Op-Ed: Don’t Write Off the Orthodox Jewish Community

By Max Rose

Today, anti-semitism is on the rise. We see through a rise in hate crimes, through vicious online attacks and in everyday interactions that are meant to demean, insult and harm Jewish people. The perfidious and sustained anti-Semitism that Jewish people face is real and it means far too many live in fear of simply walking down the street or getting in the subway. Therefore, it is through this lens, that we must examine and understand the recent news on Yeshiva’s in New York City.

Already, we have seen pundits and others try to paint this community with a broad brush. The fact is, like all neighborhoods, the Hasidic community is a big, diverse place filled with people of lots of backgrounds, beliefs and opinions. I have long known members of the Hasidic community. They are our neighbors. They are our friends. They are our colleagues. And they are New Yorkers who care deeply about our city. I visited as a Congressmember and I’m close friends with many members of the community. They have a wonderful work ethic, they have a strong charitable spirit, and I respect this community immensely. Above all they are committed to their youth, to their education and they are loving parents. They don’t fit the profile that the New York Times painted of this community.

To be clear, this is a community that is under attack. According to the Anti Defamation League, New York “leads the nation in antisemitic incidents, according to ADL’s annual Audit of Antisemitic Incidents. In 2021, the number of reported incidents increased 24% over 2020 numbers, rising from 336 to 416. This included 51 assaults motivated by anti-Jewish bias, the highest number ever recorded by ADL in New York.” The New York Times itself ran a story with the headline “Antisemitic Attacks in New York Are at Highest Level in Decades” about the ADL’s report.

This is why when we examine the recent news about Yeshiva’s, we need to take into account the worries and fears many face. To start, we need to be perfectly clear that every child deserves a sound and basic education – something I know the members of the Hasidic community – parents and educators – overwhelmingly share that desire and belief.  I will support them in ensuring that every child receives that quality education, within a culturally-sensitive environment and without interfering with their religious teaching. This can and must be achieved collaboratively, not through derision and threats.

Of course, where there are shortcomings, we should help through dialogue and intervention when necessary. When and where there are issues, these individuals and institutions should be held accountable. At the same time we should not defame and ridicule an entire community, and most importantly, we absolutely can not threaten to broadly cut off public funding to all Yeshivas as some have called for. This is counter productive and would profoundly harm the entire community. 

There is a right way and a wrong way to enact reforms. It’s incumbent on the government to strike the right balance and to make sure we create better schools without allowing the conversation to devolve into anti-semitism and absolutism. These children and their families deserve better than that.

Max Rose is a former Member of Congress from NY-11 which includes several Orthodox Jewish communities.

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