Plane Lessons

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For those who enjoy studying their fellow human beings, there are few better laboratories than a long flight. Indeed the opportunities for such study are one of the few pleasures of air travel, especially if one is crammed into an economy class seat. Plane flights often thrust us into the immediate company of someone from a completely different background, with whom we would have little likelihood of social interaction in everyday life.

It is a rare flight that I don’t find myself learning something interesting about others – usually positive. Returning from London recently, I found myself next to a secular Israeli woman. Her attire did not leave me enthusiastic about my luck of the draw on this particular flight, and I kept my gaze firmly on my Gemara.

Thus I was shocked when she asked me before the plane had even taken off whether I would prefer that she switch seats with a young chassid sitting in the row behind us. Since we were placed in an exit row seat, with unlimited leg room in front of us and only two in the row, her offer was amazingly thoughtful and generous.

To my surprise, the chassid declined her offer to switch places. Both the seats next to him were still empty, and visions of being able to stretch out across the entire row were too enticing for him to worry about rescuing me from being seated next to an immodestly dressed woman.

He soon had cause to regret his choice, as the other seats in his row quickly filled. And because the occupants were also chassidic, the offer to switch seats was now clearly off the table. Sometimes, however, life offers a second chance. The stewardess told the woman next to me that for $300 she could move up to business class, and she leapt at the offer, leaving the road clear for the young chassidic fellow to join me.

We struck up a conversation, and he told me that he lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh – Beis. Perhaps he noticed my eyebrows shoot up, because before I even had a chance to tell him that I had recently written a couple of pieces critical of the behavior of the residents of that particular neighborhood, he quickly added, “But I’m not one of the Hamasniks!”

He then proceeded to assure me that the “Hamasniks” comprise no more than 30 families in the neighborhood. True, he told me, most of the neighborhood comes from Meah Shearim families who would be considered in Jerusalem parlance “kana’im (zealots),” but the media attention is all generated by a small sect within the neighborhood whose leader lives in America. This sociology lesson was total news to me.

When I mentioned that I had written a column critical of his neighbors that week in the Jerusalem Post, I received my second shock: He told me that he had subscribed to the Jerusalem Post, as part of his efforts to learn English. Nothing in my stereotypes of Reb Arlich chassidim prepared me for the idea that one of their number would be moved to learn English out of intellectual curiosity. I probed a bit more to find out if perhaps he felt English would be of use to him in his business, but he assured me that had little to do with it, and that he was not alone among his friends in taking English lessons.

THE BATTERING ADMINISTERED TO OUR BAG OF STEREOTYPES is one of the greatest benefits of meeting those outside one’s normal social circles. The generosity of the well-to-do lady from North Tel Aviv and the curiosity to know more of the wider world of the Reb Arlich chassid were both blows to my stereotypes.

Earlier, on the way to London, I noticed a Belzer chassid sitting a few rows behind me. I was struck by the fact that he did not even remove his beaver hat and sat staring into a sefer the entire trip. Thus I was completely unprepared when he approached me a few hours into the flight and asked me, “Aren’t you Yonoson Rosenblum?” I was even taken aback by his perfect English. But that surprise was nothing compared to that when he told me that he had read my biography of Reb Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz five times. He not only knew the Reb Shraga Feivel biography a lot better than I do, but a number of my other biographies as well.

Yet I would have identified this particular gentleman – who turned out to be the rav of the Khal Chassidim of Golders Green – as among the least likely people on the flight to read any English books.

Not only do we not know nearly as much about others by virtue of their dress as we think we do, but much of what we do “know” turns out to be wrong. As we were waiting for our luggage in Heathrow Airport, about five or six of a group of chassidim who appeared to be traveling together proposed to make a Mincha minyan. I pointed out another four or five from their group who could complete the minyan, but the latter preferred to wait for their bags and daven later.

I found myself perplexed that six of the group wanted to do one thing and four to do something else. Subconsciously, I had assumed that all those wearing the same “uniform” must think alike, and have identical opinions about when and where it would be preferable to daven. What I had done was no different than what secular Israelis do when they see an avreich in a black suit and fedora, and assume that he is a mindless automaton, whose entire life is guided by remote control by the chareidi community’s rabbinical leaders.

