Credit Where Due

During the election cycle, many of us, myself included, contrasted Obama’s distance from Israel with Romney’s clear belief in Israel’s right to self-defense and the Palestinian’s lack of interest in true peace. We were not wrong; Obama did want to place “daylight” between the United States and Israel, and pursue a more pro-Arab and pro-European foreign policy. Now that he has won his last election, he is free to pursue the course that he feels correct. And the Israelis, by engaging in their first open conflict with Hamas since Obama took office (Operation Cast Lead having ended with a cease-fire on January 18, 2009), handed him a golden opportunity to pursue a different course from that of George W. Bush.

That course was offered to him by U.N. secretary general Ban Ki Moon, who called on “Israel to exercise maximum restraint” and enact an “immediate de-escalation of tensions.” Ban had little to say when Hamas, the duly installed governing authority in the Gaza Strip, was raining missiles down upon Israeli civilians. But now that Israel is finally forced to respond, it’s time for “maximum restraint” and a “de-escalation” of the war initiated by those missile attacks.

Leftists in this country, like The Nation’s Phyllis Bennis, ignored the missile attacks and called the assassination of Arch-terrorist Al-Jabari a “major escalation” of Israel’s Gaza Attack — which, of course, did not exist before the assassination. Her colleague Robert Dreyfuss called hundreds of missiles aimed at civilians, at women and children, terrorizing them on a daily basis, “pinpricks” — simply because Israel has a regular army. [Is he an anti-Semitic Jew or simply a buffoon?]

The Obama administration would have none of it, placing 100% of the blame where it belongs. White House spokesman Jay Carney said the following:

We strongly condemn the barrage of rocket fire from Gaza into Israel, and we regret the death and injury of innocent Israeli and Palestinian civilians caused by the ensuing violence. There is no justification for the violence that Hamas and other terrorist organizations are employing against the people of Israel. We call on those responsible to stop these cowardly acts immediately in order to allow the situation to de-escalate.

In … conversations [with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi], the president reiterated the United States’ support for Israel’s right to self-defense. President Obama also urged Prime Minister Netanyahu to make every effort to avoid civilian casualties.

Hamas claims to have the best interests of the Palestinian people at heart, yet it continues to engage in violence that is counterproductive to the Palestinian cause. Attacking Israel on a near-daily basis does nothing to help the Palestinians in Gaza or to move the Palestinian people any closer to achieving self-determination.

We certainly hope the Administration continues to sing the same chorus during the difficult weeks ahead, both publicly and privately. But this is an auspicious beginning, and credit must be given where it is most surely due.

Think the Internet isn’t all that Dangerous? Think Again.

In the lead-up to the Internet Asifa, Rav Aharon Feldman wrote that the problems associated with the Internet do not begin and end with inappropriate content, and thus filters alone are not a solution. Rather, he explained, the Internet affects the way we think, our ability to focus, and the way that we interact.

As far as I know, HaRav Feldman has not even used e-mail. So how does he know something that Newsweek has now documented after exhaustive studies? “New research says the Internet can make us lonely and depressed — and may even create more extreme forms of mental illness.”

The answer, truthfully, is that this isn’t even a revelation of Rav Feldman’s gifted mind. Only the blind could question Rav Feldman’s statement in this regard… but of course, even a cursory examination of “Orthodox” blogs will remind you that the world is filled with blind pundits. Gedolei Torah have warned us about the Internet for over a decade, and those who wish to mock the Gedolim have demonstrated their own foolishness (not to use any of a number of less charitable adjectives) in their haste to attack. As I put it in 2000, when Israeli Gedolim first warned against the harm of unfiltered home Internet, “secular Israeli ferocity pitted itself against plain American clumsiness to see who could provide the furthest approximation from intelligent coverage.”

In 2000, though, Internet use was not so constant and so intrusive (and there were no blogs on which to find ferocity and clumsiness so neatly packaged together). The idea that someone might get up in the middle of the night to use the restroom, and then check his or her email before going back to sleep, was considered funny. [Today, Newsweek asserts that “more than a third of users get online before getting out of bed.”] So twelve years ago, it wasn’t as obvious as today that the Internet can do even more insidious — and just as damaging — harm.

Newsweek begins its coverage with the anecdote of a young man who created a documentary of the crimes of an African warlord, and publicized it via the Internet in an attempt to stop those crimes. But when the video got 70 million views in less than a week, the sudden exposure to digital “kudos and criticisms” overwhelmed the young producer. After a week of decreasingly-coherent Twitter updates, he “went to the corner of a busy intersection near his home in San Diego, where he repeatedly slapped the concrete with both palms and ranted about the devil.” The “sudden transition from relative anonymity to worldwide attention” drove him insane. Oh, and just for good measure, someone filmed his meltdown and stuck it up on YouTube.

