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Posts Tagged ‘poverty’

Solving One Problem, Sort of…

Thursday, April 11th, 2013

My issues with Satmar notwithstanding, I must give credit where credit is due. The Williamsburg area where Satmar Hasidim live has quietly created a trend of development that is somewhat counter culture – in a good way. In an era where gentrification has become standard for urban renewal Satmar has had its own – much more affordable version of that going on in its outer edges.

Gentrification is what happens to slums (or at best neglected neighborhoods) where the poor live when a city council and developers get together to try and eliminate those slums. Developers will buy out dilapidated buildings and either demolish them to build new upscale living quarters or rehabilitate existing structures that in their hey-day were quite upscale themselves.

When the original tenants moved to the suburbs (what used to be called white flight) and the poor started moving in these neighborhoods became neglected – some of them turning into slums. The residents could not afford to keep up the buildings and they became run down. That is an oversimplified – but I think fair description of what has happened.

Developers – seeking to attract singles or a working couple with no children whose incomes are well above average and expenditures far less that the average family would build housing suitable for this demographic… making them unattractive for most families and too expensive in any event. These dwellings are steeply priced. As an article in the New York Observer points out – in the trendier section of Williamsburg, a half a million dollars will barely buy you a studio apartment.

Satmar developers, ever mindful of the need of their growing community, have taken a different track. They have lobbied government officials successfully and have received zoning variances enabling them to build housing on what were once commercial and industrial zoned areas of Williamsburg. And they have built brand new and affordable housing for Satmar families where that same half million will buy a three-bedroom condo in a new elevator building.

True these structures will not win any architectural awards. “Strolling down Bedford Avenue, you’re greeted by a solid wall of new six-story brick buildings” says the New York Observer. They are obviously more functional than aesthetic. But they do have a clean and new functional look to them. In an area where a modest lifestyle is promoted, this type of housing is ideal. And again from the Observer (here comes the good part): “the ultra-Orthodox have succeeded in building thousands of units and keeping the neighborhood affordable for families—on private land, and without public money!”

I have been to these neighborhoods and seen these buildings. They are a far cry from the impoverished conditions I used to see there just a decade or so ago. It appears to be populated entirely by Williamsburg Hasidim.

And yet, I can’t help but feel that there is something missing from this seemingly idyllic picture. For one thing a half million dollars isn’t pocket change. The ‘modest’ incomes of most Satmar Hasidim doesn’t seem like enough to buy one of these units. Even if you factor in low down payments – there remains the very high mortgage payments. Which begs the question, where do these families with 6, 7, 8 or more children get the money to pay for that? It would therefore appear to be that only a more upscale (by Satmar standards) family can afford these units. Either that or some of these families must be getting subsidized. And if so, where is that money coming from? Philanthropists? Government welfare programs?

The building boom also had some controversy attached when public land was bought along with private land. From the New York Observer:

Black and Latino leaders claimed that the affordable housing complex—to be built on city-owned land, some of which would be seized by eminent domain—would give a disproportionate number of units to the ultra-Orthodox, as traditional public housing projects nearby had in the past.

Rabbi David Niederman, leader of the United Jewish Organizations, begged to differ, saying that both the public and private aspect of the rezoning are needed. “We believe in supply and demand,” he said. “Imagine if 200 people are fighting for one unit”—something that New Yorkers outside of Hasidic Williamsburg won’t have to try very hard to do. “Prices are going to go up like crazy.”

I personally see no problem with what Satmar did. They lobbied for the land and they got it. Black and Latino leaders could have done the same.

Daoud, Is this Yours?

Monday, January 14th, 2013

I met an Arab contractor from Hevron many years ago. We were considering having him build our home. He invited us to his home in Hevron but since it’s illegal for me to go there, not to mention potentially dangerous, I never managed that visit.

We got in a discussion one time about cultures and soon realized we were speaking different languages. He was trying to explain about his family and why it was really so much better than my culture. You see, he has two wives. One is this beautiful young Russian woman who was in her very early 20s at the time. The second one was an Arab woman, “the pathetic one” he called her. She was 46 at the time (and so was I). She had borne him his children and was still his wife but he had taken another – the young one.

He had built them a beautiful home, he told me and kept them both there – the beautiful one and the pathetic one. And, to show you how amazing Islamic law was, he told me, he was very fair. Each night, in succession, he visited each woman. One night here, one night there. I was to commend him, you see because if he wasn’t such an amazing person, he would likely have been unfair and spent more time with the beautiful one.

I didn’t handle it very well. I wasn’t duly impressed. I told him that if I were his wife, I would show him the door and tell him to get out. He thought that was ridiculous. He pointed to my husband and asked if I thought it was better that my husband would sneak off and find another woman instead of being honest and bringing her home as he had. My husband was a wise man. He sat there with a smile on his face, knowing I could and would have what to say.