P.S. One of my sons pointed out to me that my “discovery” of the inadequacy of our stereotypes is one that I already shared with readers a few years back when writing about the final session of a Dale Carnegie course comprised mainly of young chassidim. If so, that only proves how prone we are too slip back into easy stereotypes, no matter how many times reality smacks us in the face.

This article appeared in the Mishpacha on December 19 2007.

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25 Responses

  1. Michoel says:

    cvmay,
    Thank you for asking for substantiation. There was a an article within the last year or so, in the Jerualem Post, about a Syrian Jewish family that were very secure and happy there. I tried to search for it but I don’t have time to pursue it further. The period of 40-50 would not be the best test case for the general experience of Jews in Arab lands this century. There are many Jews (now living in the security of the US) that paint a much more positive picture of life in the alter heim, then what seems to be the standard zionist line.

    So to tie back in to the subject presented by Jonathon Rosenblum, people can have very different views, even based on similar first hand experience, and it has a lot to do with what attitudes one brings to the table.

  2. Shmuel Katz says:

    Having read the various comments on this blog, the thing that surprises me most is that all the “experts” here seem to be relying on second or third hand information. Apparently speaking to someone who lives in RBSA and “is in the know” or is “an askan in RBSB” qualifies your opinion as much more knowledgeable that someone who actually lives in Beit Shemesh and experiences the hostility and cruelty that occurs regularly here in Beit Shemesh and RBSB.

    To those who offer their friends in RBSA as examples of people who cannot see any issues I offer a brief geography lesson. RBSB and RBSA are separated by a walk of at least 5 minutes, whereas RBSB and the Sheinfeld neighborhood of Beit Shemesh (as well as the Nachala Umenucha neighborhood) literally abut each other. That small buffer zone is significant in that we cross paths while literally crossing the street in the general course of going about our lives, while the people of RBSA only cross paths with the Chareidim of RBSB much less frequently.

    Additionally, the RBSA residents are generally (although not completely) a more Yeshivish group that have the “look” (white shirts, black pants, hat and jacket) that the RBSB residents identify with. There is a significant and vibrant Dati Leumi presence in RBSA, but they are still the minority.

    Even with all that, there are still hostilities between the two RBS areas. Until it moved 2 years ago, a local girls ulpana (grades 7-12) in RBSA used to be picketed weekly (on Fridays) and the girls had things (like eggs and tomatoes) occasionally thrown at them.

    Yet, it is worse for those who live in the Sheinfeld and adjacent Nofei Aviv neighborhoods.

    Before I go further, I should say that I am one of Menachem Lipkin’s neighbors. In fact, until a newly constructed townhouse building opens up on the other side of our street (Menachem lives at one end and I live at the other), my house is the very last house in the Sheinfeld neighborhood and is bordered on one side by RBSB and (on the other side of the aforementioned townhouses) Nachala Umenucha on the other side.

    From my vantage point I have to say that those few 20 people are extremely busy and certainly get around.

    Last year they threw rocks at my (then) 7 and 11 year old daughters’ school bus several times. This occurred when there was a ruckus about segregated busses (men in front and women in the back). My daughters attended a RBSA school and the bus had to drive through RBSB in order to get them home.

    The school bus was carrying ONLY GIRLS, yet it was deemed appropriate to terrorize these children by throwing rocks at their bus. For the life of me, I will never understand how it is appropriate for G-d fearing people to terrorize little children and put them in fear of going to school.

    My 6 year old son goes to school on a campus that is currently the source of a dispute between the Chareidi community of RBSB and the Dati Leumi community of Sheinfeld. Due to this dispute: the school has been graffitied with the word “gazlanim” and his classroom trailers were vandalized over the Channuka break, when “someone” put heaping piles of dead fish in them to rot over the break. The odors are so overpowering that 2 weeks later, there is still a classroom that cannot be used. Is this the way to treat Yeshiva property? Why do 6, 7 and 8 year old children need to see and be the victims of such behavior?

