Op-eds

Hold us to a higher standard

  • Howard Feldman 2018
If you haven’t been following what’s going on in Brooklyn, here’s a quick summary. It’s a mess. A real mess. And it’s supposedly about COVID 19 restrictions. In a nutshell, there’s a group of ultra-Orthodox Jews who refuse to comply with the regulations. It’s by no means the whole community, but enough people to have attracted attention.
by HOWARD FELDMAN | Oct 15, 2020

Last week, a large protest erupted in Borough Park after Governor Andrew Cuomo announced new restrictions on schools, businesses, and houses of worship in areas where coronavirus infection rates have increased. This approach is not dissimilar to the one taken by the Israeli government to try and stop the spread, in which specific areas are sanctioned. The advantage is that it doesn’t require a broader lockdown. The relationship between New York Mayor Bill De Blasio and the community has been strained, and he has been accused (not unreasonably) of targeting the Jewish community.

Enter into the mix city council candidate Heshy Tischler, who has been openly advocating non-compliance, and a religious journalist, Jacob Kornbluh (Jewish Insider). Kornbluh has been openly critical of the behaviour of his community, and has been accused of being a traitor. With these ingredients, it’s little wonder that the concoction exploded. According to The Yeshiva World, “a crowd of men, egged on by Tischler, surrounding, jostling, and taunting Kornbluh, who has been reporting on resistance to social distancing in the neighbourhood. Tischler, who was not wearing a mask, can be seen screaming in Kornbluh’s face. Kornbluh, who is also an Orthodox Jew, said he was struck and kicked during the incident.”

Tischler was then arrested. And although he denied wrongdoing following the event, close to 30 men gathered outside Kornbluh’s home to protest and intimidate him into silence.

The facts are as follows: the area is home to 2.8% of the population, but had 17.6% of the positive cases in the week prior to the announcement of increased restrictions.

Defenders of both Tischler and the protestors claimed that the treatment they received wasn’t consistent with the treatment of other protestors in the past few months. The Black Lives Matter protests (some of which were marred by violence) were cited as examples to illustrate the so-called unfair treatment that the Jewish community had met following these events. Whereas the complaint might sound reasonable, it betrays a number of more dangerous possible subtexts: that either they will say anything rather than take responsibility for their own behaviour; or that they have no desire to live by a standard that demands that they respect the law of the country.

There are times when we need to call out unfair treatment, and there are times when antisemitism is a real and dangerous problem. But this isn’t one of them. Instead of crying foul, those involved should be grateful that they are being held to account, they should look inward to their own behaviour, and they should consider the damage that they are doing to the reputation of Jews around the world.

Jews are connected. We take pride when a Jew wins a Nobel prize and when a fellow Jew succeeds internationally. We seek out Jews when we travel, and we rush to claim heritage when we hear of a person with a Jewish sounding name. But what follows is that we feel shame and responsibility when a community on the other side of the world behaves in a way that isn’t consistent with who we want to be.

At times like that, we should be grateful that we are held to a higher standard and grateful for the reminder.

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