A deafening silence that shames us all
Imagine this scene: A Jewish girls’ school opened in a town that serves as a suburb of the capital of Country Y. The neighbors were not pleased. To begin with, they wanted the building for their own children. In addition, they objected to the religious persuasion of the school and its students.
So every day, from the second day of school, mobs of neighbors protested, screaming “sluts” and other unconscionable epithets as the girls exited the building in the afternoon. Some of the protesters threw eggs and bags of excrement at the girls and at the school, to punctuate their points.
How do you think world Jewry would react?
How should we in America react? Should we call upon the Anti-Defamation League or the Simon Wiesenthal Center to demand intervention from the White House? Should we lobby the U.S. State Department to publicly condemn the behavior of Country Y and to insist that Jewish human rights be observed there?
Perhaps we should demand that the United Nations investigate. Perhaps, too, we should stage a massive demonstration in Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza.
We would do just those things if the country in question were Belgium, or Belaraus, or Bahrain. As we report on page 14, however, the country is Israel, which may explain why we have heard and read precious little from those only too quick to condemn even a hint of anti-Semitism anywhere else in the world.
The flashpoint is a school for girls in Beit Shemesh, a town near Jerusalem. The town’s rigidly Orthodox charedi community objects to the presence of a modern Orthodox school in their neighborhood. Is it because this is a Jew vs. Jew conflict — or worse, an Orthodox vs. Orthodox conflict — that there has been so pronounced a silence from the organized Jewish world?
It is not acceptable that little girls are being screamed at by grown men.
It is not acceptable that little girls must pass through a gauntlet of angry men who are armed with bags of excrement.
It is not acceptable that Jewish leaders both here and in Israel remain silent about this disgrace.
American Jewry needs to let the Israeli leadership know that our concern for Jewish schoolchildren extends to Israel — just as we would protest if the harassment took place in Moscow or Marrakesh.
Israel’s leaders need to understand that by tolerating charedi violence, the State of Israel is undercutting the Zionist rationale of providing a secure homeland for the Jewish people.
The pride we take in the high level of aliyah from our own community turns sour when we see former neighbors of ours, such as Englewood native Esther Boylan Wolfson and her family, being subjected to what can only be called anti-Semitism in their new Israeli homes. “It’s a confrontation with a kind of evil that frankly I’ve never experienced,” she told The Jewish Standard. That is not why the Moriah graduate and her family moved to Israel 14 years ago.
Protecting nine-year-olds from assault should not be the sole responsibility of the parents and the neighbors.
Where is the Israeli government in this?
When it came time to integrate schools in the American South, it was clear which side President Dwight D. Eisenhower was on. Where does Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu stand in the Beit Shemesh case?
Only Israel’s Ministry of Education has acted with any sense of justice and equity. The charedi mayor of Beit Shemesh suggested that the violence would end if the school moved somewhere else and the building was handed over to the charedi community. We applaud the ministry’s rejection of that offer, which is nothing less than extortion.
We would applaud even louder if the deputy minister of education — a representative of the charedi Agudath Israel party — would join the parents in protecting the schoolchildren and condemning the violence. He will not do so, however, because charedi leaders say they do not want to identify with what they see as anti-charedi elements. Translated, that means the modern Orthodox.
Would we accept that as an excuse for refusing to denounce anti-Semitism anywhere else in the world?
In America, as in Israel, the leadership of the charedi community needs to be called upon to declare on whose side they stand: with the hooligans, or with the girls?
A spokesman for Agudath Israel of America, Rabbi Avi Shafran, when questioned by The Jewish Standard on Tuesday, condemned the harassment as inappropriate and a violation of Jewish law.
Yet he defended the silence: “I do not believe that a decision to not condemn behavior necessarily implies tolerance of said behavior,” he said.
We disagree, taking the Talmud’s word that “Silence is like assent.”
Thank you for this article. You have brought up very important points that seem obvious to those of us raised in tolerant democracies.
Whilst we in Israel have unfortunately become accustomed to hearing Rabbis actually encouraging violence through what they say and what they refuse to condemn, it is most upsetting to see an American Rabbi rationalizing violence and the reaction to it. Religious extremism is a danger to our beautiful religion