Friday, February 01, 2019

The Right Message, But...

Analogies are a risky business. Especially when using the pain suffered by an entire people and applying it to something else. The word Holocaust for example is sometimes misused that way. Although in extremely rare circumstances it might be appropriate to use that word in another context, it has been used far too often of late in ways that dishonor the six million Jews who were slaughtered only because they were Jews. Which is where the term Holocaust actually refers to. 

So that when in 2003 when the extremist animal rights group PETA used that term to describe the slaughter of chickens at factory farms - a lot of people were outraged. Myself included.

Bearing that in mind Ha’aretz published an op-ed by Rabbi Avi Shafran that compared racism against black people to the antisemitic bigotry he and other Charedim have experienced and still occasionally experience. He opens the article by saying he is a black Jew and immediately explains what he means by that so as not to mislead the reader with what is about to follow.

Which is in the way he believes such an analogy is apt. More about that later. The question is. Did Rabbi Shafran make the same mistake in comparing racism against blacks to the bigotry he and other Charedim might occasionally experience?

To his credit, Rabbi Shafran makes it clear that in no way did he mean to say they were equal: 
(W)hile I would never equate what we haredim experience in America today with the sort of persistent racial prejudice that people of color experience in employment, housing and police encounters, when it comes to expressions of animus, I can, at least to a degree, relate. 
But at the same time I think it was a mistake to make that comparison despite the disclaimer. Even if only to avoid the backlash he would naturally get by too quick of a reading of his op-ed, that might gloss over that explanation placed somewhere in the middle of it.

That said, the indignities he describes experiencing as a ‘black’ Jew (or as more commonly referred to: ‘Black Hat’ Jew) are quite real. And pretty disgusting. Here are some examples he mentions: 
I’ve had pennies thrown at my feet from a car while waiting at a bus stop and, on public transportation, been greeted with a hail of "Heil Hitlers."
Orthodox Jews of all color skin have, in a number of places, also been targets of some local politicians’ venting of their inner bigots.
In a recent social media posting on the Rockland County (NY) Republican party’s official page, its leader, Lawrence Garvey, called Orthodoxy "the most egregious example of women’s oppression in our entire country," falsely claiming, inter alia odiosa, that Orthodox women are forced into arranged marriages and aren’t properly educated.
His fellow Rockland County politician, councilman Pete Bradley, had ugliness of his own to display. Seeking to prevent Orthodox families from outside the official border of a town in his district from using its public parks, he offered to "personally conduct the security check" if any upstanding citizens should spy any such offenders.
"Remember," he cautioned his constituents, "while other municipalities are out to smother all of their open space with abhorrent high-density housing, our goal is to ‘Preserve’
The same Mr. Bradley last year criticized New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for visiting with Hasidic Jewish community leaders, contrasting them with what he called "normal Jews." 
And just as Americans of color find themselves targets of hateful acts and actual violence, so do haredi Jews.
In New York City, more than 150 swastika scrawlings have been recorded from 2016 to 2018, including a good number of them on parked cars and walls in heavily-haredi Borough Park, Brooklyn.
Recently, in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood, an Orthodox man and an Orthodox woman were recently punched without reason or warning by men within a span of 48 hours. 
Clearly antisemitism exists and Charedi Jews are perhaps most often its target. But it isn't only Charedim.  Those of us on the right side of Modern Orthodoxy (Centrists) will experience similar prejudice. Sometimes even from our own coreligionists. And sometimes even from other Orthodox Jews. Mostly on controversial issues with which Charedim and Centrists would generally agree. Such as our views on conversion, opposition to Women of the Wall, and opposition to Israel officially recognizing of heterodox denominations. We may not all wear black hats. But on some issues our views are very similar if not identical. 

I otherwise agree that Charedim do get a disproportionate share of unfair prejudicial criticism. Which is mostly based on over-generalizing what seems to be an almost constant flow of bad behavior of the few reported by the media. Behavior that the vast majority of all Orthodox Jews including Charedim do not - and would not do.

I am however glad to see Rabbi Shafran make at least a subtle reference to why some of that bigotry might exist – even though that may not necessarily have been his intention:
(We tell our children) that, like it or not, they are examples of haredim to all those who see them, and, by exemplifying truly Jewish behavior in public, they can disabuse those around them of any negative images they might harbor about haredim. Of course, that the converse is true, too, and we stress that no less. 
No less indeed. This applies not only to Charedim – but to all Orthodox Jewish children. Stressing it a lot more than we do. And not limit it to children.