In recent weeks, I have not been publishing as many stories as I’ve done in the past, and in the tradition of the Yamim Nora’im, I ask for the reader’s m’chilah. My work and family responsibilities have not given me the time to offer an obituary for Queen Elizabeth II, the nasty New York Times expose of chareidi yeshivos, the transporting of Venezuelan refugees to Martha’s Vineyard, the lawsuit that compelled Yeshiva University to provide funding to an LGBT student club, or the dismissal of a transgender teacher by a Brooklyn yeshivah. There’s so much news going on that this publication has the “Weekly News Roundup” summarizing the top stories of the week.
On account of Shabbos, print journalism remains strong in Orthodox Jewish communities. Unlike social media, which has become a popularity contest among influencers for followers and likes, where thoughts are limited to 140 characters, and those who disagree are labeled trolls and blocked from conversations, print media allows for in-depth discussions that examine the points made by seemingly professional reporters, advocates, and researchers, and how they got the story wrong. Moshe Krakowski’s essay, “The Jews of the Jews” in Commentary, offers a detailed critique of The New York Times’ reporting on chareidi communities.
In matters relating to education policy, advocates for state intervention are surprised that among the petitioners expressing opposition are parents of Modern Orthodox schools whose children receive a secular education comparable to public schools. If they recognize the importance of science and math for their children, surely they would be offended that there are tens of thousands of students who cannot write a term paper, solve a quadratic equation, name all eight planets, or identify the causes of World War I.
Although we are in opposite political camps, my colleague Moshe Hill said it plainly: “There are not enough hours in the day to accommodate all these requirements.” I nodded in agreement. In choosing a yeshivah education, we made a decision to prioritize our values, and that governments should not second-guess the decisions of parents. We also fear that today the state is investigating chareidi schools, but tomorrow it can do the same with modern yeshivos and day schools.
At the same time, I remain personally troubled by the erasure of women in chareidi textbooks, denigration of secular subjects, and their inability to teach history and science in a way that aligns with their values.
I admire chareidim for their commitment to halachah and hashkafah. At the same time, I also admire Modern Orthodox Jews for their compassion and opening the door for nonconforming Jews. I dislike chareidim who ignore the presence of LGBT individuals, and I also dislike Modern Orthodox Jews who regard Yeshiva University’s refusal to fund the Pride Club as hateful. Have we forgotten how to distinguish between avoidance, tolerance, acceptance, and affirmation? One can recognize individuals without condoning their actions.
Concerning Her Majesty, the choreographed pageantry of her funeral, and the coronation of her son King Charles III, demonstrated that the British monarchy is secure in its status not only as an integral element of government, but also in the culture of its people. In her role as a constitutional monarch, I thought of our ancient kings in a similar manner, as they were worthy of respect but not immune from rebuke when they abused their power. In her role as the Head of the Church of England, l’havdil, I thought of our Kohen Gadol, the representative of the nation in our holiest space. In the past millennium, there have been kings who launched crusades, inquisitions, expulsions, and pogroms. But more often, it was the monarch who relied on Jewish advisors whose loyalty was never in doubt, and they protected Jews from anti-Semitic rioters and demagogues.
Britain’s Jews related to the late monarch’s sense of duty, devotion, and respect for all faiths. King Charles’ rescheduling of a meeting that included Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis to accommodate Shabbos shows that as much as the Jews respect the monarchy, this storied institution respects our observance. The new King made clear that he is not only a defender of his faith, but of all faiths.
Last Sunday, PBS aired a six-hour series titled The US and the Holocaust, about an earlier period when most Americans refused to relax the country’s strict immigration quotas at the time when it was needed the most. We cannot intervene in every country, and even when we do, it’s not a guarantee that our efforts can succeed. The immigrants who were flown to Martha’s Vineyard by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, as well as those bused to New York City by Texas Governor Greg Abbott, are a diverse group that include victims of the socialist dictatorship in Venezuela, gang violence in El Salvador, and collapse of authority in Haiti, among other places. Given the opportunity to work and a warm welcome, they can contribute to this country and express pride in their new home.
In the past year, the country found inspiration in Rabbi Moshe Margareten’s Tzedek Association, which provided assistance to Afghan refugees who landed in New York after the Taliban’s rapid takeover of their country. Likewise with Alexander Rapaport of Masbia, whose team of volunteers handed out food, shoes, and emergency supplies to immigrants who were brought to the Port Authority Bus Terminal by the hundreds from Texas, without any coordination between the two states.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine evoked conflicting memories of violence against Jews along with recognition of how far that country has come, having elected a Jew as its president. When offered the opportunity to flee the country, he stayed and rallied his western neighbors, fellow democracies, and his compatriots in pushing back a rogue superpower. At the same time, American Jews mobilized to assist Ukrainian Jews as they fled from the bombings, donating supplies and funds so that they would live comfortably in their new European, American, and Israeli homes.
It was the largest movement of Jewish refugees in 30 years, when the collapse of communism opened the gates for Soviet and Ethiopian Jews.
This week, The New York Times reported on the internal divisions in the Women’s March that resulted from Russian trolls amplifying organizer Linda Sarsour’s radical views. The narrative depicts the anti-Israel activist as a victim when her words speak for themselves. Victimhood is how leftists earn credibility. In this summer’s crowded primary for the Congressional seat covering Boro Park and lower Manhattan, Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou and her supporters whined that her historic place as an Asian-American woman with autism was stolen by a wealthy opponent who was not progressive enough for the seat.
When Goldman defeated Niou, mainstream news organizations such as WNYC and The Times omitted the Jewish voters of Boro Park who carried him to victory. If it was mentioned, it was in the negative tone associated with bloc voting. For any other community, the ability to “get out the vote” and participate in the democratic process is praised as an American value, but not in this case.
The same news organizations that have no Orthodox reporters, whose panelists on Orthodoxy do not feature any Orthodox individuals, and whose reporting on Orthodoxy focuses on negative stories, buried the community’s role in the election outcome.
Closer to home, we are fortunate to have a class of elected officials on the federal, state, and local levels who take anti-Semitism seriously. This week, Assembly Members Daniel Rosenthal and Nily Rozic stood at the gate to Queens College with State Sens. Toby Ann Stavisky and John Liu to announce legislation that would keep track of anti-Semitic incidents on college campuses, so that the public would know where effort needs to be made to combat it.
Throughout the centuries, anti-Semitism expressed itself in various forms, spanning the political spectrum, in religious and secular forms. Whether opposition to Israel, chareidi yeshivos, eruvim, or new synagogues constitutes anti-Semitism is determined by the context. Do other minority groups receive the same scrutiny for how they live? When other victims of hate are taken at their word, why is anti-Semitism dismissed as anything other than itself?
In this coming year, we should find inspiration to perform acts of kiddush Hashem, strengthen our collective voice in the public domain, resolve our divisions internally and respectfully, and continue to be the resilient people enduring the difficulties of diaspora life until our role in history becomes evident to all.
By Sergey Kadinsky