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November 23, 2014 / 1 Kislev, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘education’

The Haredi Civil Right to Not Appreciate Israel

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013

I find myself in the awkward position of defending actions that I abhor. According to an article in YWN – the arm of Israel’s education ministry that is responsible for providing funds to Haredi schools is deciding what sanctions these schools should get. They were open on Yom Ha’atzmaut which is in direct violation of the Ministry’s requirement that all schools should be closed on that day.

I find the position of the ministry not to be in consonance with the character of a free society. I suppose that technically they can issue any conditions for funding they choose and implement financial sanctions if those conditions are not met. But I believe it undermines the very nature of a free and democratic society to force people to close their institutions on any given day of the year no matter what its significance.

Sanctions for doing so seem inappropriate and heavy handed. Ministry officials argue that this is a form of lawlessness which can lead to a general disregard for the law in other areas. I don’t think so. This is not hurting anyone. It does not detract from others their right to celebrate that day. All they end up doing is looking like bullies who want to force people to do something they don’t want to do. Haredim may be unpatriotic for refusing to close schools on Yom Ha’atzmaut. But a lack of patriotism is not – in my view a cause for punitive measures. In a free society people should have a right to do as they choose as long as they don’t hurt anyone in the process.

That said, the fact that these schools do not voluntarily close is in itself disgusting. This is not to say that I think Torah study should stop on that day. It shouldn’t. But not in ways which dishonor the day. By treating it as a normal school day – as most of them do – they are sending a message that they have absolutely no Hakoras HaTov (gratitude) for what they have been given since the very founding of the state over 65 years ago. They show that they are takers without saying thank you.

This is indicative of an attitude expressed time and again by some Haredi leaders. I am not talking about the rejectionists of Meah Shearim like Netrurei Karta and Satmar. I am talking about mainstream Haredim who rarely if ever have a good word to say about the State. Mostly what you hear them saying is that Israel is an evil empire out to destroy Judaism.

They continually bring up examples of that evil which they say took place during the formative years of the State. Examples that are of questionable reliability. I am not going to delve into those issues. All I will say is that there are different versions of what happened in every case. There are always at least 2 sides to every story.

Nonetheless they insist on believing the most unflattering versions of those stories. This is what they focus on. Never mind that this is ancient history and the religious climate then was not what it is now. Nor are today’s political leaders anything like those early pioneers. Some Haredi rabbinic leaders still see children being kidnapped from their parents and disabused of their religious beliefs.

More importantly, it is their refusal to recognize all the truly great things that Israel has done for the Jewish people that is so troubling.

It was the declaration of statehood that opened the doors to all Holocaust refugees that were in displacement camps waiting for someone – anyone – to help them get back to a normal life. Nobody wanted them after they were liberated from the death camps, including the British Mandatory government in Palestine. Very few permits were issued to those Jewish refugees. But the day Ben Gurion declared the State of Israel, the flood gates opened.

I cannot image the depth of joy, fulfillment of destiny and sense of promise that must have been in the heart of a refugee when he or she first beheld the shores of the promised land after suffering the worst degradations imaginable to man. That moment must have been cathartic. Every refugee now had the right to come to the land of Israel. The inscription on the Statue of Liberty first uttered by the Jewish Poet Emma Lazarus was never more appropriate than it was in Israel in those early and heady days of the state:

Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Wretched refuse. After years of anti-Semitic degradation, deprivation and torture by the Nazis and their willing accomplices of occupied lands – this is how the world saw the Holocaust refugee. It must have been hard for those refuges to think of themselves in any other way before they came to Israel’s shores. With the founding of the State these people had their dignity restored.

How in heaven’s name can any human being, let alone a fellow Jew not recognize that momentous day in Jewish History? I doubt that there is a single rational Holocaust survivor who immigrated who does not recognize it.

