Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The New Faces of Anti-Semitism

The above is the title of an article in Hamodia written by Eli Simon and it distresses me. Not that there isn’t any truth to what it says. Unfortunately there is much truth to it. But what distresses me most about the article is the premise: There is new Anti-Semitic discrimination in America. We should know it; always be suspect of it; and be prepared to deal with it.

He says that this anti-Semitism is not only resereved for the Kiryas Joel communities where bearded Jews with long Kapotes live – it exists against all of us no mater how secular we look. Although he didn’t say so in so many words his subtext seems to saying: beware - ‘Esav Sonei L’Yaakov’. Deep down ‘the Goyim’ hate us. They are as a rule internally anti Semitic.

That is historically true in Europe. And though it isn’t as bad now as it used to be, I think that is still the case there.

In the US it exists - at least in a stereotypical way – in some areas where non Jews live and do not come into any real contact with us. That is what is really going on in the cases used by Mr. Simon. In fact I wouldn’t even call it anti-Semitism. I would call it anti Orthodox.

The cases Mr. Simon cites have been taken to court and virtually all of them have been decided in favor of the Orthodox position. So much for anti-Semitic (or even anti-Orthodox) discrimination permeating the courts.

The question remains, why?!

Why is there so much animosity to Orthodox Jews in certain non Jewish neighborhoods? Mr. Simon is quite right in pointing out that it doesn’t matter what kind of Kipa one wears. One can be the most modern Orthodox Jew - virtually indistinguishable in dress and even lifestyle from their non Jewish neighbors, but if they wear a Kipa on their heads– they are negatively stereotyped.

I’m not entirely sure of the reason for this but it certainly does not help when there are so many Orthodox Jews doing ‘perp walks’ in the media these days. The stereotype of greedy Jews trying to scam the government or the unsuspecting innocent non Jew has unfortunately been very re-enforced these days. All one has to do these days is read the news.

Another thing. Orthodox Jews are seen as a people apart. When they move into neighborhoods in significant numbers they begin to slowly ‘takeover’ …causing disruptions in the lifestyles of the non Orthodox Jewish residents. Like establishing Shomer Shabbos businesses.

There is also no real interaction between Orthodox Jews and their shellfish eating Gentile neighbors. This inabilty to dine with them undermines our ability to socialize with them making us seem unfriendly and standoffish.

When the numbers hit a critical mass, Orthodox Jews will attempt to build an Eruv. That is seen as the beginning of the end of life as they know it - a threat to their lifestyles.

Is that really anti-Semitism? I’m not so sure about that. They do not picture the peaceful tranquility of Orthodox Jewish suburban neighborhoods like Skokie, Illinois which has an Eruv and is heavily populated by Jews who live side by side with their non Jewish neighbors.

These non Jews instead see Kiryas Joel or Boro Park. With this image in mind, who can blame a non Jew for being fearful of that change? If you were not Jewish would you want to live in Boro Park – an area that caters almost exclusively to Orthodox Jews?

I can’t really blame a community for having these fears. What Mr. Simon calls anti-Semitism is nothing more than fear of change fueled by ignorance and misperceptions about Orthodox Jews. Calling it anti-Semitism and implying that it is in their blood is wrong and counterproductive. Mr. Simon sends the wrong message.

Ironically in the same issue of Hamodia there was an op-ed by Rabbi Chaim A. Weinberg. He is the head of Yehivat Ateret Torah in Brooklyn.

He tells the story of a friend of his – an Orthodox Jew – who was a passenger in a cab. As he neared his desitnation he saw two people outside his cab trying to flag it down. He told the driver to stop the car even though he was still two blocks from his destination. He explained that he would walk the rest of the way because he did not want the cab driver to miss out on that fare. The non-Jewish driver then said, ‘Your God knew which people to choose’. That - my friends - is what is known as a Kiddush HaShem.

This is the way we should always behave. Rabbi Weinberg then quotes Rabbi Matisyahu Salomon who had quoted the Gemarah in Yoma (86a). The words from the Shema, ‘V’Ahavta Es HaShem Elokeacha’ means that Jews by their actions are required to make the name of HaShem beloved to all.

Mr. Simon should read this op-ed and advocate what it said instead of sounding the siren about anti-Semitism in this country. What point is there to that? It will only stir up more animosity towards our non Jewish neighbors.

Unfortunately, Rabbi Weinberg’s lesson is one that far too few of us have learned. Had more of us learned those lessons - instead of non Jews and Secular Jews fearing us they would with few exceptions embrace us.

Unfortunately more people seem to have learned the lessons of Mr. Simon.