Wednesday, October 06, 2021

Is It Really Antisemitism?

Council meeting in Jackson, NJ (Algemeiner
Sometimes I feel like the only one among my Orthodox peers to have sympathy for people like ‘Hope’. 

At a council meeting in Jackson Township in New Jersey, (located near the city of Lakewood) Hope spoke about the concerns many of Jackson’s current residents have about a possible influx of Orthodox Jewish families moving into her township.  

Jackson township has been home to a mostly now Jewish community whose culture is – what might be described as middle class American.  Which is unlike the culture one would find in the ‘concrete jungle’ of Boro Park. There one will find in high density population of exclusively Orthodox Jews whose establishments are geared towards servicing them.

All the restaurants are kosher. All over one will find Yeshivas, day schools, Beis Yaakovs, Shuls, and Shtibels. There are, bookstores galore, Orthodox Jewish service agencies like Agudah, Hatzalah and  Chaverim, and all manner of shops selling goods specifically tailored to the Orthodox consumer. 

One will not find entertainment establishments (such as movie theaters or night clubs). Nor will one find any popular fast food establishments like McDonald’s or Burger King. In other words, Boro Park is a section of Brooklyn unique to Orthodox Jewish clientele.

Lakewood, which was once like the township of Jackson is now, has since morphed into being more like Boro Park. (Only without it being a concrete jungle.) This is what Hope fears. She does not want to see the little middle class hamlet she has lived in for almost 40 years turn into another Boro Park. She sees surrender by some of her community that has moved out. From the Algemeiner - this is how she put it (expletives are deleted and replaced): 

People are moving out, people are leaving,” Hope told the councilors. “My daughter has no-one to ride a bike with anymore. Do you know how heartbreaking that is for me?”

She claimed that Orthodox Jewish arrivals were an environmental nuisance who had been responsible for an increase in road traffic, noise in residential neighborhoods from group prayer sessions and “lawlessness” in the erection of eruv wires.

Hope also complained about an apparent profusion of trucks from Brooklyn’s Borough Park section, where a large Orthodox Jewish population resides, entering Jackson. “We have Borough Park trucks driving around our neighborhoods that are entering neighborhoods that don’t have any Orthodox living there yet. Why are Borough Parks trucks driving through these neighborhoods? These are the steps, these are the tactics, and people are moving out,” she insisted.

“They walk in the streets and they look at us like, how dare we be (so upset) about this? It is so abusive and it’s against all our civil rights,” Hope said of her Jewish neighbors.

She asserted that non-Jewish residents were (scared to death) every time a house went on sale, because council members had effectively told the Jewish community “that they can do whatever they want.”

“You’re giving us no reason to want to live here anymore,” Hope declared. She began crying as she told councilors, “I don’t want to pull my kids out of school, I don’t want to leave my parents.” 

What she was trying to say in overly emotional tones is that she and her current neighbors do not want to change the culture they have been living with for many years into something that is totally foreign to their way of life. 

This episode (an others like it) has  resulted in cries of antisemitism by many in the Jewish community. Saying that accusations about ‘keeping the Jews out’ is not dissimilar to accusations of racism back in the 60s that kept Black people from buying homes in all white neighborhoods (Redlining). When civil rights  groups were successful in ending those practices, it  fueled ‘white flight’ from urban areas into the suburbs. 

I understand that what she is asking for is discriminatory. It is surely against the rights of any American to buy a home anywhere they choose. No one has the right to deny that to anyone for any reason. Hope is therefore fighting a losing battle in my view. 

OK. I get it. Those Orthodox Jews seeking to buy homes in Jackson have no choice. If they want to live in or near an environment like Lakewood, without the overcrowding, what are they supposed to do? 

What has always troubled me about these situations (and still does) is the inability of Orthodox Jews and advocacy groups to  sympathize with people like Hope. Instead resorting to calling her and others resisting change antisemiitic. 

In most case I do not believe the are (although surely some of them might be).  Most of them just want to preserve the culture and lifestyle they have. 

I realize that cities like Lakewood have grown exponentially since Rav Aharon Kotler ‘set up shop’ back in the 40s. The population has outgrown its size and is as congested as could be. New residents keep moving in and trying to find less crowded areas in neighboring towns like Jackson. 

There is of course  nothing wrong with that. They have the right to live anywhere they choose. But they must understand how the townspeople living there now feel about it. And perhap more importantly why they feel that way. To instead immediately raise the antisemitism card shows a total lack of empathy. We need to understand that  people fear change. Which Jackson residents see coming to their town. 

By way of illustrating my point imagine if a group of Evangelical Christians wanted to buy property in the exclusively Chasidic city of Kiryas Joel.  And they started offering top dollar to the Chasidic home owners there. Some of them might sell.  And then as the Evangelical population grows they begin building churches. And then open up non kosher restaurants and Christian bookstores. And then a movie complex. 

Is there even the slightest question that that Kiryas Joel would fight that with every possible tool available to them?  Don’t Evangelical Christians have the same right to buy homes in Kiryas Joel as  the Orthodox Jews do to buy homes in Jackson? Wouldn’t the Jewish opposition in Kiryas Joel be the same as non Jewish opposition in Jackson?  Is it fair to say that Kiryas Joel’s  Jews are anti Christian? I don’t think their opposition is any different than Jackson’s opposition. 

Think about it.