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.