My wife had an uncle that was a Ger Hasid, who went through hell during the Holocaust losing his his wife and all of his children. Even though he was very close to the Gerrer Rebbe, on Yom Ha’atzmaut he Davened in a Mizrachi Shul so that he could say Hallel. There are probably hundreds if not thousands of stories like this. Surviving Jews of all stripes recognize the importance of Yom Ha’atzmaut. That’s because they lived through the horrors. But too many rabbinic leaders today refuse see any of this.

But even if there had been no Holocaust, what about the of the land of Israel being returned to the Jewish people after 2000 years? Do they not recognize the miraculous nature of that event?! Satmar refuses to recognize it calling it the work of the devil. But supposedly this is not the mainstream Haredi view. And yet they ignore it.

What about the fact that the state has enabled the development of the greatest Makom Torah in the world? Greater in depth and scope than at any time in history since the time of Hazal? It was Ben Gurion that exempted all Yeshiva students from army service! According to an article in last week’s Mishpacha Magazine, the Chazon Ish himself had said that Ben Gurion would have no idea why he would be given such honor in the next world. It would be due to the few words uttered from his mouth. He declared that he would not be the destroyer of Yavneh and its sages!

And then there is all that money given to Yeshivos and their students. There has probably never been a greater Issachar- Zevulun partnership in history.

And yet, not the slightest bit of hakarat hatov (appreciation of a good deed). All they see is evil. That is the message far too many Haredi mechanchim (educators) impart to their students. Especially now that there is a threat of a draft and reduction of funding.

I’m surprised they don’t tear kriyah (mournful tearing of the clothing) on that day based on the rhetoric I hear from some from some of their leadership these days.

I have absolutely no sympathy for their position on this matter. None! And yet I support their right to be as disgusting about it as they choose. Because that is the way of a free society.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

How Not to Remember the Holocaust

Monday, April 8th, 2013

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day, and I’m troubled.

History is important, because justice today depends on a correct understanding of yesterday. If your vision of the past is distorted, then your objectives for the future and present actions can be morally wrong, pragmatically futile, or both. If you don’t believe this, think about the consequences of the false Arab and leftist narratives about Israel and “Palestine.”

Therefore, understanding what Hitler did to the Jewish people, what historical trends led up to it and how the world responded, is critical for all of us today. There needs to be a Holocaust remembrance Day and it ought to tell its story in detail, over and over to each generation of humanity, and not just to Jews and Europeans.

But certain ways of observing this day make me very uncomfortable.

One is what I call the “universal kumbaya Holocaust observance.” The message here is that there are lots of genocides, they are all similar, and we have to try to understand our fellow man in order to prevent them. I went to an event once in which it was said that the real Holocaust encompassed 11 million people — Jews, Gypsies, gays, disabled and mentally ill people, etc.  I didn’t understand how they got to 11 million, nor why they stopped there: about 60 million people died as a result of WWII, probably about half of those in the European theater. Estimates range from 10 to 20 million Chinese dead in the conflict with Japan. Perhaps they should have lit 30 candles for the evil done by Hitler, and added another 30 for Imperial Japan?

The trouble with a universalized observance is that it obscures the significance of the specifically Jewish genocide, the fact that the Holocaust was the perfection, made possible by modern technology and careful planning, of the pogrom, the culmination of  the hundreds of anti-Jewish murders committed over the centuries simply because the victims were Jews, as the Nazis said, a final pogrom which would, for once and for all, erase the Jews from the world.

And by hiding the meaning of this event in plain sight, as it were, among all the other horrors of war, it also absolves today’s Jews from the responsibility to find their own solution to the specifically Jewish problem of endemic Jew-hatred, which has not gone away.

Another kind of Holocaust observance is the “emotional binge,” in which participants try to bring themselves to the point where they can almost feel the doors of the gas chambers closing on themselves or (worse) their children, in order to fully internalize the “real meaning” of the Holocaust. These events include talks by survivors about their experiences, dramatic performances and even re-enactments in which participants play the role of Jews and Nazis (all of these have been done in my community). The common characteristic is that they are intended to evoke the strongest possible emotional responses.

