What is hate? It’s a word that is thrown around a lot these days in slogans produced by the most radicalized among us. There is hate directed towards race, political affiliation, religion, gender, gender identity, wealth status, profession. Every group of people seems to be able to claim some sort of victimhood status based on the fact that there are some people out there who they claim hate them. And of course, there are those out there who do absolutely hate others for any of the reasons listed above, and definitely others. Hate exists in our world and always will.
However, it is not nearly as prevalent as some may want you to think. Hate is a marketing tool. If hate towards your particular affiliation can be highlighted as “just one example” of the widespread animosity towards your selected group, it can be capitalized upon. This can be in the form of monetary donations, allocated government resources, or the notoriety of a particular peddler of victimization status. However, there is certainly a greater demand for this type of hate to exist than there is its existence.
This takes us to an incident this past week in Rockville Centre, New York, where a woman dared to make an observation about her town that rubbed people in our community the wrong way. Upon seeing a Chabad House open in her community, she feared that this will lead to Rockville Centre turning into another Five Towns, where shuls have been built on previously residential properties, thus achieving not-for-profit status and no longer being taxable property that pays into the school district. As more shuls opened in the Five Towns, more orthodox Jews moved in and stopped sending their children to public schools, eventually running and winning seats on school boards to help vote for proposals and policies that fit with the wants and needs of the Jewish community in the Five Towns.
Firstly, none of this is incorrect. In fact, we should recognize that this is what we do as a community. The fact that we have Shabbos as a core tenet of our faith necessitates living within a close proximity to one another. Once shuls are built, more frum Jews move in. Eventually we build schools and open local businesses (and are even able to convert some into kosher establishments). And yes, we do run for local boards because every person in a community wants what is best for his or her family, so why would we not try to get property tax that pays for public schools lowered if we do not send our children to public schools? Why would we not try to skirt or change the local zoning laws to build shuls to which can be more easily walked on Shabbos? The problem we have with what this woman said is not that she lied about it, but that she said it at all and possibly how she said it. I don’t think that anyone out there would be denying these allegations against our community if they were truly being honest with themselves.
This is not exclusive to the Five Towns. Just look at the Kew Gardens Hills community. How many shuls are situated on lots that were previously houses or apartments? It is probably easier to count those that were built on commercial properties to begin with. We do this everywhere we go, and we do not like it when it is pointed out. Can you even think of any community out there that has every single shul built on a commercial property? Even if you can, can you name a second? Now try naming all of the neighborhoods that fit her description. It’s a lot easier to do.
There are certainly elements of the speech that sounded like they were based on years of pent-up frustration about what happened to her hometown years ago, and yes, some of that boiled over into fear that it might happen again. And yes, there are certain parts of her speech that referenced disputed claims, such as requests of restaurants to close their doors on Shabbos. And yes, there does seem like there is an attempt to paint all Orthodox Jews with one brush - but to be honest, none of the action requested to be taken was out of line. All she actually requested was for residential property to remain residential, and that synagogues not be allowed to open without deference to the local zoning laws. This is not a ban on Jews. This is not even a ban on Orthodox Jews. Rockville Centre has plenty of commercial property available upon which a frum community can be established.
This resident’s words might have been hurtful to many who heard them, but they were not hateful. Could she have stated the issues in a way that would not have offended many people? Yes, she could have. But no matter how the statements would have been formed, there would have been those out there who’d call them hateful and antisemitic simply because they were said. Furthermore, if the statements would have been made differently, this issue would not be receiving the press it has, so the impact has certainly been felt. Do not be so quick to jump on someone as hateful, antisemitic, or a bigot. No harm will be felt as a result, and the only thing we are succeeding in doing is making individuals who already had a bad taste in their mouths from our community feel more resentment towards us.
Izzo Zwiren is the host of The Jewish Living Podcast, where he and his guests delve into any and all areas of Orthodox Judaism.