Because We Live Here

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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.

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7 Responses

  1. Jewish Observer says:

    “That some charedim are becoming so acculturated that “after Pesach” is becoming associated with Holocaust Remembrance is an unhealthy development, IMO”

    no less healthy than charedim being more tuned in to baseball in the spring than in the winter

  2. Harry Maryles says:

    Rav Chaim Shmulevitz zt”l always mentioned … Those who davened at the Mir Yeshiva were asked to daven …for the soldiers of the IDF. He then hastened to add, “Those who do not understand this are fools.”

    Unfortunately there are still plenty of Charedim who reject Davening for ther IDF and take great pleassure in bashing them. They are indeed, fools. It’s too bad that R Chaim’s views are not more widely known.

  3. Tal Benschar says:

    The Hakoras ha Tov to those who served in the IDF and the Holocaust Memorial Day are two different issues. On the latter, gedolei yisroel had several objections, including the statement in Kinos that no other day of mourning will be established, that “Yom Ha Shoah” was established in Nissan, the time of geulah and happiness, and other hashkafic reasons I will not get into here.

    It is a canard to state that the Charedi or Orthodox worlds do not remember the Holocaust — they do. But that remembrance is not specially heightened in Nissan. If any time is more appropriate for heightened remembrance, it is Av, and indeed special Kinot have been written about the Holocaust and are recited in many communities.

    That some charedim are becoming so acculturated that “after Pesach” is becoming associated with Holocaust Remembrance is an unhealthy development, IMO.

  4. Chareidi Leumi says:

    Maran HaRav Kook Zt”l writes (I believe in Orot HaKodesh) on the sin of Nadav and Avihu that their sin was the separation of the sephira of bina from the sephira of chochma.

    In context, bina, represents impulse/innovation where chochma represents structure/authenticity.

    He writes that both faculties are needed for valid avodat Hashem. My feeling about Yom HaShoa/Yom HaZikaron/Yom HaAtzmaut/Yom Yerushalaim is that they represent bina without chochma.

    In the rush to innovate, the stamp of chochma never sealed the rituals or the symbols of these days. This is why a religious person, even a RZ one, can not connect to these days the same way they connect to the more ancient rabbinic holidays (tisha beAv, chanukah, purim). Perhaps as our nation becomes spiritually healthier in our own land with (b”h, one day) real Torah institutions (I am not talking just about yeshivas, which, B”H we have but rather national Torah institutions), these days can go though the proper process to become more authentic. Or perhaps the subliminal process described in this post is part of the that process occurring in the background.

  5. Steve Brizel says:

    Great article. If this trend grows, at any pace, perhaps, we can envision Ymei Iyun in all frum communities devoted to the Torah of those Gdolim and Kedoshim such as R M Ziemba, the Kovna Rav, and R E Wasserman, Zicronam Livracha and HaShem Yimkam Damam.

  6. Yisrael Moshe says:

    In order for a picture to be taken of a Jew moving (not standing still) when the siren is going off in Israel, wouldn’t the cameraman have to be moving (not standing still) as well?
    Maybe the cameraman is also Haredi.

  7. mycroft says:

    I agree with the analysis of the firsr few paragraphs and hope that the last few paragraphs will turn out to be correct too. Good post.