The catharsis provided by emotional binges is greatly enjoyed by some people, but it adds nothing to the understanding of history. Indeed, it creates a dangerous fixation on the dead Jews of the 1940s, to the detriment of those living today.

Finally there is the “symbolic but trivializing gesture.” A local synagogue is attempting to collect 6,000,000 buttons in remembrance of the 6,000,000 Jewish victims of Hitler. It was explained that this is a big number, and the stack of buttons that they will make will help people visualize the extent of the Holocaust.

It’s hard to comment on something quite this silly. Collecting, storing and displaying that many buttons is  a large effort, which one imagines could be exerted to much more effect in some other way. Personally, I have no problem visualizing 6,000,000 people: I just think about the Jewish population of today’s state of Israel.

Which brings me to the general problem I have with all of these ways of commemorating the victims of the Holocaust. They are entirely consistent with total ignorance of the real lesson of the Holocaust for Jews, which is not that 6,000,000 is a big number, or that the death of a child is horrible, or that genocide is bad everywhere, in Rwanda or Armenia or anywhere else.

This is why it is possible for some Jews to light candles, cry, and “dialogue” about the need for cross-cultural understanding with non-Jews until the cows come home, and then go out and (for example) join a demonstration against Jews moving into eastern Jerusalem.

An American Tragedy in Steubenville

Monday, March 18th, 2013

A significant number of American values failures came together to create the tragedy in Stuebenville, where two teenage High School football stars, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, were found guilty of raping a 16-year-old girl.

Foremost among them is the American tragedy of sexualizing teen girls at an age where they are not yet women. Madonna sexualized herself in her mid twenties. Brittney Spears brought the age down to about eighteen. Not young enough for you? Miley Cyrus reduced it further to sixteen. One wonders when our culture will feel that even sixteen is not a young enough age to sexually exploit girls.

Then there is the issue of sports as an emerging religion where those gifted to be athletes feel a sense of entitlement that often has them crossing lines to their own detriment. The idea that two High School football stars would think it acceptable to post pictures of a nude sixteen year old to their friends on social media shows how they thought the normal rules did not apply them. And this would be true even if there weren’t the far more serious conviction on rape. How sad that two young men have ruined their lives and done so much damage to a defenseless victim.

Next is the growing culture of alcohol abuse by minors. Alcohol played a central role in this unfolding tragedy with the essential argument on the part of the prosecution that the girl in question was so drunk there was no possible way she could give consent. One wonders why our youth are so inclined to heavy drink. Is it mere experimentation or is something deeper at work? Are they already, at so young an age, as unhappy as adults who have been battered by life and are therefore drinking negative emotions away? After all, no one in America really portrays the teen years as a bowl of cherries.

I passed my later teen years in an all-male environment in Yeshiva where the focus of my life was study. I certainly was a lot happier than the co-ed environment in which I was immersed in my early teen years where peer pressure, popularity among the girls, and a general self-consciousness made my life less enjoyable than it should have been.

Then there is the general tragedy of the absence of responsible parenting in America. The biggest question for me in this heartrending story was where were the parents? Where were they when the three teens left one party at 12:30 am to go to another? Where were they to monitor extreme drunkenness on the part of people not old enough to vote?

Many African-American young men are not raised with a father’s guiding hand. I was astonished, therefore, at the honesty displayed by Malik Richmond’s father, Nathaniel, when he said in a CNN interview that he had walked over to his son right after the guilty verdict and told him he loved him, essentially for the very first time. “I haven’t been involved in Malik’s life like I should have been at those early years. And I want to stress that parents should be more involved in their child’s life… be a parent and not a friend.”

No one is better qualified to address this issue than President Obama who also grew up without his father and is by all accounts a very loving and involved parent himself. The President has addressed the subject only lightly, but it’s time that he make this an all-out campaign.

