I live on the Upper West Side of Manhattan with my family, and am proud to be involved in a myriad of Jewish activities. My children attend Modern Orthodox schools, and we are members of a few different Orthodox synagogues, shuffling between, amongst others Chabad of the West 60s and the Carlebach Shul.
I am a founding board member of the largest Russian American Jewish Kiruv organization, RAJE (Russian-American Jewish Education), and sit on a number of other boards that focus on helping our community, to which I devote considerable time and funds. As the owner of a public relations agency, I meet many people from many different walks of life in both my personal and professional life. I have had close friends from the Satmar, Bobov, Breslov and other ultra-Orthodox communities, who have come to my home (and vice versa), and we share with one another and, I believe, learn from one another on many issues. I feel comfortable among the chareidi community, and love our people — kippah and non-kippah-wearing Jews — immensely.
Growing up, my mother taught me to love the Jewish people and admire our religious brethren. I was taught to fear G-d and to do as much as I can to make our people stronger. I love Jews and Judaism and pass these values on to my children.
Sadly, in recent years I have seen terrible divisions between the “Modern Orthodox” and the “ultra-Orthodox” communities. I am not talking about halachic issues — I am talking about fundamental ways of life. There’s little dialogue and the two worlds are tremendously divided. There is very little interaction between people, say, in Teaneck, and those in communities such as Boro Park. They live in different worlds, and increasingly have very little in common in terms of real life. We, the Jewish people, need to find a way to communicate shared values on important issues which are common to communities such as Forest Hills, Englewood and Silver Spring, Maryland, not just Monsey and Lakewood.
In Israel, there is tremendous animosity between the communities. However, in Israel there are vast differences which can serve to divide these communities — army service, the concepts behind living in a Jewish state and more. In America, we don’t have such a reason for considerable divisions. I am dismayed to note that in recent years I have seen a rise in the level of animosity towards chareidim even from people in Modern Orthodox-type communities who might have been predisposed to favor chareidim.
There have been so many negative stories in the media which shape this change of tone, and it’s increasingly difficult for people who aren’t part of the chareidi community to obtain information. There are so many bridges which divide rather than connect.
Sephardim who go to shul every Shabbat, parents of kids in yeshivah (who may or may not wear kippot to work), right-wing Zionists — all people who love Judaism simply aren’t armed with proper information to speak highly of the chareidim.
I believe there are many reasons, among which is that not enough people see the many positive things the chareidi community does. Admittedly, bad things are more often news stories, yet every day so many in the chareidi community do good deeds which even people who are predisposed to be allies of the chareidim don’t hear about. There are many reasons, but fundamental amongst them is the fact that chareidim aren’t telling positive stories about the great things they do. They should.
Leaders of the community should also appoint spokesmen to respond forcefully when falsehoods are told. And on those occasions when people do bad things, a statement should be made acknowledging it as bad. That is what leaders do. Campaigns like this could create more areas of cooperation on issues of importance to the community. By eliciting sympathy amongst natural allies, it will make it that much harder for the media, government and others to paint the chareidim as evil — and so many other things which they are not.
Explain to people issues like metzizah b’peh, school vouchers or even why biking through Williamsburg is offensive and why it matters. At the very least, chareidi representatives should be speaking to friendly media outlets influential with the Modern community. I understand and agree with staying away from liberal media outlets which won’t give the community a fair shake — but speaking to friendly constituencies will bring us closer together. At the very least it will likely bring more people closer to Judaism.
Tell the beauty of our religion to people who already share many of your values; emphasize positivity and it will benefit Klal Yisrael.
Ronn Torossian is President & CEO of 5W Public Relations, author of For Immediate Release, and a philanthropist.