The full article is certainly worth reading, but essentially, those questioning the need to warn people about the Internet (e.g. many who mocked the Asifa) deserve all of the same respect and consideration as those who question the need to warn people about using crack. Some quotes:

The current incarnation of the Internet — portable, social, accelerated, and all-pervasive — may be making us not just dumber or lonelier but more depressed and anxious, prone to obsessive-compulsive and attention-deficit disorders, even outright psychotic.

Research is now making it clear that the Internet is not “just” another delivery system… The Internet “leads to behavior that people are conscious is not in their best interest and does leave them anxious and does make them act compulsively,” says Nicholas Carr, whose book The Shallows, about the Web’s effect on cognition, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. It “fosters our obsessions, dependence, and stress reactions,” adds Larry Rosen, a California psychologist who has researched the Net’s effect for decades. It “encourages — and even promotes — insanity.”

China, Taiwan, and Korea… [now treat] problematic Web use as a grave national health crisis. In those countries, where tens of millions of people (and as much as 30 percent of teens) are considered Internet-addicted, mostly to gaming, virtual reality, and social media, the story is sensational front-page news. One young couple neglected its infant to death while nourishing a virtual baby online. A young man fatally bludgeoned his mother for suggesting he log off (and then used her credit card to rack up more hours). At least 10 ultra-Web users, serviced by one-click noodle delivery, have died of blood clots from sitting too long.

Then there was the University of Maryland’s 2010 “Unplugged” experiment that asked 200 undergrads to forgo all Web and mobile technologies for a day and to keep a diary of their feelings. “I clearly am addicted and the dependency is sickening,” reported one student in the study. “Media is my drug,” wrote another. At least two other schools haven’t even been able to get such an experiment off the ground for lack of participants. “Most college students are not just unwilling, but functionally unable, to be without their media links to the world,” the University of Maryland concluded.

Recently it became possible to watch this kind of Web use rewire the brain… The brains of Internet addicts, it turns out, look like the brains of drug and alcohol addicts.

A team of researchers at Tel Aviv University… published what they believe are the first documented cases of “Internet-related psychosis.” The qualities of online communication are capable of generating “true psychotic phenomena,” the authors conclude, before putting the medical community on warning. “The spiraling use of the Internet and its potential involvement in psychopathology are new consequences of our times.”

Interestingly, the article persists in claiming that “blaming the television for kids these days” is “silly and naive” — despite the overwhelming evidence of the effects of passive viewing on developing brains. Will they never learn?

A Letter, and A Response

Ms. Eisner,

You may remember that in February, I communicated with you about a particular post to the Sisterhood blog that I found inaccurate and unfair. Please be aware that I did not hear back from Ms. Birkner, but in any case, I think that there is a more endemic problem.

According to Ami Magazine, you claimed on behalf of the Forward that “we are not hostile. We are fair in our reporting and appropriately critical in our editorials.” You further claim in this week’s Podcast that your editorial about the Chassidic poor that you attempted to be “compassionate.” [My bad editing; obviously the intent was “regarding your editorial…” –YM]

I am sorry to say that I found no evidence of compassion (or even accurate comprehension) in your editorial.

You apparently did not discuss the issue with any of the many community representatives or assistance organizations, merely racking up Chassidic poverty to a lack of secular education and devotion to Torah and Talmud. In so doing, you omitted a simple analysis of the income necessary to support a large family, and how that compares to what a typical wage-earner brings home. Whereas the US median salary may be adequate for a family with 1.2 children (and a pet or two), a family of 5.8 children finds itself below the poverty line at the same income level. And with that many children, it is unrealistic to expect both parents to work full-time.

Why should those children be considered “undeserving” by any standard? And that is before considering the cost of a Jewish education, which is mandatory for any family that values Jewish continuity (and does not wallow in self-delusion about the mechanisms of same).

Your editorial was only one of four articles discussing the Orthodox which I found in a single three-day period, and all of them appeared, at least to me, to be biased against our community — and in at least two instances distorted the truth. I posted the following on Thursday: http://www.cross-currents.com/archives/2012/06/21/even-for-the-forward/.

Since then, the Forward has sent me:

  • An article about Lipa’s bizarre video. Indeed, it is bizarre; no argument there. [Actually, there was a second article, too. –YM]
  • The second article in two weeks about the same organization for ex-Charedim, this one depicting a soccer game as fulfilling a dream for those leaving the “ultra-Orthodox” community. [I recall the dean of a yeshiva, from an outstanding Chassidic line, dropping in a layup. It wasn’t hard for him, as he’s quite tall.]
  • The claim that Yossi Gestetner’s resignation as NYGOP’s outreach liason to the Orthodox community indicates a “rocky start” to the entirety of GOP Orthodox Outreach — when the appointment itself wasn’t apparently even worthy of mention.
  • Another Sisterhood blog entry, this one about how halacha requires unusual practices in the bedroom to help with fertility issues. The fact that the Sisterhood chose to dwell on such an obscure topic might be perplexing, but the previous five Sisterhood posts tagged “Orthodox” concerned sex, (homo)sex(uality), gitten/Jewish divorce, sex, and, uh, sex. They do seem a wee bit preoccupied, don’t you think?