But the greatest tragedy made manifest in Steubenville is the attitude of teenage men toward girls. Immanuel Kant wrote that the definition of immorality is treating a fellow human being as a means rather than an end. The abomination of American slavery was that a white child was taught to see a black child as a walking bale of cotton. Slavery trained a white man to see a black woman as lacking the same spark of the divine that lent him his humanity. When he looked upon the woman, she was stripped of her own dreams, her own opinions, her own aspirations. She was nothing but an extension of the white slave owner’s drives and ambitions. Like a third arm she existed to simply to do his chores.

A Hasidic Role Model

Sunday, March 17th, 2013

First let me congratulate Mrs. Rachel (Ruchie) Freier for her many great personal achievements and contributions to both Judaism and the world at large. I honor and respect both her life choices and her values, many of which I am sure we share – including the primacy in her life of motherhood. But I have to say that I think her article in the Forward is a bit misleading.

Here’s the beginning of the article:

On Monday on the Forward, Judy Brown shared her perspective on motherhood, based on her experience in the Hasidic community that she left. Now, I’d like to share my perspective on motherhood from within the Hasidic community of Boro Park. Having children was always important to me and I chose to remain steadfast to Haredi ideology while pursuing a law degree and then maintaining a law practice without compromising my role as a yidishe momme to my children.

Would that her lifestyle was that of the typical Hasidic woman in enclaves such as Williamsburg. My guess is that this is far from the case.

I am not God forbid saying that the lives of these Hasidic women have no value. Quite the contrary. I believe they have great value in being mothers to their children and wives to their husbands. And I am equally sure that many of them have jobs. Some may even be professionals – like Mrs. Freier – but that would by far be the exception.

College is in most cases forbidden to Satmar and like minded Hasidim. I don’t know what kind of Hasidus Mrs. Freier belongs to, but I am all but certain it is not hard-core Satmar or similar – which I believe comprise the vast majority of Hasidim in the world.

Mrs. Freier’s article was written in response to Judy Brown’s article expressing a different view of motherhood than that which is typical of the Hasidic world. As most people know, Mrs. Brown is the author of Hush – a devastating indictment of Hasidic community in which she was raised with respect to the way they treat sex in general, sex abuse, and its victims. Although she is still observant – she has long since left that community to find herself. And she has written a series of critical articles about the world of her upbringing. That was the case with her latest article in the Forward.

Mrs. Brown wrote about the pain and anguish of having an unwanted pregnancy in a world where such thoughts are verboten! Mrs. Brown actually had such an experience. As did a friend of hers that had some devastating results. But she also shares the regret she felt at the relief of that burden when she miscarried late into her own pregnancy. A regret she had after being shown a picture of the dead fetus she gave birth to.

She now says she now lives with that pain. The point made in that article is that her former community does not understand the damage they do with such extreme attitudes about pregnancies and birth control. At the same time she expressed her own maternal instincts as over-riding any such pain in her own life.

Mrs. Freir does not actually contradict what Mrs. Brown said. She just wanted to emphasize that the Hasidic upbringing she experienced and the values it taught her are the values she lives with and honors – even while being a professional. Despite her success, her profession does not define her. Motherhood does. That is the value she learned from her parents, grandparents, and teachers. It is her children that makes her life complete, not her profession.

I have absolutely no problem with that. In fact I agree that the institution of motherhood that Judaism places primary focus upon for a woman is the most important thing a woman can do. But as is obvious from Mrs. Freier herself, it is not the only thing a woman can do. Just like men, they can walk and chew gum at the same time. Having a career and being a full time mother is not a contradiction in terms. One can do both quite successfully.

My problem with this article is that it presents a false image of the majority of Hasidic women. One might conclude from this article that many woman in Williamsburg have professional degrees… or at least have attended college. And that Mrs. Freier is but one example of that.

