Friday, February 07, 2020

Is the Gap Between Secular and Orthodox Jews Feeding anti-Semitic Violence? 

When some 25,000 people marched across the Brooklyn Bridge this month to voice their opposition to anti-Semitism, few Orthodox Jews seemed to be on hand.

"It is my identifiable Orthodox Jewish community that has recently come under attack more than any other," Jewish community activist Chaskel Bennett said at the rally after the march. "Despite us desperately sounding the alarm, until today, we really have not seen nearly enough sympathy for this sad reality – even for some of our own."

Leading up to the massive show of solidarity, questions had arisen in the Orthodox community on whether to attend the event. Some Orthodox Jews say they felt excluded from the organizational efforts, some felt out of place in the crowd of Jews from other denominations, and others believe the march should have gone through the Orthodox neighborhoods directly affected by the uptick in anti-Semitic incidents.

The gap between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews has surfaced in light of the recent wave of violent assaults against Orthodox Jews in Jersey City, Brooklyn and Monsey in New York's Rockland County.

"Especially in American Jewry, there is ignorance when it comes to Haredim" – Orthodox Jews – said Eli Steinberg, a member of the community and a resident of Lakewood, New Jersey. "There are a lot of years of history that have gotten us to this point, but there is a perception of Haredim as a subclass, and that's dangerous."

He told Haaretz: "It's not something that anybody today created, but I think it's something that there are people today who exploit. There definitely have been people in the Jewish community who have been aiming to exploit this division and make it deeper."

Steinberg, who uses the handle TheMeturgeman on Twitter, believes the disconnect between Orthodox Jews and the rest of the Jewish community has created a "landscape where the worst things anybody wants to say about us automatically become believable."

The mainstream Jewish community, he added, lacks an "understanding of Haredim and Haredi life as something human .... I just wish that people who aren't Haredi would understand and learn about us as people."

The CEO of the Boro Park Jewish Community Council in Brooklyn, Avi Greenstein, said he's grateful for the recent displays of solidarity from the rest of the Jewish community, including the march.

"I went there strongly and proudly as a Jew," he said. "We do need to build bridges, but you do have to appreciate when they do something like this." Still, Greenstein believes that "absolutely more can be done" to bridge the gap between Orthodox Jews and the rest of the community.

"There should be a level of trust and working together," he said, adding that the Boro Park Jewish Community Council is ready to work with organizations outside the Orthodox Jewish world to build "a level of respect that people could live their lives and culture and not be threatening to others, and that people should be appreciated and respected for their culture."

He added: "I think we are on the path to it."


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