Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What do Bergholz, Ohio, Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel, and Anderson Cooper have in common?

So, on Sunday morning after Yom Kippur (which I really do hope was meaningful for everyone), I sat with my coffee and caught up with the news. First I looked at my new issue of Jerusalem Report (still my favorite magazine of all!) and read about what is going on in Ramat Beit Shemesh, specifically with the new Orthodox girls school that is located in proximity to a group of self identified ultra-Orthodox Jews who also have taken it upon themselves as self identified judges to watch and guard the level of religious observance and specifically modesty of all that walk within their view. There are wars going on in this community and this has been going on for some time with the “Burka ladies” who have decided to don this Moslem-identified garb claiming that no one is dressing modestly enough, even in the Orthodox circles. Now, parents are worried about the safety of their children and there has to be ongoing guards around and in proximity to the school property to protect the children and their families from potential abuse and harm. These parents are members of families that lived in the larger Beit Shemesh neighborhoods long before the influx of the new self identified ultra-religious element began to appear here. Now, these initial residents of Beit Shemesh are feeling that they cannot live the life they came to live in this wonderful community they helped to build up. This is Orthodox Jews against Orthodox Jews. Let us all sit for a moment, breathe, and digest the enormity of the problem here.

I have written often about the ongoing “gallop to the right” and the increasing extremism and radicalization of all of our religious and observing communities. We see it in the Moslem world; we see it in the Christian world; and from where I sit, live and pray, I see it most in the Jewish world. How sad! Didn’t we all just spend 25 hours admitting our flaws to G-d, undressing our souls and crying out for forgiveness….. for, among other misdeeds and wrongdoing, for embarrassing others, for haughtiness, for not seeing the pain of others, etc.? Did this mean nothing?

So, shaking my head and crying inside, I opened the Sunday newspaper, only to be confronted by a headline from Eastern Ohio concerning a conclave of 18 families who left the Amish fold within the general community and moved to Bergholz, a neighborhood in Jefferson County, Ohio. Members of this conclave have been breaking into Amish homes in the larger Amish community of which they were once part, and vandalizing. The worst of what they are doing is the extremely shameful act of cutting men’s’ beards and cutting the hair of their wives. The growing beard and hair of the woman do not get cut in the Amish world once people are married. One man stated that he was so ashamed of this act of violence against him that he wished his attacker had killed him. The community is reluctant to press charges against their attackers as it goes against the grain of their beliefs. They are now living in fear and feel that their daily rhythm of life has been harmed significantly. This too is within the Amish world, though in this case, the perpetrators no longer see themselves as part of the sect.

Then to top off my day, I watched an Anderson Cooper special on Bullying at night. This was about children who are afraid to go to school, who are damaged for life and how the school systems and the professionals who are supposed to keep the children entrusted to their care safe and out of harm’s way are at a loss. Towards the end of the hour, it was agreed by all members of the panel that Cooper had assembled that parents need to parent, and cannot NOT look at what their children are doing in bullying other children. The Columbine incident was evoked with the question, how can a teenager have an arsenal of weaponry under their bed or in a garage in the home IN WHICH THEIR PARENTS LIVE and the parents do not know? As a parent, I myself have no idea about this and remember reacting exactly in this way when it happened.

Of course, when the parents are the ones terrorizing other members of your Orthodox community and girls cannot attend their schools without fear of being attacked; and when parents are the ones who break into homes and embarrass and humiliate members of their own community as is happening in Easter Ohio, we begin to understand that parents of those that bully may be passing on the tradition of exactly the behaviors that their children exhibit.

What a sad statement for our society. Of course, it is not so rampant that this is in front of all of us, but if we believe in our connection to all Jews and to all human beings, then we MUST be concerned and not keep our eyes closed to such actions.

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