Monday, October 30, 2017

Mahwah NJ: Orthodox Jews and Bieganski as a New Jersey "Redneck"

Photo Credit The Forward
My book Bieganski: The Brute Polak Stereotype describes how empowered Westerners talk about Poles vis-à-vis Jews. Those empowered Westerners use a different standard when they talk about Poles than when they talk about any other group.

Bieganski objects to Americans saying, "There are Jewish people in America and we Americans never behave like those monstrous Poles did at Jedwabne." Jedwabne is the site of a notorious WW-II-era massacre of Jews by Poles.

Statements like that – Americans are nice and have never done what those extra bad Poles did – have made it into scholarly books. And they could not be less helpful, and more obscuring of the truth.  

Poland and America are not comparable. America has never experienced occupations comparable to those – by Nazis and Soviets – experienced by Poles during WW II. And Jews in the US are not comparable to Jews in Poland.

Jews in Poland occupied a separate caste, with its own separate culture, language, dress, hair styles, and economic status. Anti-Semitism in Poland was, more often than not, not about religion, but about caste conflict. Its roots were economic and cultural, and much less about theology.

Stephen G. Bloom's courageous 2001 book, Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America describes Orthodox Jews in a small Iowa town, and their culture clashes with locals. I tried to post an Amazon review but my review was blocked. I posted it on my blog here.

It's taboo to talk about how some aspects of Orthodox Judaism are difficult for non-Jewish neighbors to accommodate. That taboo against speech on an important topic doesn't help anybody.

Non-Jewish neighbors are now being accused of anti-Semitism in Mahwah, NJ. Orthodox Jews are moving into this small New Jersey town. Residents are very uncomfortable with some aspects of Orthodox Jewish culture, and how those aspects are affecting local life. Those residents are now being accused of anti-Semitism.

Non-Orthodox Jews are also being accused of anti-Semitism. Orthodox Jews erected an eruv in Mahwah – piping on telephone poles that, they say, allows them to do things like carry keys on the Sabbath without offending God. Here's a quote from the Forward:

"Fights against constructing an eruv … come from self-hating Jews,' said Joseph Kolakowski, an Orthodox rabbi who does chaplaincy work in the nearby Orthodox enclave, in a YouTube video on the subject. 'It’s the secular Jews who want to destroy all religions who are behind these things.'

Rabbi Barry Diamond, who leads the sole Reform congregation in Mahwah, rejected the idea that less religious or 'secular Jews' were opposed to the Orthodox community. 'There is no animus toward the Hasidic community,' Diamond said.

But Diamond, who supports the removal of the eruv, allowed that he does see the growing Orthodox community to the north as separate from his own. Locals have 'legitimate concerns' about how some Orthodox and Hasidic communities interact with the wider community when they move into an area, he said."

Residents fear that Orthodox Jews carry suitcases full of cash, and that they go to the doors of neighborhoods they want to move into, and move non-Jews out of, knock, and offer the cash to homeowners, who feel pressured to accept it, and move out. Some have proposed anti-door-knocking legislation.

Residents are afraid that their property values will plummet, and that their public-school system will be destroyed, as happened in nearby East Ramapo. There have been many press accounts, in the New York Times, the Forward, and This American Life, for example, of the scandalous destruction of public schools in East Ramapo.

People in Mahwah fear that something similar will happen to their schools.

Rushing to accuse the citizens of Mahwah of anti-Semitism is not helpful. What would be helpful would be a rational, fact-based discussion of the features of Orthodox Jewish life that concern the residents.

It's interesting that those accusing Mahwah residents of anti-Semitism are themselves using hateful and stereotyping words. Mahwah residents have been accused, in the press, of being "rednecks," "KKK," "Nazis," etc. It's interesting that these terms are NOT considered hate speech or evidence of prejudice.

Here's a comment by Jon Davis posted at NJ.Com: "Are you rednecks really that stupid? What is it that you and your hate mongering residents don't get? … Look at the video, it is eerily reminiscient [sic] of a KKK rally, only these people are arrogant enough not to wear hoods. Go ahead, double down on your own stupidity and fight the state. Then you can fight the Feds when they come in. Then you can explain to your pitchfork wielding 'good folk' of Mahwah why their real estate taxes will double"

Inflammatory, stereotyping, hateful rhetoric like Davis' will not help anyone.

Mahwah mayor accused of anti-Semitism. Recall effort read here

Mahwah hit with a lawsuit. Read more here.

Residents say Orthodox Jews from NY are "crowding" local parks. Read here

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Bieganski the Blog exists to further explore the themes of the book Bieganski the Brute Polak Stereotype, Its Role in Polish-Jewish Relations and American Popular Culture.
These themes include the false and damaging stereotype of Poles as brutes who are uniquely hateful and responsible for atrocity, and this stereotype's use in distorting WW II history and all accounts of atrocity.
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