Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Accept Truth - No Matter the Source

It truly disappoints me when I hear the kind of accusations made by some people that think I bash Charedim. I do not. I am a Truth teller. Not a basher. And the truth often contains both good and bad. But those who think I bash Charedim ignore the good I point out and focus only on the bad.

Case in point. In my critique yesterday of the way some would be residents of Lakewood seek out housing, I pointed out that the Charedi Mayor of Lakewood is an example we should all follow. He has a reputation about doing his job in ways that are a Kiddush Hashem.

That was totally ignored. Instead the focus was on the legitimate concern I have about Orthodox Jews going into adjacent towns and asking homeowners if they want to sell their homes. That – I thought - might be seen as blockbusting. Which is how it was apparently seen by the secular residents. Enough so to get the Federal Government involved.

For mentioning this publicly reported fact - and urging caution in how people that are identified by many as the most religious among us - I was accused as having an anti Charedi agenda. How dare I make such comments about a place like Lakewood – Ir HaTorah (as it is commonly known in the Charedi world).

Indeed, the vast majority of people living in Lakewood are very religious. They are fine and decent people that we should admire in many ways by the sacrifices they make. They do not rely on Kulos (lenient views in Halacha). The are usually take the more stringent path and are Choshesh for the Daas HaMachmir, fearing the Poskim that are Mekil (lenient) may be wrong as claimed by more Machmir Posek. They feel the will of God will have a better chance of being served that way. That is why they use only Chalav Yisroel products and eat wheat products that are only Yoshan.

They are also some of the most generous people among us. Both with their time and their money. Despite the low incomes of Avreichim there, they are far more likely to fulfill their tithing requirements (Maaser Kesafim)  and give fully 10% of their income away to charity than the rest of us! Acts of Chesed for fellow Jews can be seen almost daily… as David Rosenthal put it:
I can tell you where I am from in Manalapan, NJ there is no Hareidi enclave. One of the things that led me to change from a secular lifestyle to a religious one, is that unfettered kindness in that community. I can tell you, when my car broke down on Route 9, only Chareidim stopped to see how I was....not one secular person stopped.
So it is easy to see why some people took umbrage at my criticism. But at the same time the problem I mentioned is still there. It doesn’t go away just because they don’t see it as a problem. I understand the temptation to say ‘It isn’t true’ or ‘What’s the big deal?’ Nothing wrong with knocking on a few doors in search of a house!’ ‘This accusation is nothing more than a canard from antisemitic neighbors.’

Perhaps. But the fact remains when people from a town that was transformed from a little vacation hamlet into a Charedi enclave so big that its original residents were overwhelmed by them – they might fear that this will happen in their own town! It should not be surprising if secular residents try and prevent that. Being even a little aggressive in seeking a home in a non religious neighborhood can spur that kind of backlash - based on what they saw happening to Lakewood.

This is not bashing. It is pointing out that a community’s self interest should not be pursued in a vacuum oblivious to the concerns of secular neighbors. We have to be sensitive to their concerns. And not just take advice about ‘spreading out’ without considering that. It is this kind of insensitivity which outside observers might see as an illegitimate sense of entitlement - which gives rise to a negative article in the media.

Let me be clear. I do not believe that there is anything nefarious going on here. I believe that anyone that has done things like this is probably doing so innocently. Trying to find housing in nearby towns – in the hopes that Lakewood’s borders will expand in their direction is not a nefarious motive. It might however appear that way to others. I am not the only one that feels this way. Here is what Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer said in a Cross-Currents comment:
When one tries to squeeze tens of thousands of additional people (growing exponentially by the day) into a small town, which literally cannot contain them, and this population starts bursting en masse into other nearby townships – where Orthodox Jews are probably less than welcome – it is a recipe for trouble and major conflict. 
As I said in my post yesterday, the right way to do that – and not raise fears among the residents of that neighborhood into which they want to move - is to look for homes that are already for sale. Then no one should have any legitimate complaints. If they complain under those circumstances, then it might be seen as antisemitism.

I am gratified to know that a lot of Charedim actually agree with me about this despite some very insulting conclusions about my motives from other Charedim. I can’t tell you the number of private e-mails I received saying I was right to be concerned.

The fact is that there is a bit of self centeredness among those rushing to buy homes in Lakewood. Which is detrimental to the actual welfare of the residents themselves affecting their quality of life. This is not Charedi bashing. This is a legitimate concern expressed – NOT by me but by one of my critics - Lakewood resident Rabbi Avrohom Birnbaum. Here are some excerpts from an article he wrote on Matzav:
(A)s thinking people and ehrliche Yidden, we must constantly look at ourselves, make a cheshbon hanefesh, and reassess old norms to see if they still apply…
Over the last ten years, the housing boom in Lakewood has exploded. New developments, both large and small, and new neighborhoods are springing up everywhere. Even in older neighborhoods, the demographic is changing. Houses are being torn down and multifamily dwellings are taking their place.
The growth is such that it has been difficult for the infrastructure of the town to keep up. Both the physical infrastructure and the spiritual infrastructure have not been able to keep up. The result? A drastic downturn in the quality of life for all residents…
While developments have sprung up like mushrooms after a rainfall, the streets have not developed at nearly the same pace. Walking in Lakewood on so many streets that do not have sidewalks and crossing the streets in Lakewood have become a sakanah. The congested roads make it downright dangerous. Aside from the danger, driving in Lakewood is also extremely taxing on the nerves…
Communal institutions, such as shuls, halls and stores, don’t have adequate parking, and taxpaying citizens are forced to live with this worsening quality of life. 
Is anyone Charedi or living in Lakewood going to take issue with Rabbi Birnbaum and say his agenda is to bash Charedim? My guess is that they will not. Why not? Surely they will say it is because he is Charedi and lives in Lakewood. So he can’t be bashing Charedim. He is merely recognizing a problem he feels needs to be dealt with.

Well, that is exactly the same thing I did. One need not be part of a community to recognize a problem in it. In fact, not living in that community gives you a perspective that those in it can’t have – being too close to the trees to see the forest. I will close by quoting the wise words of the Rambam in his Shemoneh Perakim (8 Chapters): Accept the truth from who ever utters it.