Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Streets of the Extremists

I had occasion to travel in Ramat Bet Shemesh B a few times during my stay in Israel. As I entered “Bet” as the locals refer to it here, I thought I should have brought my ‘bat’. I recalled all the violence that has happened here this past year and frankly was a bit nervous about leaving my car.

But as I drove through the streets of ‘Bet’ and looked at life in this beautiful suburb - I saw no violence at all not even a trace of it. Nothing of the sort was even remotely apparent.

What I did see is the hustle and bustle of religious Jews – most of them Meah Shearim types – busy preparing for Sukkos. Little boys with Peyos flowing hanging on to parents as they make their way from one store to another - or are waiting in line to buy something at the local hardware store for the Sukkah or the novelty store where they could buy Sukkah decorations.

In other words it looked like I would have always thought it would - how a community of deep Charedim might look like. People just getting on with their lives.

Looking at one particular fellow dresseed in the typical black garb of Meah Shearim type Jew going about his business - I wondered if he was one of those involved in the violence that happens there from time to time. Was the young smiling father holding on to a young child’s hand crossing the street the same fellow who along with a group of fellow residents beat a young Dati Girl to a pulp one Friday night? Was he perhaps one of the bystanders cheering that gang of thugs on? Or perhaps he was one of those who may have disapproved but still did nothing feeling that she somehow brought it on herself – for whatever reason?

The truth is that the tranquility I experienced there is probably what goes on 99% of the time. These people all have lives that are filled with the same kind of daily events and religious practices that I experience – only that they experience it in their own unique way.

The fact remains that if another young Dati girl attempts to walk through that neighborhood again, I would not be surprised to see the same thing happen to her as it did to the last girl.

The Meah Shearim type Jew that lives there sees Rmat Bet Shemesh B as an extension of Meah Shearim. “It's our turf’ …and if someone they disapprove of tresspasses - they are going to pay a heavy price!

The unpunished violence by this community thinks makes that apparent. “Bet’ was built exclusively for them. They feel a sense of ownership that emboldens a few of them to take the law into their own hands in violent ways if need be. While the rest of the community tacitly approves.

On the other hand It is a new year. 5770. Perhaps they have had time to think about it and have decided that the battles they fight are not worthy of a Mamleches Kohanin V’Goy Kadosh. Maybe they will focus more on their own lives and not look so hard at others.

At any rate Rabbi Yakov Horowitz has an op-ed in the Jewish Press - also available on his website - on how actions like these undermine our tranquility. We Jews live in unprecedentedly beneficial times. Our fellow citizens in America have come to respect us. But there has been Chilul HaShem this past year than at any time in my memory. And that - undermines us. It doesn’t take much to re-kindle anti-Semitism. Here is how Rabbi Horowitz puts it:

In the past few months alone, our community has endured a seemingly endless barrage of negative publicity with the ongoing terrible chillul Hashem caused by the violent protests in Eretz Yisrael, high-profile abuse and financial scandals, and several bitter battles between zoning boards and health departments in the Catskills and members of heimishe kehillos that generated screaming headlines in local newspapers throughout the summer months. I strongly feel that in the aggregate these all represent an existential threat to the menuchas hanefesh we currently enjoy.

I could not agree more. Let us not be apologists for the criminals among us – whether in America or in Israel. Let us not automatically assume that every accusation against a Charedi Jew is a blood libel. Let us not say that great rabbinic figures were so naïve and ignorant of the law that they committed crimes in complete innocence. Or that a government is anti-Semitic for prosecuting them. Let us instead condemn those of our people who create Chilul HaShem in no uncertain terms and not be their apologists. We should instead stand up for doing the right thing in the eyes of God and in the eyes of the entire world.