Wednesday, November 02, 2016

A Siren Call in Brooklyn

Poster mocking Chasidic dependence on welfare. Is this antisemitic? (VIN)
Is there any better indication about the terrible education Satmar Chasidim get than this? They don't even learn the simple task of telling time. It’s no wonder their schools are being investigated by city.

What’s that you say? They actually do know how to tell time? I doubt it. Why else would they do install an earsplitting siren in one of their neighborhoods. One that goes off twice on Friday for 90 seconds – once just before sunset and once at sunset. (see video below)

OK. I admit being facetious. But there is no better way than this to get the attention of good and decent people about how wrong these people are in doing this. And to publicly protest it. As religious Jews, we cannot allow ourselves to look the other way and thus be seen as tacitly approving something like this for ostensibly religious reasons. Because the truth is that there is no religious reason in the world to set off a siren to start the Sabbath.

Let us however try to examine the motives behind it to better understand it.  On Friday night at sunset Shabbos begins. Shabbos is one of the most important Mitzvos in the Torah. Violating it by doing forbidden work on that day is a capital offense. Which in ancient times was executed by Beis Din if all conditions of its violation were met. Satmar Chasidim might argue that they are only being prudent in assuring that no violation take place because of the severity of this violation. This is in fact what the city of Jerusalem does. They set off sirens heralding the start of Shabbos.

These Satmar Chasidim will ‘reason’ that if the city of Jerusalem does it in Israel - why can’t Satmar do it in Brooklyn? They will conclude that those people complaining about are just a bunch of antisemites – even though some of them may be Jewish. Woe to us living among Esav they might say. The Goyim hate us. Therefore we the Chasidic community must be vigilant and fight to preserve our holy ways.

This kind of thinking is disturbing is on so many levels. The fact that this community of Chasidim considers only their own desires (not needs, mind you… just desires!) speaks to their sense of entitlement at the expense of others and their disdain for their neighbors. They could not care less about what this does to non Jews that do not observe Shabbos. 

They might say: If the Goyim or non observant Jews don’t like it… tough! Free country. We can erect any type of structure we want on our own property. That siren is on top of their synagogue. Which is adjacent to a residential building. That is of no consequence to them. They wanted it – and that was all the ‘permission’ they needed.

To be so impervious to the well being of others is not a Jewish trait. Who gives them the right to set off a siren so loud that it exceeds decibel levels allowed by the city! That siren is so deafening that it drowns out the sirens of emergency vehicles passing by. What kind of human being does this?

If I lived in that building or anywhere near it, I would be complaining the loudest! It isn’t only uncomfortable to listen to. It is dangerous. That level of sound can impair your hearing. But even if it didn’t - forcing an entire neighborhood to disrupt what they are doing by listening to a loud siren for a very long 90 seconds twice in succession on a weekly basis - is grossly selfish. The so called benefit they might have by knowing the exact moment that Shabbos begins without looking at a clock is hardly worth the pain forced upon their neighbors. I would therefore not blame anyone for reporting this to the authorities, if Satmar ignored the complaints and refused to stop.  That wouldn’t be Mesirah (informing on a fellow Jew to antisemitic secular authorities). It would be protecting the health and well being of yourself, your family, and your neighbors.

The fact is that the vast majority of Orthodox Jews in the world do not depend on sirens to begin their Sabbath. They know how to read clocks. I never saw the need – even in Jerusalem. But at least in Jerusalem the sirens are not (to the best of my knowledge) located in the middle of a residential neighborhood. I doubt that they bother anyone. Not even the secular Jews that don’t observe Shabbos. I don’t recall anyone ever complaining about it. On the contrary. Even though I see no need even in Jerusalem, it is still a nice gesture on the part of the city to ‘announce’ the arrival of Shabbos.

Not so in Brooklyn. There - I would be livid! And I would joining my neighbors in loud protest against an ear splitting siren blasting on a weekly basis at dangerously high and illegal decibel levels. And let’s not pretend that the Satmar officials that approved, installed, and operate this siren don’t realize any of this.

It is this sense of entitlement that adds to the perception by non religious or non Jewish people that Chasidim are parasites feeding off the public trough. Which (as reported in VIN) enables a candidate for political office in Monsey to put up a poster mocking his opponent (apparently supported by the Chasidic community there) in this way.

Was that antisemitic? Perhaps.  But when Satmar Chasidim show so little concern for their non Jewish or non observant Jewish neighbors in such self serving and unnecessary ways - it should be no surprise that a political candidate can get away with something like this. If we want to stop candidates from using this kind of tactic, we ought to stop giving him reasons to do it.