The Shadow of the Gun

Sunday, March 17th, 2013

Every day another one of the stories comes in. A teacher panicked by a plastic gun, an army man on a cupcake, a t-shirt, a pop tart chewed into the shape of a gun or a finger gun hits the panic button. Suspensions and lectures quickly follow as the latest threat to the gun-free zone, usually in the form of a little boy, is tackled to the ground and lectured to within an inch of his life.

Tellingly these incidents rarely take place in the inner city schools where teenage gang members walk through metal detectors at the start of the day. The safety officers in those schools, big weary men with eyes that look everywhere at once, don’t waste their time on toys. Not unless those toys are full-size, painted black and filed down to look like real guns.

It’s usually the schools where a shooting is wholly unlikely; where gun violence is not a daily reality, but an unlikely convergence of horror, that institutional vigilance hits an irrational peak as every school imagines that it could be the next Columbine or the next Sandy Hook.

The NRA’s initial proposal of armed school guards was met with an irrational chorus of protests. More guns aren’t the answer, was the cry. And the leading crier was the White House’s expert skeet shooter. In a country where law enforcement is heavily armed and gunmen are stopped by gunmen in uniforms, a strange Swedenization had set in. The problem was not the man, it was the gun. Get rid of the guns and you stop the killing. Schools across the country are banning not the gun, but the idea of the gun. It is a conceptual prohibition that is meant to push away the threat of gun violence by eliminating any mention of the G word. Gun-free zones mean places where guns cannot be mentioned, depicted or even symbolized as if the refusal to concede the existence of a firearm will eliminate the threat of it being used on the premises.

This isn’t a precautionary attitude, but a pacifist one. Gun horror is not a productive emotion, but learned helplessness disguised as moral superiority. Rather than teaching children to hate killers, schools are instead teaching them to hate guns. And reducing murders to instruments rather than morals, children are left with no sense of right and wrong, only an instinctive horror of violence.

Pacifists have always demonized armies rather than invaders. During WWI they obsessed over gas. During WWII, it was the bomber and the tank. During the Cold War they demonized nuclear weapons. In the War on Terror, they target the drone. By dealing with the object rather than the subject, they are able to avoid the question of moral responsibility. Rather than hold the Nazis, Communists or Islamists accountable for their actions, they extended a blanket condemnation over the weapons-wielders.

The American G.I. was just as bad as the S.S. man or the Kamikaze pilot or the Political Commissar. The only difference was in who had the bigger guns. And the one with the bigger guns, was also the most to blame.

That same attitude can be seen today when Israel is blamed for every battle with Islamic terrorists because it has the bigger guns. Rather than evaluating the nature of a conflict and the values of both sides, the pacifists score every war based on firepower.

While the left likes to indulge in stereotypes of gun-toting rednecks and bomb-brandishing generals, the only people who judge the worth of a man by his weapon are the pacifists, the gun-fearers and gun-hiders who mythologize weapons as black agents of evil.

To believe that there is no such thing as constructive violence is to reject free will. Without accepting the necessity of constructive violence, there is no good and evil, only armed men and unarmed men. Without constructive violence, two boys playing cops and robbers in the schoolyard are not acting out a childish morality play, they are becoming desensitized to murder, and without it a child with a pop tart chewed into the shape of a gun is on the way to being a school shooter.

If there is no such thing as constructive violence, then the police officer is not the solution to crime, he is part of the cycle of violence. And if that cycle of violence does not begin with a man choosing to use a gun for good or evil, then it must begin with the gun. The man becomes the object and the gun becomes the subject. American ICBMs become just as bad as Russian ballistic missiles. An Israeli soldier killing a suicide bomber is just as bad as the terrorist. There are no good guys with guns. To have a gun is to be the bad guy.

For decades the gun-control lobby has brandished assault rifles at press conferences and spent more time describing their killing power than their manufacturers have. The rifle has been upgraded to the assault rifle and now, in the latest Orwellian vernacular used by the White House and the entire media pyramid beneath it, weapons of war.

