Everyone has his or her pet theory by now about the root causes of the Boro Park “incident” a few weeks ago. Whether provoked or not provoked, whether there was large scale participation in the disturbance, or merely a few bad eggs in a wonderful and pious omelet, the fact remains that it was a massive chilul Hashem (desecration of G-d’s Name). There is value in listening to all the theories – perhaps there is some truth in all of them.
I will offer my own speculation – that is all it is – about a contributing cause. There are people in our community who see any kind of secular authority as hostile. In Israel, still in the throes of a kulturkampf that began a century and a half ago in Europe between religious and secular visions of a Jewish future, it is not difficult to understand why new generations continue to propagate the old notions. (I offer this as social commentary, not as justification.) The established brutality of out-of-contol Israeli police (who routinely flout every Western expectation of not venting anger and hatred under the color of authority) allows old ideas to seamlessly merge into new authority figures.
In America, my guess is that Old World notions of us vs. them die hard. For hundreds of years the rule – rather than the exception – was that governments sooner or later turned oppressive, and even non-Jewish neighbors who seemed friendly might eventually turn on you. The deep-seated suspicion and resentment of authority continued, especially in parts of the community that place much emphasis on cultural isolation. These have little opportunity to internalize positive interactions with non-Jews or to study the difference between governments to understand what a wonderful country this is. Sixty years on American shores have not reassured them that when push comes to shove, they are not all going to turn against us. This in turn means a certain amount of contempt where genuine appreciation ought to reign instead. Sometimes that contempt is unleashed, and gets ugly.
If there is any truth to this at all, a recent piece in Haaretz becomes so much more interesting. Shahar Ilan is hardly an admirer of the haredi world, but he reports on what seems to him to be a very changed attitude to the Days of Remembrance for the Shoah and for the fallen heroes of the IDF. Media, he says, have for the most part ceased trying to catch photos of the inevitable haredi who disregards the siren, and continues to defiantly continue to walk. Perhaps readers are simply not interested in matters of religion and state. Or perhaps more haredim have gotten the message of how obscene it is to not join in with everyone else and show respect.
Avraham Rosenthal, the editor of the ultra-Orthodox paper Bakehila: “I teach my children to stand for the siren and not to be wise guys. If here the memory of the fallen is honored by standing during the siren, then they too will stand during the siren.”
Haredi magazines, while certainly not embracing the other trappings and practices of these days, have somehow absorbed some of their spirit, according to Ilan. The weeks after Pesach are full of Holocaust material, as if to say that the Torah community as well understands the need to study and remember. Ilan does not say this, but we know that this has always been true. Traditional Jews understand that memory is often a mitzvah. They insist, however, on examining the Holocaust through Torah lenses.
Perhaps one day more will also understand the immense debt that all living in Israel owe to those who laid down their lives for them. (This is also nothing new. Some of us were there, or heard from friends, how Rav Chaim Shmulevitz zt”l always mentioned the same three requests at Neilah on Yom Kippur. Those who davened at the Mir Yeshiva were asked to daven for Jews in the Soviet Union, because they could not daven for themselves. They were asked to daven that Jews should not cause so many problems for each other. And they should daven for the soldiers of the IDF. He then hastened to add, “Those who do not understand this are fools.”) There are encouraging signs that a community hardened by the excesses of impassioned infighting can slowly change.
Mishpaha’s Rosenthal reports that most of today’s issue is also devoted to the Holocaust. In the past, he says, there were objections in principle to Holocaust Remembrance Day. But over the years, “I don’t know why, it somehow spread that after Passover we focus on the Holocaust,” he comments.
Afterward, he offers an explanation: “Because we live here.”
If it can happen in Israel, it can happen elsewhere. Even in Boro Park.