The Orthodox (and traditional Judaism itself) are depicted as both odd and antiquated, with the most positive coverage given to those who have left the community and organizations which have parted company with Orthodox spokespersons. It seems difficult to imagine the reader of all of these articles concurring with your description of the reporting as “fair,” or even saying that it lacks hostility to our community. Indeed, in yet another article, your veteran columnist JJ Goldberg characterized the projected scenario in which NY Jewry becomes predominantly Orthodox/Chassidic as, in effect, “apocalyptic.”

Continue reading “A Letter, and A Response”

Even for the Forward…

The Forward, bastion of liberalism and tireless advocate of the welfare state, has finally identified people who shouldn’t be receiving public support. But if you thought it was those lampooned by the rapper “Mr. EBT” for using their food stamps to stock up on snack food, you’d be mistaken. And if you thought the Forward’s newfound negativity was directed towards that segment of society that brought “baby mama” into the urban lexicon, well, you’d be wrong then as well.

No, although the Forward cites the question, “does the safety net help those who truly are in need, or does it shackle them to the kind of government assistance that stifles motivation and derails self-sufficiency?” — it has never indicated that it takes the latter opinion at all seriously. Until now. Because now “it’s time for the Jewish community to engage in this delicate, complicated debate,” because a substantial percentage of Jews are poor — because of “the ballooning birthrate in Orthodox families, particularly Hasidic ones.” “This,” the Forward soberly intones, and unlike that of, say, the crack user or the alcoholic, “is a poverty of choice, or perhaps more generously, a poverty of default. It is voluntary impoverishment.”

How dare the Chasidim have so many children! True, they might be preserving the Jewish future… but they won’t be wealthy! “Important though it is to support those who study Torah and Talmud, it is even more essential for the community to care for the elderly, disabled and others who are poor not out of choice, but because of unfortunate circumstances. The moral claim goes first to those who are poor involuntary, and so should our dollars.” Not only is this offensive, it is wrong from so many angles that one wonders where to begin. Are Torah scholars less worthy of Jewish communal support than scholars of romance languages and literature, jazz music, or modern dance? And is the Forward honestly claiming that when “the community” supports a poor Chasidic family, it must come at the cost of the elderly and disabled, rather than yet another multi-million dollar facelift to another Jewish-named concert hall?

Furthermore, of course, the above is predicated on a lie. The Chasidic community, at least in the US, is not the segment of the Charedim which is most likely to have men learning in Kollel for several years after marriage. On the contrary, Chassidim often work in positions which may be fine for most Americans, but which leave them stretching once they have more mouths to feed. So it’s really not about supporting “those who study Torah and Talmud” but those who are doing their best, yet believe that every child is worth “the entire world,” even if it means living in poverty.

It’s true, the Chasid with 10 children may be poor, but he is far more likely to be rich in happiness than the secular Jew on the Upper West Side with ten times the salary and one-tenth the children. And that’s not an opinion, it’s a statistic. For me, the simple and poor Chasidic fishmonger in “A Life Apart” was the exemplar of “the beauty, joy and fulfillment of a properly lived Torah life style” that Rabbi Adlerstein seeks. [You can see him at 2:20 on the video. I am sure the translation of his words made many viewers think twice.]

So this article wasn’t merely incredibly biased and offensive, it was also false. The week began quietly for the Forward, with several days of email with little evidence of the negativity towards the Orthodox (and especially Charedi) community that has been a regular drumbeat. But between this, a blog post about “Haredi Urban Legends,” and yet another story about the same Orthodox man accused of abuse, it’s clear that the lack of charedi-bashing was merely a momentary pause for air.

Oh, but there was even one more — “Orthodox Push Case of Jailed Businessman,” complete with a needless distortion in the subtitle, which reads “Mainstream Groups Split Over Campaign for Jacob Ostreicher’s Release.” In fact, there is no one who claims that Ostreicher was jailed because he is Jewish, which means that organizations like the ADL would not be involved — but this hardly means that “mainstream” groups have any doubt over the injustice done to Ostreicher or the need to free him from a notorious Bolivian jail. Apparently, the Forward could find no better way to describe a humanitarian appeal and congressional investigation — into what one FBI official called a “state-sponsored kidnapping” — than as a parochial effort with which “mainstream” Jews should not concern themselves. And to do so, they were prepared to misportray the sentiments of the head of the ADL.

So in just three days, the Forward managed to tally up four examples of needless anti-Charedi bias, complete with two articles worthy of several “Pinocchios” from the Washington Post. And the number of articles this week with positive news from a community filled with Torah and chesed, not to mention the community that is the only bright light in the dismal state of decline that is the NY Jewish community? Why, a big zero.