    Women dressed in modest clothing are spat upon (I know one of them). I have a neighbor who is a nice fellow, a black hat guy (not that it makes a difference) who was stoned a few months back by our neighbors in RBSB. His crime? He tried to remove a burning log from the major road passing between the neighborhoods. The log was there because the Chareidim were demonstrating against either a parade in Yerushalayim or possibly the heinous act of the police who took down their “tzniut” sign in the middle of RBSB.

    On that note, I am not here to defend the police. However, I would like somebody to explain how it is possible that one Jew should call another a “nazi” or a “dog”? At the time of the riots over the removal of the “tzniut” sign, the Chareidim spray painted their own buildings with things like “the police chief is a nazi” and “no entrance to dogs or the police” in this neighborhood.

    Why do THEIR children have to see such behavior, much less ours? I know that there have been many secular people who call Chareidim these names and worse. However, I was always under the impression that we (the religious) hold ourselves to a higher standard.

    I don’t know how many of the people reading this live in neighborhoods near secular Jews. In Beit Shemesh there are many secular Jews. They drive on Shabbat. I am obviously not in favor of people driving on Shabbat. However, could someone explain the rationale behind putting these people’s lives in danger?

    Recently, one of our RBSB across the street neighbors started putting large boulders in the middle of the major street between us a few minutes before candle lighting time on Fridays. Concerned about the safety issues of a driver not seeing them, a bunch of us resolved to remove the obstacles each week. We were especially grateful that we had done so the night a MDA ambulance came flying by on an emergency call. Had we not moved the rocks, that ambulance could have been in a major accident.

    Here’s another question. Why isn’t it acceptable to sit in the same section of a public bus with a woman, but it is acceptable to slap the same woman around when she refuses to move to the back of the bus (which has been designated by the Chareidim as the women’s section)?

    I know that some of you still believe that this is the work of a small minority, and in truth you are probably partially correct. I would agree that no more than a hundred or two of the thousands of RBSB residents are actually participants in these acts. However, even if they are not themselves participants, I still hold these people responsible.

    If I went out and started spitting on my neighbors wives, or started throwing rocks at people and or cars or any of the other things that are happening here, I have no doubt that my neighbors in Sheinfeld would either, call the police on me, run out and try to stop me or even beat the living daylights out of me to get me to stop.

    The Rabbis of my community would publicly decry the actions of anyone who joined me in such hooliganism and encourage the rest of the community to do everything they could to stop such behavior. There is no such call to action by the leaders of RBSB.

    The leaders of the RBSB community sit by in silence while all this goes on and that is why I feel that the entire community is responsible for the actions of this group. In my opinion, their inaction tacitly condones and even encourages the inappropriate behavior.

    I wonder what made the Chareidim come to this community in the first place. Beit Shemesh existed long before the Chareidim came to town. Didn’t they know that there were secular Jews here? Didn’t they know that there were Dati Leumi Jews here? When they chose to live here it was with the full knowledge that they would be exposed to such people, so how can they now decry that they are “forced” to be exposed to us?

    While I understand that the article we are commenting referred to overcoming stereotypes, and understand that there are many wonderful people in RBSB, I agree with my good friend Menachem that those fine people need to make a stand against those who give their community a bad name in order to overcome the stereotype that is associated with their name.

  3. cvmay says:

    Michoel
    Can you give names & address to back up the ‘good life’ in Lebanon and Syria for our Jewish brethren? My son-in-laws family will tell you about the adventures of growing up in Iraq, in the 1940-50 when the grand saba was stabbed by the friendly Arab next door neighbor.
    “who felt that they had a very good life”, read about a death-row prisoner who also felt that he had a very good life.

  4. Michoel says:

    Reb Zev wrote:
    “My pet peeve is individuals who comment on issues that they know nothing about!… move to Lebanon… ”

    Until very recently there were Yidden in Lebanon, who felt that they had a very good life. And there are still Yidden in Syria that feel that way! So maybe it is Reb Zev that needs to refrain from commenting on issues that he doesn’t know that much about. :-)

  5. Zev says:

    Menachem Lipkin is right.

    My pet peeve is individuals who comment on issues that they know nothing about! I personally lived in RBS B therefore i feel that I have the right to comment on the zoo of a neighborhood that these fanatics call home. Having a conversation with someone does not qualify one as an expert. Like I alwyas tell my politically left wing friends, move to Lebanon for a while and we will see how much of an arab lover you are.

