Tuesday, September 06, 2022

Turning a Kiddush HaShem into a Chilul HaShem

Julio Castro and his YULA students (Jewish Journal)
I do not recall ever having such a bad reaction to a bad reaction before. But after clicking on a link to an article by Rabbi Mordechai Berg on Rabbi Gil  Student’s Torah Musings website - that was exactly the reaction I had. I recoiled at the negative comments made about what was clearly a Kiddush HaShem. Which happened as follows:  

Julio Castro, 31, is a math teacher at YULA Boys High School in Los Angeles. Castro has only been a teacher at YULA for three years and is already beloved by his students. The reason: his dedication. Castro works through lunch and stays late to tutor. Castro lives in Santa Clarita and does not own a car, so he has to take a bus to school. 

Wakeup for Castro is at 415 am, and he returns home after 9 pm. He lives seven miles away from the bus stop. The bus is an hour and a half drive and the closest stop is about a mile away from YULA. As a result, Castro does not usually get to see his three young children who have already gone to bed. So his students decided to do something about it. 

Led by YULA senior Joshua Gerendash, 17, YULA students spent their summer fundraising thirty thousand dollars to buy their teacher a car, gas, and car insurance for a year. 

The reaction most Orthodox Jews would (or at least should) have to this event is to view it with great pride. What these teenagers did to show their appreciation for a teacher who sacrificed so much for them is, to the best of my knowledge, unprecedented. Which is why I suppose the mainstream national print and electronic news media covered it. That multiplied the Kiddush HaShem exponentially - spreading to the millions of readers and viewers. But that isn’t how everyone saw it as noted by the following self righteous, condescending comments made to the original story:  

“These boys come from some of the wealthiest families in this specific Jewish community and spent every day learning from someone truly working class and all they could think to do was get him an expensive car. Yikes, so much to unpack here. Aside from the fact that the school did not take this opportunity to teach the students about public transit, housing affordability, and poverty wages, it’s just wild to me that they spent so much on a commodity that literally depreciates the second you buy it.”

“Imagine having enough money to spend 30k on viral content but you won’t give teachers a raise.”

“Alternative caption: Bored rich kids use underpaid teacher for viral content in a gross and insensitive manner.”

“Spending $30,000 on a teacher’s car seems like the kind of thing to me that, intuitively, you do when you have like a couple million in wealth and make $300,000 a year. But absolutely normal people do it all the time! Blows me away.”

“Christians: Here’s a car. Jews: Let’s notify the press, hire videographers, hire a Director (it’s LA), make sure the kids have their phones recording & let’s post it to 12 social media platforms making sure everyone knows how great we are.” 

As Rabbi Berg notes (in more detail) some of the points made about how educators can be better served have merit. But that should not detract one iota from what these young people did for a beloved teacher by casting aspersions on their motives. (Like accusing them of having self serving ulterior motives.) 

That these young students were so strongly criticized speaks to the cynicism we are all guilty of from time to time. In fact I consider myself to be a card carrying cynic. But one cannot, SHOULD NOT be cynical about everything. Sometimes a good deed is exactly that – a good deed. Without ulterior motives. I believe this was surely the case here. The cynics that made these comments made assumptions that were false and proceeded to diminish or dismiss what those boys did entirely.  

I am absolutely sickened by those cynics. Considering what the principal of a Charedi Yeshiva high school reported to me many years ago about the disgusting attitude and behavior toward their secular studies teachers by students in his school  – to in any way derogate behavior that is the diametric opposite of that is nothing short of a Chilul HaShem!

I don’t know how many people reacted the way these cynics did. But not everyone that thinks that way responded. Nor is every response published. So if this was reflective of more than a few unhappy, disgruntled cynics who think they know everything, then as Rabbi Berg’s title suggests, Houston, we do indeed have a problem.