“How could McGovern lose? Everyone I know voted for him,” is a quote often attributed to film critic Pauline Kael following George McGovern’s crushing defeat by Richard Nixon in 1972. Whether it was actually Kael who said that or someone else, the sentiment is that people tend to believe that the whole world is represented by those in their immediate circle – those in their bubble. When the discovery is made that there are others in the world, it is quite an awakening.
Conservatives believe that most normal people of the world think like them and Liberals think likewise. Then the rude reality sets in, and that reality has to be dealt with. Often the new reality is a tough pill to swallow.
In truth, we Orthodox Jews tend to point with pride to the great development of our Torah community, and with good reason. However, we fail to realize that with all our considerable growth, b’li ayin ha’ra, we still represent a drop in the bucket of the overwhelming majority of Jews who are non-Orthodox and of those who are totally assimilated, R”l. The work cut out for us to forge ahead with our commitment to kiruv is formidable.
I must admit that for a long time I have lived in my own bubble. I believed that most Orthodox Jews thought like me in the political arena. I was sure that most of us vote politically conservative and most of us are firmly behind Israel when it comes to Israel vs. the Palestinians. But my bubble has been burst, and I have to deal with this upsetting reality.
Although the majority of Orthodox Jews, reluctantly or not, voted for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, I am finding that a solid minority did not. I am finding that there are major Orthodox communities beyond the New York Metropolitan area that went in big numbers for Clinton. One young lady from the Midwest told me that in her shul she is afraid to admit that she voted for Trump, lest she suffer the wrath of those who did not vote that way.
Now I am finding the same with other issues as well. I had always thought that it was a given that Orthodox Jews understood the need to employ extreme caution before we start letting in multitudes of risky refugees to the USA. The insidious comparison to the Holocaust, which plagues the guilt-ridden minds of most secular Jews, was not part of the mindset of the average Orthodox Jew. Or so I thought.
Don’t we deserve not to suffer? Why must we be in the forefront of inviting our own troubles?
A bit over a week ago a certain young Orthodox married woman and mother of children posted a nasty message on her Facebook page. In the post she rants against all those Orthodox Jews who continue to support Donald Trump. She is ashamed of her Orthodox friends and family who tacitly approve of his executive order to ban refugees from certain terrorist-laden countries. She goes on to say that she has more in common with her ”Muslim cousins” than she does with her Orthodox brethren. What was most surprising was the positive feedback she claims to have received and the backing that I found she has from a considerable group of young Orthodox couples.
I guess the refugee issue can be debated ad nauseam, and there is plenty of room for criticism the way the Trump administration handled the matter. But here are the questions I would like to share with my fellow Jews. See if you are prepared to answer to the affirmative to any one of them. If my facts are wrong, I will stand corrected. Please answer these questions honestly.
Are you okay with the current wave of immigrant-inspired anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian agitation on the college campuses taking place in universities in the US from coast to coast?
Are you okay with added voices to the BDS movement in the US?
Are you okay with the way “our cousins” have treated Jews in France, England, and Sweden (not to mention Israel)?
Are you okay with the majority of our cousins’ countries that for decades have banned Jews and/or Israelis from entering their countries?
Do you think that Liberalism will be tolerated by these refugees?
Are you okay with the fact that with more such refugees comes a decrease in the pro-Israel influence in the US?
Have you seen these same people fighting for Jewish rights anywhere?
Are you accepting of the fact that Jewish refugees from Europe did not present a risk of importing terror nor foment problems for other minorities in the country?
I know you will say that we, as Jews, have to be better than them, and we need to do what’s right. But we also have to think of what is right for the future of Jews in this country. It is easy to dismiss those who want to be more careful about refugees coming here as hate mongers. It is natural for Jews to display compassion for the forlorn. But don’t we count also? Don’t we deserve not to suffer? Don’t our children going to college deserve the right to be educated without the fear of the wrath of fellow students and professors? Why must we be in the forefront of inviting our own troubles?
I will be the first to agree that we need to stretch our hand to suffering refugees anywhere they come from. It is in our DNA engrained by the teachings of our Torah. But we must be responsible as well. This matter needs to be thought through with mind as well as heart.
I am also so surprised to see the amount of young Orthodox men and women who are either indifferent to Israel’s plight or who actually sympathize with the Palestinian cause. I’ve experienced this firsthand.
We as Orthodox Jews have a lot of work to do. Until we have succeeded in instilling our kids with the greatness of the Chofetz Chaim, the Chazon Ish, the Rambam, R’ Akiva Eiger, Sarah Schenirer, or Rebbetzin Kanievsky more than we do about movie stars, sports heroes, and celebrities, we are going to find the divide between the generations grow to a yawning gap. The values of yesteryear that our parents stood for will just not make it through the generations without the anchor of our eternal Torah values.
Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, former President of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens, and the Rabbinic Consultant for the Queens Jewish Link.