    Get some perspective and then talk!

  6. Menachem Lipkin says:

    I appreciate the concern for what you all believe to be my exaggeration and/or harshness. However, from what I’ve read, none of you live where I do. (Even those who live in RBS A do not experience what we here in Sheinfeld do.)

    What I write is based on my experience and the experiences of my friends and neighbors. An anonymous poster claiming to speak to an anonymous “askan” means little next to our actual experience here.

    If anything, the media has under-reported the incidents.

    The idea that these people are somehow controlled by a leader in America is laughable. Many of the people who have moved into RBS B and are causing these problems are members of sects of Chassidim in Mea Shaarim who go back generations.

    Even if there is ANOTHER group here that are somehow marionettically controlled by an evil puppeteer in America, so what? That in no way mitigates their behavior or the lack of action on the part of good people like the guy on the plane.

    Please understand that this is not a broad swipe at all chareidim. RBS B sits immediately to the South of our neighborhood. Immediately to the East sits another Chareidi neighborhood known as the Kirya or Nachala Menucha. This neighborhood has been around for quite some time and in general has the “stereotype” of having fine, chessed doing, Jews who don’t engage in anti-social behavior.

    Several of you have picked up on my use of the word “nasty”. Ironically, I specifically tried to use a less abrasive, almost childish, word to describe what I really believe these people who commit these violent and anti-social acts to be, in deference to the tone of Jonathan’s article. I was clearly not applying this description to all the residents of RBS B, but just those, whatever number there might be, who engage in this horrid behavior.

    I have also heard that the police are making a concerted effort to quietly weed out the leadership who are instigating this trouble. But without getting to into the whole subject, there does exist a pervasive attitude, which has been transported from Mea Shaarim, that creates a fertile ground for these leaders to foment this behavior.

  7. sima irkodesh says:

    Chaim David and Dovid, it’s a probability that you do not live in Eretz Yisroel and have not been a victim of the RBS hellish mess. Mr. Lipkin is not exaggerating, and ‘very nasty’ is not off base. What an Israeli Askan might know or assume, or stories of an unknown mysterious leader in America is talking circles about a very real issue that is destroying a community in Eretz Yisroel! Anyway you want to call the shots, they are ‘OUT OF THE PALE of Yiddishkeit’.

  8. Mark says:

    Menachem,

    I would add to the voice of others that I too, spoke to a pretty connected friend of mine who now lives in RBS and asked him about the marauders on the very day you posted. His response:
    “Come on! There’s a small group of hotheads who act like meshugoim and cause alot of trouble. It’s a very limited group most hailing from Meah Shearim and just about everyone’s against them. The problem is that they get far more press than they deserve. I suspect they get all this attention in part from people who never seem to tire of bashing Chareidim. What you read on the blogs is not at all what it’s like on a day to day basis. In reality, life goes on quite nicely in RBS and once we figure out an effective means of dealing with these people things will quiet down.”
    For the record, this person is a BT with a low tolerance for people on the far right.

  9. Jacob Haller says:

    Menachem Lipkin wrote

    “Unfortunately, from where I live, until people like him assert themselves and gain control, the stereotype remains quite accurate”

    Menachem, you presumably consider yourself a fellow-traveller of the (for lack of a better descriptor) Mitnachalim (Settlers of Yehuda/Shomron).

    Are there stereotypes associated? Are they necessarily positive ones?

  10. Dovid says:

    Menachem,
    I have spoken with an Israeli Askan in RBS B who is very familiar with the situation in RBS B and has in fact actually worked with the police and other authorities in trying to identify the sources of unrest in RBS B. He has confirmed to me (prior to this article being published) that there are only 30 families involved and that their leader is in fact in America. According to this source the heads of household in a small number of these families have already been banned by the courts for a period of several months from RBS B.

    I personally think your language describing what you view as potentially large numbers of people as “really nasty” is not needed and is incorrect. The fact that their are askanim working with the authorities to show these people that their behavior is unacceptable demonstrates that they probably do not have broad support. Even people who do support them are at worst misguided. Dehumanizing them as nasty does not help the situation.

  11. Chaim Davids says:

    This is a nice article.

