On Monday, May 20, I attended a rally in Manhattan about the deplorable anti-Semitic behavior of the current Democratic Party members. As I approached 48th Street and 7th Avenue with the rush-hour bustle of the midtown area, I was struck by the presence of a very large group of chasidish men and young boys blocking off the opposite side of the street from where the protest was gathered. Crossing the street gave me a bird’s-eye view of the large signs that seem to envelop the whole group.
“Anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism.”
“Falsely accusing a person of anti-Semitism causes anti-Semitism.”
“Judaism rejects Zionism and the State of Israel.”
Yes, I’ve been to the Celebrate Israel Parade and witnessed a few disorganized stragglers dressed the same way spew their vile message, but I never saw an orderly, well-managed, articulate, and well-attended group of this type of chasidim before Monday.
Phyllis Chesler, renowned author and activist, described the scene to Arutz Sheva, an Israeli media outlet: “I have never seen so many members of the Neturei Karta out in such force, not even at the Israel Day parade. There must have been at least a hundred of them, perhaps more. There they stood, long bearded and in black frock coats and hats, literally howling at those of us who had gathered to demand that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi remove Minnesota Somali-American Congresswoman Ilhan Omar from the House of Foreign Affairs Committee.
When I arrived at the area of the “real” protest, I congratulated Dov Hikind for all the great work he’s doing as a warrior against anti-Semitism wherever and whenever it strikes. He was among other activists, reporters, organizers, and leaders of the Jewish community striving to assemble a united front against the hatred in streets, synagogues, Houses and halls of Congress, each speaker preaching the cause with passion as the crowd grew to about 600 people. “Am Yisrael chai,” the chant of life for Jewry everywhere and anywhere, was a shared sentiment with all the attendees.
This all resulted in a déjà vu episode for me, feeling that I have already been in this scene before. I reminisced back to my youth, being part of thousands at the gathering for Solidarity Sunday in Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza. The force was undeniable as every school, synagogue, and JCC packed the square block to listen to the powerful Jewish leaders of the generations, acting as a unified force to help Soviet Jewry escape the oppression of religious persecution. However, the present situation is no longer in that format. As I was getting more emotional, I texted my dear friend Hillary Barr, one of the protest organizers, to share my sentiments. “Hillary, I could cry about how misguided we are and divided. Mashiach will come in a very hard way.”
It wasn’t the message of hate from the outside world that deeply saddened me, it was the hate between us that brought me to tears.
Who is this group? The information on the Wikipedia page reads:
“Neturei Karta (literally ‘Guardians of the City’) is a religious group of Haredi Jews, formally created in Jerusalem, British Mandate of Palestine, in 1938, splitting off from Agudas Yisrael. Neturei Karta opposes secular Zionism and calls for a dismantling of the State of Israel, in the belief that Jews are forbidden to have their own state until the coming of the Jewish Messiah.”
No longer can they be dismissed as a small fringe group, as the ADL would care to describe them. They are sharing Shabbat meals with Hamas in Gaza and opening a yeshivah in Chevron. Is there something here we are missing?
Honestly, the evening of the protest was an overall success if you could rate the speakers’ message and press. Yet it was a small encounter that I witnessed that was more significant than anything else that happened that day.
A young man in his early 20s was talking to a young Neturei Karta male clutching a siddur and a handful of pamphlets. The inquisitive man was asking questions about Israel and the “apartheid state issue,” and the NK man was answering with an ease of Torah quotes, G-d-given intentions of statehood. and positive feedback of the BDS movement. This conversation was being recorded on the cell phone of the impressionable person wanting to know more about how the seemingly chasidish Orthodox Jews were against the whole idea of Israel. As if this group had the more authentic version than the ones listening to speakers across the street. (Because they wore the attire of the observant and pious Jew, their outlook on Israel must be more real, more divine, more moral, more Jewish!)
That little vignette was possibly the most dangerous conversation I ever saw. Considering that I was just a woman dressed in a skirt, my input could never match that of one dressed in a kapotah, black hat, and peiyos. Their garb was better than mine to persuade any matter concerning Mashiach and Israel.
I’m not ignoring the other dangerous groups and trends in Judaism throughout college campuses, Birthright programs, religious denominations, rabbis, and assorted others. They are too many and too unfortunate to catalog them all.
Okay, so what does this have to do with Faith and Fashion? In this case, it’s a question of fashion used to express faith that is the issue.
Ironically, at a time when attacks of hate against the chasidish community are at an all-time high, one would think it’s time to unify.
Phyllis Chesler clarified this observation of NK in her article for Israel International News:
“They do not seem to know what can happen to them given how hard history is trying to repeat itself – except we are here, and we remember, and we mean it when we say ‘Never Again,’ and the State of Israel and the IDF are also here as never before.”
I’m not sure what is more disturbing about this particular group. Is it their message? Is it their messengers dressed in chasidish fashion, or is it their defiant disregard for achdus (unity) in Judaism?
Is this sinas chinam (hatred of others) with a dash of lashon hara (evil talk), and a splash of gaivah (pride)?
It’s a dangerous cocktail being served by these people. We have destroyed Hashem’s residence on earth for similar traits (Yoma 9b). Twenty-four thousand of Rabbi Akivah’s brilliant students died for a version of that as well. Hashem has ignored our past of bad behaviors because we were good to one another, and left us in a desolate galus (exile) when we despise each other. Only through the opposite sentiment – “senseless” unconditional love – will we merit the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash (Igrot Kodesh vol. 4) and the arrival of Mashiach.
Tobi Rubinstein is a retired fashion and marketing executive of 35 years who currently produces runway and lifestyle events for NYFW, specializing in Israel’s leading artists and designers. She is the founder of The House of Faith N Fashion, fusing culture and Torah. Tobi was a fashion collaboration and guest expert for ABC, Geraldo Rivera, Huffington Post, Lifetime, NBC, Bravo, and Arise. She hosted her own radio and reality TV series. Tobi is a mother, wife, dog owner, and shoe lover.