On Friday in downtown Monsey a newly formed group of activists called Wake Up Rockland entered Rockland Kosher Supermarket–basically it’s the Pomegranate of Monsey. The group was led by a black reverend and was made up of a cross-section of non-Jews from the local community. They marched into the store, innocent frum Jews looked on, mouths agape, as the activists walked up and down the aisles looking for items to purchase. The store did not appreciate this gesture and they asked that the group leave.
The group had summoned the media to be present at the demonstration and the local paper wrote about the effort. The article seems to praise the activists and is lukewarm on the store people who were not receptive to the group.
Demonstrators explained that they were hoping to show the frum community that we are neighbors, they are not going anywhere, and we should try to integrate our communities a bit or at the very least try to get along.
I think this is a great idea. There is tension in Ramapo. There are non-Jews who are nasty to Jews and there are Jews who are nasty to non-Jews. It would be great if the two communities could somehow come together.
But there are a couple problems with the execution of this idea.
First, the demonstrators seem to think that there is segregation in Ramapo. It’s not really segregation. It’s more like insularity. The frum community in Monsey wants to be insular and free from secular influences. So it’s not bigotry per se. In other words, bridging the gap is not a solution, it’s actually looked at as a problem from the frum community’s point of view.
But, more importantly, if the activists are genuine, and I have no reason to think they are not, they should work together with liaisons from the frum community to create harmony. No one wants to be surprised or forced into unity. Popping into Rockland Kosher on Friday may have worked for the cameras and for headlines, but it will not achieve the desired result unless members of the frum community participate in the decision-making and execution of ideas.
It’s really not that different than the situation in Israel with the charedim. Both situations need insiders to make the change happen. But, more importantly, the very philosophy and way of life that the charedim in Israel and Monsey follow makes it nearly impossible to foster integration with non-charedim.
This kind of worldview is becoming more and more archaic and anachronistic. The world is less tolerant of insularity and isolation. The world desires integration, mutual respect, and harmony. The challenge for charedim will be how this approach to a global community can be reconciled with insularity, if it can at all.
About the Author: Rabbi Eliyahu Fink, J.D. is the rabbi at the famous Pacific Jewish Center | The Shul on the Beach in Venice CA. He blogs at finkorswim.com. Connect with Rabbi Fink on Facebook and Twitter.
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