I smiled back and turned to Daoud and said, if my husband wanted to go to a woman in Tel Aviv, he knows he can go…he just can’t come back. Daoud didn’t believe me – luckily and happily, my husband does.

 

In many ways, Daoud crosses cultural lines. He is completely fluent in Hebrew and knows many, many Israelis. He lives a good life, even a rich one. I don’t know if this is his house, but I thought of him when someone posted this picture to Facebook. It is an Arab house in Hevron. Daoud told me he had experience building pools and that his house was very large – so that the young wife and the pathetic one had plenty of space.

And I remembered a discussion I once had with someone from the States. He accused us of persecuting the Palestinians, keeping them without electricity and indoor plumbing. He somehow believed that Arabs still ride camels and live in tents.

There are hundreds of homes like this one in Arab areas, perhaps even thousands. Some are in the Bedouin city of Rahat in the desert; others in Ramallah and even in Gaza. If this is how the poor Palestinians are living, I can only wish some day God grants me such poverty.

Visit A Soldier’s Mother.

An Existential Analysis

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

There were 4488 page views (‘hits’) on my blog yesterday. Of those 1429 were unique visitors. Unique visitors are the actual number of people who accessed my blog during Monday’s 24 hour period. Of those, 307 voted on my poll. Which asked to choose the biggest existential threat to Judaism from a list of 7 possible choices. The results were: Chilul HaShem 78 (25%) Education 127 (41%) Feminism 11 (3%) Internet 13 (4%) Poverty 22 (7%) Sex Abuse 14 (4%) Tuition 42 (13%)

Not surprisingly the largest number of votes by far – 127 (41%) went to educational concerns. A full 25% of the votes went to concerns about Chilul HaShem. The third biggest concern was the Tuition crisis. The rest of the respondents were in single digit percentages poverty being the biggest concern among those.

The bottom three concerns were about the impact of sex abuse, the internet, and feminism.

First let me address the fact that a lot of factors were not included. Among them were: going OTD, divorce rates, dysfunctional families, sexism, the move to the right, the move to the left, the Shiddach crisis, assimilationist influences, isolationist influences, the State of Israel, increased divisiveness between Hashkafos… all serious challenges to Judaism. I could not list them all. That would have made the poll almost meaningless dividing the vote into small and insignificant numbers. I chose these because I believe that although they are not all inclusive – they do represent a wide variety of issues often cited as existential threats.

Not that these results are all that significant. The sample was relatively small and not random. It was also heavily biased in that respondents were people who read my blog. And only a small fraction of those actually voted. So for these and many other reasons, this poll cannot be taken as representing what the actual percentages of all Jews believe regarding any of these issues.

That said, I like to think that my readership consists mostly of Orthodox Jews that are intelligent, well educated, care greatly and have strong feelings about issues affecting the Jewish world. Although this blog’s demographic skews heavily in favor of Modern Orthodox Jews, there are many Charedim among my readers too. As well as non Orthodox Jews and even a few non Jews. I strongly feel that the majority of those (at least of those who comment) are fair minded, keen observers of the Jewish world whose opinions should be valued. So even though this is not a random sample of all Jews, it is a sample of thinking and caring Jews.

It was a little surprising to see how few people there were who thought that sex abuse was the most important issue of the day. Considering the fact that this issue is the most hotly debated issue in our day… and that the fact that the slightest taint of it in any institution will cause a tremendous outcry… and considering the damage that it causes to victims – sometimes permanent psychological damage… and the damage it causes to the victim’s families, and even the abuser’s family… and considering revelations about the far greater number of victims than anyone ever suspected… and the fact that so many of the victims go OTD… I would have thought sex abuse would have gotten a much bigger vote than 14 people.

I guess the reason for that is that as bad as sex abuse is… and as great the damage it does to so many people – even beyond the actual victim, that issue alone is not seen as an existential threat to Judaism itself. But still, the way religious leadership across the board has dealt with it in the past – and even now cannot but have a deleterious effect upon our existence. Many iconic names – religious leaders across the spectrum of Orthodoxy have – by word , deed, or lack of action – have disappointed victims and their advocates. This disillusions people about Orthodox Judaism. Sex abuse is a serious problem in need of our immediate attention. It should have ranked a lot higher than 5th out of 7 – totaling only 4% of the vote.

That Chilul HaShem ranked number 2 is no surprise. If anything can disillusion people, it is when prominent Jews get caught in wrong doing like fraud, tax evasion, and money laundering. Whether it is Rubashkin, the Spinka Rebbe, an elderly Sephardic Rabbi in New Jersey, or of late, Rabbi Yehoshua Pinto – it does not inspire a love of Judaism when such high profile rabbis who are supposed to be role models and teachers end up being crooks.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/haemtza/an-existential-analysis/2012/12/19/

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