A Reflection on Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

A family picture of Nicholas Winton with one of the hundreds of Jewish children whose lives he saved during World War II. Credit Press Association, via Associated Press

A family picture of Nicholas Winton with one of the hundreds of Jewish children whose lives he saved during World War II. Credit Press Association, via Associated Press

A Reflection on Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

This year was marred by the East Ramapo School Board’s behavior with respect to the “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” for children in the East Ramapo public school system. The School Board stands accused of favoritism towards their own private schools and the children who attend them.

It is also believed that children who are sent to the Yeshivas in that district will be denied future “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” by not being provided an education in the subjects of English, mathematics, and science that are required to lift them out of self-generated ‘poverty’ typified by New Square, Kaser and Kiryas Joel.

Sadly, the response by the local Hasidic community to critique of their behaviors was a slick video comparing Rockland County to 1930s Nazi Germany.

Those who call out the behavior of the Hasidic leadership in Rockland are met with a mantra about bigotry in one of two forms: ‘anti-Semitism’ for non-Jews and ‘sectarianism’ for members of other branches of the Jewish faith.

As an example, Democratic Assemblywoman Jaffee stood up against the tyranny of East Ramapo and has now become a poster-woman for Rockland’s ‘sectarianism’.  One of the producers of ‘The Jew In Rockland’ is associated with an article entitled ‘When Sectarianism Blinds A Politician’. The article states: “Assemblywoman Jaffee considers herself to be in the Reform Movement of Judaism, but most in the East Ramapo Jewish community are ultra Orthodox. Assemblywoman Ellen C. Jaffee has for years now, done everything and anything in her power to hurt the Orthodox community that elected her to the State Assembly in the first place. Once elected, in preparation for war against the Orthodox community, she cut out a backroom deal with then Assembly speaker Sheldon Sliver to redistrict her district so the electors who voted her in (the Orthodox community) should be unable to vote her out.”

On July 4th we pause to remember that separation of church and state is a founding principle of our nation. The intent of this separation is to protect the government from discriminating against any given religion. However, the new danger is that certain religiously-based extremist sects appear to be using government influence to exempt themselves from integration with, and participation in, a shared life of liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Consider for example the commercial flights that are disrupted by Haredim who insist they can not sit next to women in accordance with strict religious customs. They want to trade seats and when it isn’t allowed they stand in the aisles of the plane. Anyone else behaving in this manner would be promptly removed from an aircraft and probably arrested.

Religious extremism is not confined to any one religion or sect and Christianity has certainly seen its share. We can recall the Branch Davidians of Waco, Texas fame, which formed from a shism in the Seventh-day Adventists and of course there was the Jim Jones sect that drank the ‘kool-aid’ in Guyana. But there are characteristics of such extremism that are universal as an article ‘What Turns Ordinary People Into Religious Extremists‘ from the Huffington Post points out.

The author states: A religious extremist is a self righteous person gone too far. The reasons for such extremism are, among others, a lack of access to proper education, autocratic rulers, closed-minded and egocentric leaders, personality factors and family upbringing.

There may be a few general characteristics of people who turn into extremists. They have a sense of absolutism. They do not believe in change and diversity and are usually very low in their tolerance level. They have a sense of righteousness. They usually think that they know the truth and no one else does. They have a sense of knowing an ultimate meaning. They have a sense of a black and white thinking where the white is a limited definition of how life “should” be for all of us. There is no flexibility, no adaptability and no objectivity. You are either into this small and specific white zone or you are “the other.” They have an utter certainty that they are right.

The objective mind of a rational person knows that at any time, there are so many things one does not know. But an extremist does not have such view and holds a distorted thought that he knows all the answers and has found the “truth” which is the ‘only’ truth.

At the end, targeting extremism is about targeting ideas more than individuals and some of the ways to go against extremism are to increase your own knowledge and to speak your truth against them. 

We who live in Rockland have not made videos about the Haredim living insularly in our midst in answer to The Jew In Rockland’s lamentable chant of anti-Semitism. Yet, it is not only Rocklanders who are repeatedly accused of anti-Semitism and sectarianism. Others have witnessed the behaviors of this extremist sect and have described its behaviors and its effect in their own communities and on their own societies. For every ‘The Jew In Rockland’ video produced by the Haredim in our neighborhood there are dozens about the Haredim in Israel, in Bloominburg, in … you name it.  Here is a link to just one such video.

in the midst of these ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune‘ perhaps we can all pause on this Fourth of July and together celebrate the true meaning of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as reflected in the life of Nicholas Winton. You see Winton gave “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” to trainloads of Jewish children by transporting them to England and away from the clutches of Nazism. His life and character can be a model of how all of us in Rockland can aspire to live gracious, compassionate and happy lives.

Yet were Winton to have walked along the streets of New Square, Kaser, Kiryas Joel or similar communities in London he may have been viewed by the residents there as just one of ‘the others’, perhaps even, despite his own ancestry, as just one of ‘the goyim’.

{This essay also appeared in the Facebook page ‘Clarkstown: What They Don’t Want You To Know‘}

About Michael N. Hull

Michael N. Hull has lived in Rockland County for 35 years where he writes articles on philosophy and political affairs. Hull has written over 300 articles for New City Patch and Rockland Voice. He is presently a senior editor of the Facebook page Clarkstown: What They Don't Want You To Know and a senior editor of Rockland Voice.

About the Author
Michael N. Hull has lived in Rockland County for 35 years where he writes articles on philosophy and political affairs. Hull has written over 300 articles for New City Patch and Rockland Voice. He is presently a senior editor of the Facebook page Clarkstown: What They Don't Want You To Know and a senior editor of Rockland Voice.

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