Monday, April 20, 2009

Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition

Living in a Ghetto can be a pretty terrifying experience. Gang violence of the worst type can happen there. And if you happen to be a Jew living there – watch out! How bad is it? Read the following:

Vandals slashed tires on nearly 30 cars, torched a synagogue and burned a woodwork shop between Friday and Saturday night… “Some of the local kids who were probably kicked out of their homes gathered here and decided to spend the night in the synagogue," one person said. "They tore down the Torah ark covering to sleep under it, and they took all the prayer shawls in the synagogue to use as sheets. A fire broke out when they burnt prayer books, and the whole wall was set aflame.

Here is yet another description by a Jew who lives in such a neighborhood:

Two punks came over, and they were holding a glass bottle. They shattered it on my neck. With what was left after the bottle was broken, they tried to stab me. I was rushed bleeding to the hospital where pieces of glass were extracted and I was told that it almost reached my main artery. Two weeks later my uncle who is a great rabbi here walked through the streets, and two punks came over and started pulling his beard and hitting him."

I think we ought to do everything we can to get those poor Jews out of that neighborhood. It is after all Pikuach Nefesh.

This might prove a little difficult to do however. The ghetto I am talking about is Bnei Brak. And the vandals the above excerpts from Arutz Sheva are talking about are home grown Jews from Charedi families.

To be honest when I read this article I could not believe how low a Jewish soul could sink to. Slashing throats with shards of glass?! Torching Shuls?! This is the stuff of Nazis! Not Jews. How could this happen? How can a society that produced a Ponevezh and hosted a Chazon Ish produce these kinds of youthful thugs?

It is all too easy to say that these are just hooligans and they do not represent Charedim. That is of course obvious. Charedim in Bnei Brak are their victims. But one cannot ignore the fact that they all came from Charedi homes.

I am often told that most of these kids are product of dysfunctional families. I tend to agree. The question is why are these families dysfunctional in the first place? There are many reasons for this, but I do not think we can overlook some of the obvious ones.

Conditions are ripe for producing dysfunction. Bnei Brak is all about Torah. Even for those who work - earning a living wage is nearly impossible for their large families. I am not talking about families with derelict fathers. I am talking about many mainstream Charedi families who do not have the ability to earn enough money to buy food. There are so many poor families like that in Bnei Brak that an organization was created to just provide meals to poor families. There was an article about it in the most recent Mishpacha Magazine.

Bnei Brak is one of the poorest cities in Israel. Job training is practically non existent. The schools teach Torah only – morning, noon, and night.

Not every child is capable of doing that. But there is no way out for them. They must continue in that system even if they are incapable of it. The overbearing feelings of shame and guilt…the feelings of failure must be overwhelming. The rejection by just about everyone there - from teachers to parents to peers must be unbearable.

They have no way out. No subjects they can study that will give them self esteem. No real extra curricular activities that they might excel at like sports or music. If they can’t learn Gemarah at the expected level they end up basically neglected. They do not even have any form of escape such as TV or movies. They grow up bitter and angry at the world. So they lash out.

This phenomenon has not happened in the United States yet. But we have plenty of dropouts that are going in that direction. I think it is just a matter of time until we catch up with Bnei Brak. The more we de-emhasize secular subjects and devalue the working Bal Habos, the more the chances increase for creating the kinds of criminal gangs that exist in Bnei Brak.

Is all of this a G’zera –an edict from Heaven designed to test us? Is this what Rav Salomom was talking about? Should we Daven harder for these kids? And maybe give them less homework?

I don’t think less homework is the answer to this problem.

We cannot stand idly by on our brother’s blood. Davening and religious improvement alone is not the answer. There must be change and soon. We must create an arsenal full of ammunition to fight this trend. That ammunition should include the restructuring the entire educational system in the Charedi to include valuing work.

Rav Salomon wants to eliminate homework? I think we ought to increase the focus on secular studies and gear it toward Parnassa. I think we ought to eliminate the trend toward full time learning for everyone without any thoughts to Parnassa. The last thing we need is further de-emphasis of secular studies by eliminating homework! We ought to instead instill a desire in students early on in their education to make a living. And to value those who do.

We need to treat the Bal Habos honorably. Not derogatorily as is often the case. Someone who works instead of learning full time is a lower form of life according one Charedi Mechanech influential with young people.

If Rav Salomon thinks the answer is more prayer and self examination I suggest we ought to be examining not how Frum we are but how to create a more fully productive society. Not just a monolith of Kollel learning that now loses so many people - some of whom ended up as gang members in Bnei Brak.

How many necks being slashed will it take before we look at the real problems and react appropriately? Yes we must pray to God for help. But by God – pass the ammunition!