The dreaded assault rifle or weapon of war or killing machine of mass death actually kills rather few Americans. The average shooter doesn’t bring an AR-15 to a Chicago gangland dispute. Despite the number of these weapons in private hands, most of the killing takes place with handguns in the same parts of the country where large amounts of illegal drugs are sold, women trafficked and stores robbed.

Shootings in America are not caused by guns, they are caused by crime. Guns really do not walk off store shelves and go on killing sprees. That’s what criminals are for. But the trouble with that discussion is that it takes us into moral territory. Talking about guns is easy, talking about souls is not. If guns don’t kill people, then we have to ask the difficult question of what does kill people.

It’s a bigger question than just Adam Lanza pulling the trigger in a classroom full of children. It is a big question that encompasses the Nazi gas chambers and the Soviet gulags, the Rape of Nanking and September 11. It is a question as big as all of human history.

Pacifists once used to be able to address such questions, but they have become obsessed with the technology of violence, rather than the spiritual origin of violence. And the technology of violence is largely beside the point. Guns do not motivate people to kill. Nor do they represent that much of a quantum increase in death.

Some of history’s worst massacres happened long before firearms became useful for more than scaring off peasants. The heavily armed Americans of the 50s had lower per capita murder rates than medieval London. It isn’t the gun that makes the killer. It’s not the hand that kills, but the mind.

The gun-free society has little interest in individuals. Its technocratic philosopher-kings want big and comprehensive solutions. Their answer to gun violence is to feed a horror of guns. Their answer to obesity is to ban sodas. Their solutions invariably miss the point by treating people like objects and objects like people.

In the Middle Ages, rats were put on trial for eating crops. Today we put guns on trial for killing people. The left has tried to reduce people to economics, to class and then race, gender and sexual orientation. It has done its best to reduce people to the sum of their parts and then to tinker with those parts and it has failed badly. The best testimony of its profound spiritual failure is that the worst pockets of gun violence are in urban areas that have been under the influence of their sociologists, urban planners, psychologists, social justice activists, community organizers and political rope-pullers for generations. And what have those areas brought forth except malaise, despair, blight and murder?

Banning guns will do as much for those areas as banning drugs did. It is not the shadow of the gun that has fallen over Chicago, but an occlusion of the spirit. Social services have had generations to save the city and they have failed because the technocracy can reach the body, but it cannot reach the soul.

The gun-control activists drew the wrong lesson from Newtown as they drew the wrong lessons from WWII and September 11. The lesson is not that weapons are bad, the lesson is that people in the grip of evil ideas are capable of unimaginable horrors regardless of the tools at their disposal. A single man can kill a classroom full of children with a gun and a few men can kill thousands with a few box cutters. It isn’t the tool that matters. It’s the man.

Unwishing the gun brings us back to the sword. Unwishing the sword brings us back to the spear. Unwishing the spear brings us back to the stone club. And what then? When every weapon that ever existed or will exist is undone, all that remains is the deadliest weapon of all. The mind of man.

The gun, the sword, the spear and the club took countless lives and saved countless lives. Civilization has always balanced on a future made possible by little boys playing cops and robbers and playing with little green army men. They can either grow up to be the protectors of the future or the frightened men who will stand aside and do nothing when they hear the screams begin to come because they have been told that all violence is evil.

Originally published at Sultan Knish.

A Time for Zero Tolerance and a Time for Tolerance

Sunday, March 3rd, 2013

I have never been sexually abused. I therefore have no real way of identifying with the pain suffered by victims of abuse. All I can do is take the word of the victim about the pain they suffer. And of course observe the tragic consequences when the depression a victim falls into as a result of both the abuse the reaction to them by their community. Those consequences are sometimes so severe that they end up in suicide for the victim.

Recent events here in Chicago have once again resulted in a resurfacing of this issue. I am not going to name names. Full disclosure requires me to say that I know and admire some of the people involved. But I am not in a position to interview them. Nor am I in a position to judge them since I do not know all the details of the case. But based on what has surfaced so far in the public square I feel the need to speak out so as to be consistent in my approach to sex abuse.

