Monday, April 15, 2019

Chaos and Lakewood’s Leadership

Poster advertising the canceled concert (DIN)Up
I refuse to let go. I know a lot of people will say that it’s none of  my business what the right wing is doing… and that I should instead stick to the issues plaguing the wider community. Still others that might say that I should stick to the problems plaguing my own Modern Orthodox community. They will accuse me of never missing an opportunity to bash Charedim.

What all these naysayers do not understand is that the right wing IS my community. The entire Jewish people is my community. Especially those that are observant. I do not distinguish between one segment and another when it comes to an issue that I see as hurting any one of us. No matter how right wing or left wing they are. I have no desire to bash anyone. That is never my goal.  For me the goal is about what the Gemarah tells us: Kol Yisroel Arevim Zeh Bazeh (Shavuos 39a). 

We are ‘brothers’ and responsible for one another. When one of us gets hurt, we all get hurt. That is why when I see a wrong being done to any segment, I cry out. Both in pain and in anger.  What has apparently happened in Lakewood recently is yet another one of those times. According to a Lakewood website, a ‘Kosher’ concert specifically designed for the Hashkafos of that community was canceled by rabbinic leaders of that town.

The concert was to be held last night during ‘Bein HaZemanim’ when Yeshiva students are on vacation for a few weeks during the Pesach season. A few caring Charedim organized it. They invested money; selected a place and time; and hired some popular Charedi entertainers. 

How Kosher was it going to be? It was for ‘boys only’ and billed as an evening of Chizuk. Meaning that the purpose of that concert was to strengthen and support Yeshiva students.

(That girls were excluded is another issue that is beyond the scope of this post. The point here is that the Charedi organizers understood and respected the communal norm that mingling of the sexes is forbidden. And they honored it.)

Tickets were purchased and a pleasant evening of Kosher entertainment for the young people of Lakewood that were home for the holidays was to be had.

But there are apparently some community activists that saw evil in this event. I cannot for the life of me see what kind of evil they saw in a setting where religious songs are sung by religious entertainers. Songs that are written and sung to inspire people about their beliefs and lifestyles. How can anyone see evil in that! 

But these activists somehow did. So they approached some of Lakewood’s rabbinic leadership and prevailed upon them to cancel the event. 

The website does not specify who these activists are or which rabbis canceled it. But it is obvious that these rabbis are respected enough to have the last word on public events in their town. Nor does the website explain exactly what those activists said to convince Lakewood’s rabbinic leaders to cancel what had to be the most Kosher of concerts.

Now I am open minded. Perhaps there is a sex and drug problem in Lakewood. Or problems an alcohol problem. Either of which can be fueled by at a rowdy concert. If that’s the case, I support their decision. But if you believe that. I have a bridge in San Francisco to sell you. Real cheap!*

There is nothing evil about a concert like that. It was simply a way  for Charedi Yeshiva Bachurim to spend an evening… to be inspired by the music and to relax and enjoy while on vacation from the rigors of day and night full time Torah study that goes on when their Yeshivos are in session.

Well, the students that bought tickets did not take this sitting down. I guess this was the final straw.  Many of them rebelled. Big time. There was a protest last night in front of the homes of the activists who got those rabbis to ban the concert. I doubt that all those who protested were the typical thugs you might find in Meah Shearim protesting the draft. I’ll bet that many of those protesting last night are mainstream students that simply had enough!

Instead of a concert, there was chaos. Hundreds of angry Yeshiva Bachurim who had already purchased tickets gathered outside the homes of those activists. It must have seemed like an unruly mob. Because the police were called and they showed up in droves. One student was arrested and three students were pepper sprayed – requiring treatment. To put it the way that website did, it was a colossal Chilul HaShem.

What will follow is hard to know. I have no clue how the students who protested this will be treated. Will they be expelled? Will this hurt their Shidduch chances? Will some of them become pariahs among their people? Will some even go OTD?  Who knows.

But none of these scenarios are an unreasonable outcome. There is zero tolerance for a protest against activists. Because by inference the rabbis are protested too for listening to those activists in the first place. And that is seen as near blasphemy – as though they were protesting God!

This could have been so easily avoided. But the geniuses who instigated this ban and the rabbis who were convinced into doing it are as responsible for this melee as anyone else. Perhaps even more so. Because they are the adults ‘in the room’. 

Ezeh Hu Chacham? HaRoeh Es HaNolad. (Tamid: 32a). That they could not see what their decisions would cause makes them a bit less than wise. To say the least.

How will this all end? What will it take for the leaders of this community to have enough wisdom to actually lead rather than follow? I’ve said this before. But it bears repeating.  The Mishnah (Sotah  9:15) tells us what the world will be like in messianic times. One thing is the following:  Pnei HaDor K’Pnei HaKelev. The face (leaders) of the generation will be like the face of the dog! They will appear to be leading but in reality they will really be following. Is there any better example of this than what happened in Lakewood?

I received the following message from an Orthodox mental health professional that is very familiar with what is going on in Lakewood: 
There are sex and drug problems in Lakewood.  That does not require open mindedness.  Just frank knowledge of facts.  Every Rov in town knows this... (And) yes, there are alcohol problems just like every other community.
OK. Forget about that bridge in San Fransisco.

Unfortunately, I'm not really all that surprised by this. I guess what I should have said is that I doubt that those attending a concert like this have a sex, drug, or alcohol problem. On the other hand maybe some of them do. Nothing surprises me anymore. Even so, it is highly unlikely that this concert  would be the place for that kind of activity. But even if it would be, why should the few be able to ruin it for the many?