perfume, cell phones or other gifts?”

Kirshner’s advice for all women is to ignore any overtures, even if they seem totally unthreatening. “They look for any kind of reaction, and if there is no reaction, they move

The knee jerk reaction I often get to an article like this is: How can you believe an anti Torah Israeli rag like this one?! Which one is it this time? Ha’aretz? Ynet? The Jerusalem Post?

The answer is none of the above. It is the respected Charedi Magazine Mishpahca [available for download in pdf].

The question is how?! is it possible that a community like this one that is so insular and shelters their young people from any contact with the outside world - to end up with 34 of their young women dating non Jews?

The quick answer might be that these young women are all from dysfunctional families. Perhaps. But that can’t be the sole reason. How many families are there like this in Beitar? For every one of these 34 that became involved with an Arab, how many more are there lying in wait; who have that potential and just haven’t had the opportunity yet? Are these 34 families only the tip of the iceberg? And what about other Charedi enclaves? I doubt that there is anything special about Beitar that makes their young single woman more vulnerable to a friendly Arab male gesture than any other Charedi community.

I have no statistics to cite. But based on this article I can’t help but think that aside from a dysfunctional family that produces situations like these there - it is also a function of the over-sheltering that takes place.

This does not mean to say that only Israeli Charedi young women are vulnerable to this phenomenon. I’m sure there are Israeli Daatim who are vulnerable too. And certainly there are secular Israeli women who date Arabs. But it is the Charedim who claim to be the most protected from things like this. It is one of the reasons for their insularity. The less they interact with ‘outsiders’ and come in contact with outside values - the less chance there is for this kind of disaster.

But this article very strongly suggests otherwise.

Charedim are increasingly living in a world where everything is controlled. There is a Kol Korei for everything, from the way one dresses to a concert one might attend… to whom one is allowed to speak. Everything is banned. From sports to music to cellphones to TV to the Internet… to just about any form of entertainment. There is less contact with the outside world today than there has been since the era where Jews were forced to live in ghettos. I don’t think there has been a time in the history of man where there is so much ‘outside world’ and so much sheltering from it.

I would ask the residents of Beitar – and other communities like it - if they were themselves raised this way. How sheltered were they? Were they so cloistered? Were they raised to deal with challenges or were they raised in complete isolation from them?

Children now live in a a tightly controlled world of their own closed off from the rest of the world as much as humanly possible. This - they say - is the best way tro deal with the world at large. This way they can lead their lives ‘Al Taharas HaKodesh’ - at the highest level of spiritual purity. But in trying to live their lives in a holier way by eliminating everything unholy - some of them are paying a very heavy price. Is it really worth it?