    It’s a shame it brought out language like Menachem Lipkin’s “really nasty people” accusation.

    It’s okay not to agree with them. Strongly. But this kind of language hurts this site.

  12. Miriam Shear says:

    Very nice article. I hope it finds its way into the mainstream media as well. It’s a lesson that DOES need to be repeated over and over and over again for the simple reason that the effect of just one negative experience – even when cushioned by many positive experiences – can unfortunately tip the scales in our own minds and emotions. And it’s very possible that your offer to help her with her bags elicited her generous offer – even if that was not your intent or motive. A few little courtesies extended to others NOT EXACTLY LIKE US can go very far in repairing some of the damage that happens daily when a few of us act like jerks. Lipkin is right: the stereotypes are real, regardless of the numbers. That’s why it will take so many positive steps – repeated over and over again even to those who may not “deserve” it – to transform the negative stereotypes into positive ones.

  13. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “One of my sons pointed out to me that my “discovery” of the inadequacy of our stereotypes is one that I already shared with readers a few years back when writing about the final session of a Dale Carnegie course comprised mainly of young Chassidim”

    I always thought that there should be a Dale Carnegie course catering specifically to the frum community(people may be more comfortable being assertive initially in familiar environments), and when reading the essay in question, I found it interesting that it was the Israeli Chassidic community, rather than the generally more integrated American Charedi one, which apparently pioneered it.

    Regarding stereotypes in general, I’ve been the victim of them myself, so I enjoy seeing them shattered in others.

  14. Menachem Lipkin says:

    Jonathan,

    You said:

    “He then proceeded to assure me that the “Hamasniks” comprise no more than 30 families in the neighborhood. True, he told me, most of the neighborhood comes from Meah Shearim families who would be considered in Jerusalem parlance “kana’im (zealots),” but the media attention is all generated by a small sect within the neighborhood whose leader lives in America. This sociology lesson was total news to me.”

    Why do you assume that this single individual is telling the truth about the numbers? Even if he is, why would you assume that they are correct? Even if they are, do you realize that 30 families can still be 100’s of people, with the possibility of many more 100’s in quiet support of their actions? Those are huge numbers of really nasty people.

    You’re a well educated man, and I would assume you did at least a modicum of research before writing about RBS B. A conversation with one guy who does not fit your research is enough to make you recant? Don’t you see a contradiction between his assertion that it’s no more than 30 families and admission that the residents are mostly Kana’im from Mea Shaarim? And if they are Kana’aim from Mea Shaarim does it make sense that their leader lives in America? Did you ask this gentleman why, if these people are such a small minority, do the “good” people like him not rise up in protest of the physical and spiritual destruction of their neighborhood by them?

    I live literally on the border of RBS B. I have seen the good and the ugly. I’ve met people like your friend on the plane who are fine and caring. Unfortunately, from where I live, until people like him assert themselves and gain control, the stereotype remains quite accurate.

  15. cvmay says:

    Sterotypes and more sterotypes!?!
    From early childhood, our culture, parents’ parenting skills, education, neighborhood, temperment and personality add up to a sum total of ‘who am I’? We begin to view the world through the lens of our molders (family members, friends, rabbaim, teachers – u pick the correct order), sterotypes emerge and stay with us. CAN THEY CHANGE? Definetely, if we desire and with lots of effort. There are those that gain comfort from sterotypes, it makes for an easier transition into adulthood life, no pain = no gain. The trend of labeling and sterotyping individuals can be exhausting (& usually ineffective) while erecting barriers from ‘amisecha’.
    Rav Y. Adlerstein reviewed a seminal article from Dr. H. Fried, “Are our children too Worldly”, the gist of the message is ‘what is the purpose of barriers, walls (barriers against so called negative influences) can be built but are they effective, is the mission of klal yisroel effective with high walls, etc. Sterotyping is the black and white of the spectrum, I thank all those who introduced me to hues, shades and colors that are rarely noticed or admired by the masses. (THANK YOU so very much!!)

  16. Michoel says:

    What happened to the new standards? Great article! Keep up the great work and thanks for reminding me that I should go back and read some of your biographies. They are malei v’g’dush with chachmah and mussar.

