Friday, November 26, 2021

Antisemitism? Clearly. But...

Image from Cross Currents
I am not blaming the victim. This will surely be how many will see what I am going to say about an antisemitic event that took place at a Planning Board public hearing in Rockland County. The issue at hand was discussed by Rabbi Avi Shfaran at Cross Currents:

 …a request for a variance to convert a single-family residence into a shul. The owners want to build an addition and second floor to the home and add 27 off-street parking spaces.

One fellow at that hearing that expressed opposition to this variance ended up making some pretty antisemitic comments about ‘those people’ ‘You know…’ ‘the Jews!’

The comments he made were so vile that even some of those who had themselves been accused of being antisemitic - thought they were antisemitic.  There was apparently some discussion about filing charges against that fellow.

There is no shortage of antisemsites in the world. Thankfully in this country there a very few that are like that. They do however exist as indicated by the scattered applause by some who attended the hearing. 

Why did they applaud? Sure. They are antisemites. But his comments were not made in a vacuum. Their antisemitic attitude may have been generated by what they saw happening to Monsey. The tiny little hamlet that was once their town has become the suburban version of Boro Park. 

What were once the quiet streets of a small community; filled with mostly single family homes widely spaced from each other; filled with shops geared to their secular culture; with a free flow of traffic and plenty of parking;  - has turned into a very Chasidic town where most of those shops have morphed into stores that cater to Orthodox Jews. Traffic has become so congested that it has become a nightmare. As has parking. Where there were once single family homes is now seeing the development of many multi unit homes.

Not that there is anything wrong with any of that. Free country. Chasidic Jews have the right to buy homes and live anywhere they choose. But to the average non Jewish suburbanite in those neighborhoods this kind of rapid growth of a people and culture that is unrecognizable from what they are used to is not a happy change for them.  

So when someone asks for a variance that adds to that, it should be understandable why they would oppose it. And applaud what that fellow said about a 'certain sect of people' that is responsible for it. Every attempt to make that community more Chasidic takes away from the culture in which that community once lived - thereby adding to the animus.  

It does not help if the Chasidic residents there completely ignore their non Jewish neighbors. Or - as I suspect - have  as much animosity against them as they do  against the Chasidic residents – if not more.

I think that Rabbi Shafran might actually sympathize with this based on the following comment: 

I like to call identifiably Orthodox Jews “walking Jewish billboards.” We project — intentionally or not — the image of Torah fealty to others who may well form their opinion of Jews based on how they perceive us.

And showing others that menschlichkeit is fundamental to Yiddishkeit is not hard. With the growth, baruch Hashem, of our communities and our expansion into new areas, opportunities to make good impressions are ubiquitous.

Things as simple as yielding to others in traffic or holding a door open for the person behind one can make all the difference. So can a simple smile and “good morning.”

This is not going to change how the non Jewish residents feel about what has happened – and still happening to their town. They are still not going to like it. But it might just change their perception of their Jewish neighbors from being selfish and uncaring about anyone other than themselves - to actually understanding, accepting and even respecting them as good neighbors. Caring neighbors. You never know. A little honey replacing some of the vinegar that  I believe is so common there can go a long way if enough people do it.