By: Ariel Reiner  | 

Letter to the Editor: In Response to "Give and Let Live?"

Is this really the time? Is this really the time for such a negative article, lacking any sense of nuance? If there was ever a time for such an article, it certainly isn’t now. At a time when more than ever, Jews must come together to pray and learn, specifically for the city which this article centers around, I am appalled that such a piece was written and published for that matter.

I understand the excitement of controversy. At first glance, a writer would harp on the opportunity to write about one group of Jews, very different from the writer I might add, taking advantage in a sense, of a group they don’t consider legitimate, let alone respect. That is the clear premise here. That is the juicy angle as well, no doubt. However, the article is replete with assumptions.

First and foremost, how can anyone psychoanalyze a group of people and stereotype them in such a way to make a sweeping statement and say they would sympathize with Yishai Schlissel, the stabber at a gay-pride parade, whom nearly every Rabbi in the public eye condemned? When the author says “while not intending to stereotype all members of a particular society,” I ask, what exactly was his intention? He contemplates how many of “them” came out and condemned the attack. It’s funny- the last time I checked, the street beggars in Jerusalem aren’t the ones making statements on behalf of their community. Was the pretext of a discussion of Haredi beggars just an avenue to lambast their community as a whole? It sure seems that way.

In Israel there is always an attempt to divide. Why didn’t the author question the fact that weekly if not daily, ultra-orthodox Jews show up at the doorstep of Modern Orthodox American homes with a letter from the LOR collecting money? Well it’s simple. That’s just not juicy. In America the divide isn’t as prevalent; the animosity not on the forefront of people’s minds. Why bother widening the discussion when you can stick to the complex divisions in Israeli society?

There is another potential storyline here. It requires a major paradigm shift. It’s a paradigm shift I believe many more people in our community need to make. It’s the paradigm shift that begs us to stop perceiving that we have more in common with the guy in the Mets hat on the subway, than the Chassid on the light-rail in Jerusalem. What I see here is a storyline of brotherhood. There is no doubt, as the author mentions, that Haredi and Dati Leumi Jews disagree on issues. However, what he misses is that they disagree on specific details, details you can only reach after agreeing on larger, broader issues. All orthodox Jews in Israel are in essence on the same path, just with different goals. Some work, some learn, some defend the country, and while they certainly have their differences, they are all trying to get closer to God.

With that understanding, why wouldn’t someone in need instinctively ask his fellow orthodox Jew, who also is financially stable, to help him out? Where else should he go? Whether this Chassid should be working is another question altogether and not a question for now. Once you accept the fact that he needs money this is the most sensible place for him to be. Sure, there may be an example here or there of an ungrateful collector, but citing that as an argument against a movement as a whole is nothing but stereotyping, which the author claims to try to avoid. In fact, based on my two years spent living in a Dati Leumi community while in yeshiva, as long as the collectors were respectful about it, these people were more than happy to donate. It’s often people from the outside looking in that stir up this unnecessary controversy.

The author’s assumption that giving this person money is our acceptance of the fact that he disagrees with us and in essence laughs in our face is, well, laughable. We shouldn’t view the donation as a sponsorship of his views, but as an answer to a call for help. His views can be weighed and debated in another venue, but that is not the place or time. There is a double standard here in that the author shows frustration that they don’t accept our way of life, but ridicules every policy of the ultra-orthodox world. The author writes about supporting their “lifestyles and beliefs” as if we would be donating to criminals. How can we ever expect them to be open to our way of life if we lack any degree of nuance or acceptance? Is it not a two way street? And when can we start looking at this as a two lane, one way, street?

We must call this out for what it really is. It’s an attempt to divide us and question our generosity towards a sect of our religion, that is already foreign enough to us. The author at the end of his piece says not to take this as a call to action. Rather we should just contemplate the subtext of what we are in essence doing when we give money to ultra-orthodox Jews. If the purpose wasn’t to call for the halt of lending a hand to these Jews, I fail to see the goal here if not to simply put a bad cynical taste in our mouths when we do so.
The Jewish people are facing extremely trying times right now, especially in Israel, and specifically the holy capital of Jerusalem. We should focus on the scenes of the incredible, mostly Ultra-Orthodox I might add, Zaka workers and Hatzolah workers, who are always the first responders to terror attacks running to save Jewish lives no matter what sect they stem from. This is hardly the time to feature a story dividing the city even more than the rest of the world already wishes to do. The way we can help from across the sea is surely with more positivity and acceptance, not more cynicism and ridicule.