  17. joel rich says:

    1. Agree with the moral of the story

    2.He then proceeded to assure me that the “Hamasniks” comprise no more than 30 families in the neighborhood. True, he told me, most of the neighborhood comes from Meah Shearim families who would be considered in Jerusalem parlance “kana’im (zealots),” but the media attention is all generated by a small sect within the neighborhood whose leader lives in America.

    Not really accurate – “All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.” – Edmund Burke – aiui the attention is generated by the community that allows this small group to continue to act.

    KT

  18. Ori says:

    Moishe Potemkin, Jonathan Rosenblum did say that her offer was amazingly thoughtful and generous. That means he has evaluated her as a human being, one who goes above and beyond the normal requirements of courtesy.

    Her presence was unpleasant to him, but I don’t think he meant to blame it on her. The fact is that sitting next to another person on a cramped airplane for hours while not being allowed to look at that person is uncomfortable. Being tempted to look at that person makes it even worse.

  19. I’m puzzled by Moshe Potemkin’s comment. I would have thought that it was obvious that I thought of her as a full human being. (Do I really have to write about helping her put her bags in the overhead or telling her that it would never occur to me to ask to be removed from sitting next to someone else, unless they were so large as to be sharing my seat with me as well.) But I don’t think I should have to apologize either for my feeble attempt at shmiras einayim.

  20. IlanaF says:

    Unfortunately my experience on long flights (in terms of frum Jews and stereotypes) seems to be the reverse.
    As long as men insist on davening in the aisle at inopportune moments (such as when the seat belt lights have just come on to land and they could easily daven maariv whilst waiting for baggage) and yell at the frustrated stewardesses who are trying to get past with the drinks trolley, I will rely on my stereotypes.

    The nice part was when another frum woman and I (also dressed in my chareidi get-up) started yelling at the men to sit down as it was chillul hashem. Unfortunately they laughed at us. Still, at least the stewardesses saw (that we tried).

  21. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    I hope this gets in to the Jerusalem Post or other secular media as well. It should be well received since it contains the tip of the hat to the secular lady on the plane. We need to continually practice avoiding unwarranted assumptions because we never know what the dangers might be of being mired in such thinking or the great potential benefits of thinking out of the box. I should add that the leadership of the State of Israel has time and time again made mistakes which have cost us thousands of lives in our foreign and defense policy as a result of the blind chase after a non-existent peace. We also are receiving US aid which our booming economy could do well enough without while receiving the strings attached because the national leadership and all too many of the people demand the erroneous security blanket of false American support.

  22. Barry says:

    You seemed to have learned, once again, the lesson of not trusting to stereotypes. The second lesson, of course, is to dial back on the intolerance to which trusting to stereotypes leads.

  23. Moishe Potemkin says:

    This is a nice story. It would have been even nicer if the author recognized that the “immodestly dressed” “secular Israeli woman” with whom he had originally been seated is also a full human being who has value in addition to the apparenlty obvious unpleasantness of her mere presence. One wonders how Jonathan Rosenblum would react to a non-religious person expressing similar revulsion to being seated next to a chassid?

  24. Garnel Ironheart says:

    > What I had done was no different than what secular Israelis do when they see an avreich in a black suit and fedora, and assume that he is a mindless automaton, whose entire life is guided by remote control by the chareidi community’s rabbinical leaders.

    I might add that he had also assumed that it would never occur to the secular Israeli woman next to him that there might be an issue in the seating arrangement or that she would show such generosity in offering to switch seats.

    As Rav Rosenblum notes, we often judge certain individuals by their uniform but often those in uniform judge the “un-uniformed” just as quickly. We would all do well to remember that stereotypes are the minority and that Avos demands we give all people the benefit of the doubt, not just those that we look like.

  25. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Good job for being so self-critical, and being willing to do so in public.

    We all have stereotypes and prejudices. That is probably an inevitable part of the human condition. We can’t get to know everybody we meet deeply and intimately as soon as we meet them, so we need some kind of baseline estimate.

    The important thing is to remember that stereotypes are just baseline estimates, and to be willing to change them when contrary evidence presents itself. As long as you do that, and keep a generally charitable attitude to people you don’t know, having stereotypes is relatively harmless.