By Rabbi Mark Borovitz
I just read an article in New York Magazine and I am terribly distressed. This article goes against everything that I believe Judaism stands for and is, a Hillul HaShem! The article talks about the Hassidic Communities of Western Rockland County, New York and the way that the Hassidic Communities have created/recreated the Shtetl experience of Eastern Europe. I am in awe of the communal aspect that has happened and the care/tzedakah that is lived by the Hassidim!
Yet, the way they treat the other people, also poor, in their midst is a Shanda! He Hassidim voted in a majority on the School Board. They have since gutted the school system, they have taken advantage of Special Education, using it only for them, and they have fired educators and made it impossible for students to get a high school education in 4 years. What is going on???
Who is being hurt the most? Other immigrants. Other poor people, what are we doing? Judaism teaches us to care for the widow, stranger, poor and orphan because we were strangers in the land of Egypt. Yet, we are not doing this.
Is there anti-Semitism? Of course! So, does this give us the right to do the same treatment to others? Should we use the tactics of haters and despots to ruin the lives of others? What is going on ??
This is not a diatribe against the Hassidim because they don’t recognize my Smicha. Many of my own colleagues in all denominations don’t recognize my Smicha. In fact, I have heard people comment that I could only be a Rabbi for Recovering Addicts because no self-respecting Shul would give “him”(me) a job. This is not a diatribe against Hassidim because they practice Judaism different than me. No, this is a diatribe against using other’s vulnerabilities against them. This is a diatribe against using power to harm others as one has felt harm from others in power. This is a diatribe against using Religious Practice as an excuse to harm others well-being and rights to an education and basic human services/needs.
We have to give voice to the voiceless and power to the powerless. This is our heritage, this is our history, this is our Command from God! Be a light unto the nations the Prophets tell us. What would Jeremiah, Isaiah, Amos, Nathan, etc. say to the Hassidim in power? What would they say to us in the way we treat the poor, widow, orphan and stranger? Can you face God and/or the Prophets with the way you give power to the powerless and voice to the voiceless? Have you hugged an addict today? Have you helped a stranger today? Have you noticed the world around you and made it better today? Have you used the “law of the land” to care for yourself and yours to the detriment of others?
Jews care for all, even our enemies. We have to act as God’s representatives and not from self-interest alone. Rabbi Heschel, a descendant of the Apter Rav, says the interests of others have to be our concerns. Are they?