Here is what I know so far.

An 18 year old female victim who is a student at a religious school here in Chicago posted on her Facebook page about the sex abuse she suffered. When officials at the school discovered this, they asked her in a very insensitive way to remove it as that violated the school’s code for use of social media. She was severely reprimanded for this violation and unless she removed the ‘offensive’ content from her Facebook page she faced a possible expulsion.

The outrage from some in the “victims’ advocates” community against officials of the school came fast and furious… defending the victim’s right to express her pain in any way she saw fit. They condemned the official response of the school. Some are even asking heads to roll. That is the way some see it – calling it a no tolerance policy. I call it ‘slash and burn’ policy.

I completely understand a no tolerance policy when it comes to sex abuse and fully support it. The question arises when such a policy is extended to secondary concerns – important though they may be.

Should there be a slash and burn policy in every case where an official errs in how they handle the pain of a victim? Should the welfare of a fine institution with exceptional leaders be destroyed because someone made a mistake? Should the career and good name of someone who has contributed so much – and many decades of service – be instantly destroyed because of a few poorly chosen words – hurtful though they may have been?

I don’t think that’s right.

Personally, I do not think the response was appropriate. There is little doubt that victim was hurt beyond anyone’s imagination by the abuse she received. And she was once again hurt here. Based on what is public knowledge about this case – this should not have been done. The response seemed cruel to me.

In defense of the institution, they have every right to set a policy for the use of social media and demand that it be followed. And I fully support a school’s right to carry out whatever consequences they spell out in their literature for violations of that policy.

On the other very legitimate hand, doing so in this case – especially the way in which it was done – was using very poor judgment in my view. A school’s right to carry out its policies does not mean they can’t use discretion when it is warranted. When it comes to victims of abuse, there is no better time to use that discretion. What was warranted here was compassion.

I do not fault the school for telling the victim that she should not have used social media to express her pain. This does not stifle her from expressing it. All it does is limit who will have access to it. No matter how much pain a victim suffers, it does not give them the right to use a shotgun approach to disseminating it to the world. There are other – far better ways to do that. Like speaking with parents; or counselors who are experienced in these issues; or a sympathetic teacher; of even a group of intimate friends.

Achdus with Chabad

Sunday, February 10th, 2013

I don’t know how they do it. But I am jealous of them. Chabad is perhaps the most successful group in Orthodoxy at raising money for their causes. Their sources are often not even the wealthy Jews of Orthodoxy. And their organizational skills are legendary. They are probably better than anyone at maximizing the “bang for the buck.”

This is the one thing that struck me about a recent article in the Forward:

Chabad operates 1,000 preschools worldwide, including 300 in Israel and 400 in the United States. In 2010, Chabad launched a special early childhood initiative called The Machne Israel David and Lara Slager Early Childhood Initiative. In the past two and half years, this fund helped in the creation of 45 new preschools (most in North America, and two each in Argentina, South Africa and Australia). There are plans to create another 100 over the next four years.

While it is true that their emphasis on reaching out to secular Jews of necessity requires them to disengage from areas of high Orthodox concentration and thereby have less contact with wealthy Orthodox philanthropists – that doesn’t mean they are going to be successful at raising funds from the secular and unaffiliated Jewish philanthropist.

But – necessity is the mother of invention I guess, and somehow they manage to appeal to those donors to fund their projects.

As I have said many times, no one can touch Chabad outreach in terms of sheer numbers. They have probably gotten more people to be observant, than all the other Kiruv groups put together. And it is projects like the above that enable them to do it.

This is why I am jealous of them. Not in any harmful ‘evil eye’ sense. I am jealous that the rest of Orthodoxy cannot match them. We have done rather well in recent years raising money among our own for various projects. But it is no secret that we are still very far from having the money we need just to support one institution – Jewish education.

