web analytics
October 25, 2014 / 1 Heshvan, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
Meir Panim with Soldiers 5774 Roundup: Year of Relief and Service for Israel’s Needy

Meir Panim implements programs that serve Israel’s neediest populations with respect and dignity. Meir Panim also coordinated care packages for families in the South during the Gaza War.



The World’s Greatest Outdoor Museum

Most areas of the city have a mix of peoples living in them who have daily contact with one another and who share the space. It just makes sense to have good relations with neighbors.

If one wants to see ethnic contact, social progress, and true turf sharing in New York City, the experience of a Hebrew charter school in Brooklyn is a perfect case in point.

If one wants to see ethnic contact, social progress, and true turf sharing in New York City, the experience of a Hebrew charter school in Brooklyn is a perfect case in point.

And then, almost as if on cue, two black kids, perhaps eleven or twelve years old, a boy and a girl, emerge from a Kennedy Fried Chicken joint. Seeing their dean, they greet him joyously, giving him a high five and saying, “Hello, Mr. T.” and “How y’all doin’?”

“That’s my nickname,” he explains, with a chuckle. “My last name begins with a ‘T.’ I’m Tuvia Tatik.”

“Was it an adjustment for you to be here, at first?”

“Not really. You see, I didn’t grow up frum. I was raised as a non-religious Jew in the Bronx and went to DeWitt Clinton High School. And I used to play basketball at the Jewish community center in this neighborhood. So I knew about the outside world and about public school. I also live in Crown Heights, which has a large black population.

“And you know who hired me? Another frum Jew who has a doctorate from Harvard, Shimon Waronker. He’s the principal and he was written up on the front page of The New York Times. Google it; you’ll get a beautiful seven-minute video. Before he came this was one of the twelve worst junior high schools in the city. And when he came to this country from Chile, he didn’t know a word of English. So when he took this job, they laughed.

“But at least he knew Spanish, and that’s very important here,” I counter.

Tuvia agrees with me. Indeed, I do remember the article.

“There’s even another Orthodox Jew in the school,” he tells me, “but he’s ‘Modern,’ ” he adds. “He doesn’t wear a kippah in the building.”

The discussion demonstrates that there’s often more to a situation than meets the eye.

Tuvia has certain informal credentials that make him particularly qualified, more so than the typical observant Jew. First, he wasn’t brought up Orthodox. Second, he grew up in the Bronx and played basketball there as a kid. Third, he’s a public school product. Fourth, he belongs to the Lubavitch sect, which is the most outgoing of the chassidic groups. Fifth, as I learn, he’s a trained psychologist who studied at Touro College. Finally, he lives in a mixed black-white community.

These characteristics stand him in good stead as he faces daily challenges.

“Why do you think there’s so little anti-Semitism in your school?” I continue.

“I’ll be honest. It’s because we’re a predominantly Hispanic school, about seventy percent. And the Hispanics have more respect for religion in general. And even with the Muslims, we talk about religion. Some are actually from the Middle East, from Yemen.”

When we part at the subway entrance, I say, “I’m so glad I met you. It was really interesting. And I wouldn’t have met you if you hadn’t come out of the building at that moment.”

Tuvia’s response highlights his faith-based approach to things.

“One of the foundation stones of chassidic philosophy is that everything is preordained. God doesn’t let a leaf fall from a tree without some purpose to it, even if we don’t know what it is. God willed that we should meet. I was supposed to leave at three o’clock because it’s erev Shabbos but I was schmoozing with the other dean….”

“What misconceptions do your friends in Crown Heights have about the kids you work with? Do they think they’re wild kids?”

“That’s the thing,” he answers. “We have kids in this school – they’relike diamonds. They ask me about my tzitzis. I explain it to them. Mostly they don’t even ask.”

To be sure, most fervently Orthodox Jews are not as tolerant as Tuvia. But that is what makes these examples so interesting. Because New Yorkers have constant contact with other groups, the possibility for such unusual and productive encounters is greatly enhanced.

This case is a great example of ethnic learning. Think of how Tuvia shapes the views of students and colleagues by virtue of the fact that the group he represents is such a stereotyped group. Chassidim (and Jews) are often viewed by blacks and Hispanics as cheap and unethical in the sense that they worship the almighty dollar. Most have no real contact with Jews, and if they do it’s as landlords, merchants, or as TV caricatures. For Muslims the stereotypes are even worse, shaped as they are by Middle East politics.

About the Author: William B. Helmreich is professor of sociology at the City University Graduate Center (CUNY) and City College of New York. His many books include “The World of the Yeshiva: An Intimate Portrait of Orthodox Jewry,” “Against All Odds: Holocaust Survivors and the Successful Lives They Made in America,” and “What Was I Thinking? The Dumb Things We Do and How to Avoid Them.”


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “The World’s Greatest Outdoor Museum”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Do you know where your vegetables grow?
Not So Kosher Shemittah L’Mehadrin
Latest Indepth Stories
Eller-102414-Cart

I had to hire a babysitter so that I could go shopping or have someone come with me to push Caroline in her wheelchair.

Bills to restore the balance of power in Israel will be fought by the not-so-judicial left.

Widespread agreement in Israel opposing Palestinian diplomatic warfare, commonly called “lawfare.”

Chaye Zisel Braun

Arab terrorism against Jews and the State of Israel is not something we should be “calm” about.

Peace Now Chairman Yariv Oppenheimer

The Israeli left, led by tenured academics, endorses pretty much anything harmful to its own country

We were devastated: The exploitation of our father’s murder as a vehicle for political commentary.

Judea and Samaria (Yesha) have been governed by the IDF and not officially under Israeli sovereignty

While not all criticism of Israel stemmed from anti-Semitism, Podhoretz contends the level of animosity towards Israel rises exponentially the farther left one moved along the spectrum.

n past decades, Oman has struck a diplomatic balance between Saudi Arabia, the West, and Iran.

The Torah scroll which my family donated will ride aboard the USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier

The Jewish Press endorses the reelection of Gov. Andrew Cuomo. His record as governor these past four years offers eloquent testimony to the experience and vision he has to lead the Empire State for the next four years.

I think Seth Lipsky is amazing, but it just drives home the point that newspapers have a lot of moving parts.

Myth #1: It is easy to be a B’nai Noach. It is extraordinarily hard to be a B’nai Noach.

The question of anti-Semitism in Europe today is truly tied to the issue of immigration.

Polls indicate that the Palestinians are much more against a two state solution than the Israelis.

More Articles from William B. Helmreich
If one wants to see ethnic contact, social progress, and true turf sharing in New York City, the experience of a Hebrew charter school in Brooklyn is a perfect case in point.

Most areas of the city have a mix of peoples living in them who have daily contact with one another and who share the space. It just makes sense to have good relations with neighbors.

William B. Helmreich

In 1964 the eminent sociologist Marshall Sklare declared Orthodoxy to be irrelevant. His view was that Conservative Judaism was the wave of the future in America.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/front-page/the-worlds-greatest-outdoor-museum/2013/11/14/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: