Friday, January 27, 2023

Yes, There is Prejudice Against Charedim

Alleged kidnapper being taken into custody by police (New York Post)
There were two disturbing stories in the media recently about Charedim.

How many people reading that sentence thought ‘Oh no… Here we go again’. ‘Two more cases of Charedi or Chasidic Jews making a huge Chilul HaShem.’ Frankly - although I genuinely try not to harbor any biases - I admit to a little bit of it myself. My thoughts about why that is the case - later.

What was disturbing about the above mentioned stories is that two innocent Jews - in both cases Chasidim - suffered gross indignities and embarrassment because of public perceptions about Chasidic behavior. The New York Post reported the following story a couple of days ago: 

A creep tried to abduct a 9-year-old boy from a Brooklyn synagogue Wednesday — but was thwarted when the kid’s mom showed up and saw him trying to carry her son away, police said… 

The mother spotted the creep carrying her son and jumped in — asking the boy if he knew the man from the synagogue, cops said.  When he told her no, she ripped her son from the man’s arms, police said… 

Yossi Mayer, 42, was taken into custody about an hour later and subsequently charged with kidnapping, endangering the welfare of a child, and harassment. 

You guessed it. The ‘creep’ in this story was a Charedi. The question many of us may ask upon reading this story is, ‘How many more stories like this have to happen before doing something about it?!’  

The problem is that nothing of the sort happened. A surveillance cameras recorded what really happened. VIN reports the following: 

(A) surveillance video of the incident which has been circulating on social media, (shows) the man stopping the boy as he passes by in the synagogue lobby, placing his hands on the boy’s shoulder and speaking with him for several seconds before the two walk off together.

Five seconds later, the footage shows a woman pulling the boy aside, while the man continues out the synagogue’s front door. 

This hardly sounds like the attempted violent kidnapping described in various news media. It isn’t any kind of kidnapping at all, violent or otherwise. This man did absolutely nothing wrong. 

Was Yossi Mayer the victim of antisemitism? I don’t think so. I don't think he is a necessarily Chasid. But he may have been a victim by inference of prejudice against Chasidim. The fact that Chasidim have generally defended accused sex offenders from their community while smearing the victims as liars with vendettas - makes such biased reactions  more likely. Jumping to a false conclusions is not so outrageous. Wrong though they may be. As broad brushstroke prejudices often are. Obviously the vast majority of Chasidim are not anywhere near being kidnappers. 

Another troubling  incident happened on a Delta flight before it departed. At the behest of a flight attendant, a Chasid was removed from his seat and escorted off the plane by an airline security agent.  . 

Here too my bias got the better of me. My immediate (admittedly knee jerk) reaction was to wonder what kind of Chilul HaShem did he do did that resulted in his removal. But as in the last example, this Chasid did absolutely nothing wrong. Which as reported by ABC News (Video below) was noted by passengers on the plane that witnessed the whole  thing. 

Apparently a flight attendant preceded to insult him by saying, You people always carry on too much luggage. Please remove your hatbox from the overhead bin and place it under your seat. 

Even though there was plenty of room left on the overhead bin even with the hatbox there, the Chasid immediately complied and put it under his seat. Shortly afterward the flight attendant grabbed his luggage off the overhead bin and proceeded to take it of the plane. That was immediately followed by his removal. There was no disobedience. No fight. There was no shouting match. There was no lack of compliance. There was just one unprovoked flight attendant that saw a Chasid sitting on her flight and she kicked him off of it.

Was this antisemitism? Not exactly. There were other identifiable Kipa wearing Jews on the flight who were not harassed at all. What it was, though, was - as in the first case - anti Chasid prejudice. I don’t think there is any other way to explain it. 

This of course does not make what the flight attendant did any less sickening. An innocent man was forced to delay his flight and suffered serious embarrassment for no other reason than looking the way he did.

In my view that flight attendant should be fired. And like the first case there are probably grounds for a lawsuit. This time against the airline. That wrong needs to be righted. A lot better than the $500 flight voucher he got from airline.

The question is, why is there such prejudice against Chasidim these days? Am I guilty of it too?

The quick answer to the second question is yes. I am. In no way should I judge an entire community by the bad behavior of a few of its members. Bad behavior  exists in all communities. Why are Chasidim picked on? 

Well for one thing they are easy targets because of the they look. It is human nature to look suspiciously at people that are so radically different than  you. That may in part be the reason the the mainstream media pays so much attention to them. 

If a Chasid does  something wrong, it stands out. They are going to be noticed far more than the typical citizen. It is therefore easier to generalize.

It's not that the negative stories are false. It’s just that Chasidim are not the only ones guilty of it. And yet they seem to be singled out the most. Probably because of prejudice based on generalization. Which should never play a part in how to react to accusations of bad behavior.  In no way can the actions of that flight attendant be defended. 

But it isn't only the way they look. That prejudice has a far more reasonable explanation which I base on my own experiences.  I have mentioned this story many times. The short version is as follows.  

On a flight I was on waiting for takeoff, a large Chasidic family boarded and began treating a flight attendant like she was their own personal servant. As a Kipa wearing Jew, I was embarrassed by what I saw and apologized to that flight attendant for the rude behavior of my coreligionists. She responded that she was used to being treated that way by families like that - and realized that not all Orthodox Jews behaved that way.

If this happens often to flight attendants I can’t really blame them for their negative impressions. Yes she was wrong to generalize. Treating an innocent Chasid the way the Delta flight attendant did was obscene. But it is not all that outrageous to suggest what might have been the trigger that set her off.

The simple truth is that the vast majority of Chasidim do not  behave the way I witnessed one family behave. They are just as kind and generous as anyone else. They do not ‘order the flight attendeants around like personal servants. But it does seem to happen more than occasionally as the flight attendant I Apologized to suggested.  

Now I certainly have my issues with the more extreme segments of the Chasidic community. I deal with them quite often. But that should not make me or any other fair minded person always assume the worst. And treat the accused as guilty until proven innocent. Something I have surely been guilty of doing myself on occasion. 

That being said, it might be worthwhile for this community to educate themselves about proper etiquette on an airplane. And to stop defending fellow Chasidim accused of abuse as victims and the victims as liars with a vendetta. If they do nothing and things remain as they are - it will surely perpetuate the prejudice. 

Just a few thoughts about the what and the why.