I don’t have to convince any Orthodox parent – even the more affluent ones – about the pressures of tuition. That is a subject that has been well covered here before. Long story short, tuitions are so high that even families with incomes well into 6 figures are sometimes given scholarships. Especially if they have a big family. It is also no secret that tuition does not cover the typical school budgets. Nor do most of those budgets even pay their teachers what they deserve.

Not that Lubavitch doesn’t have similar problems. But that’s because the huge sums of money they raise for outreach purposes do not go towards their communities own educational needs. That money goes almost exclusively for outreach programs and schools.

Nonetheless, the fact that they are so successful at spreading out and spreading the word of God through His Torah is something to be admired.

I have not dealt with Chabad in quite some time. But those who been reading this blog for awhile know of my criticisms – not the least of which is their obsession to one degree or another with their Rebbe as Moshiach. Even though he died well over a decade ago. Although things have quieted down quite a bit on that front, I don’t think they have given up on that very troubling idea.

Among other criticisms I have of them is one that bears on the subject of this post. They are not really integrated with the rest of Orthodoxy. While there is definitely some cross fertilization between us, it is not because they actively seek it. To the extent that they do, they tend to do it only on their own terms. Or on an individual basis and not an organizational one.

The evidence for this is the fact that unlike the rest of Orthodoxy, their children – with rare exception – attend only their own Chabad schools. They have built an empire of separation. Which is an irony of sorts when you consider that their primary concern is outreach to fellow Jews. But the truth is that outreach is so important to them that consider integration with the rest of Orthodoxy to be of secondary or tertiary importance. At least that is what it seem like to me.

One reason they are so separated from the rest of Orthodoxy – is the way they do outreach. Every Jewish soul they reach is convinced to believe that Chabad equals Judaism. They never distinguish (at least not at first) between an exclusively Lubavitch Minhag and Halacha. They teach their own customs as though they were Halacha. So that in most cases, if someone becomes religious through them, they become a Lubavitcher. Their community grows through outreach while their members become just as separated from the rest of the Orthodox community as are Lubavitchers from birth.

And so it goes. Chabad continues to be wildly successful at outreach while having little to do with the rest of the Orthodox community unless they are in control. Like the annual Simchas Torah concert they host for Chicago on Chol HaMoed Sukkos. It is their event.

It wasn’t always like that. When I was in elementary school in Detroit at Yeshivath Beth Yehuda – a pioneer Torah U’Mesorah school – two of my very beloved teachers there were Lubavitcher Chasidim. And Lubavitchers sent their children to that school. We were integrated. I believe that the same thing was true all around the country through most of the sixties (with the possible exception of New York where separate schools may have already existed). Lubavitch was just one type of observant Jew among many types that attended the same schools.

As they grew in number here in Chicago – and feeling that mainstream day schools and high schools did not pay sufficient attention to Chabad in general and the Rebbe in particular they started setting up their own schools which focus heavily on Chabad and the Rebbe.

Fast forward to today and we have 2 girls high schools right across the street from each other. One Lubavitch and one Beis Ya’akov. And the girls have absolutely nothing to do with each other. I don’t see that as progress. I see it as contributing to the divide between us. Year after year; class after class.

And that bothers me. Chabad’s strengths would serve all of us well If we could become more integrated. It would take a lot of tolerance on both sides. And it would take a willful and purposeful approach to doing so. And a bit of compromise. Lubavitch would have to stop being so proprietary and the rest of Orthodoxy would have to become a little more tolerant. Their efficient fundraising and organizational skills would serve Judaism as a whole much better if we could integrate and use those skills for common purpose. And integration with the rest of Orthodoxy would expand Chabad’s outreach to even greater heights combining and sharing with other non Chabad outreach groups. Making them both more effective.

I’m not saying that this is all that doable. There are certainly many obstacles. Some of which may be insurmountable. But I wish it were. Wouldn’t it be great for example if those two girls’ schools would combine? I’d love to see it. But it will probably never happen.

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