Open Letter To Legislator Wieder – Anti-Semitism: A Label Used As Shield Against Scrutiny

Legislator Aron Wieder

Legislator Aron Wieder

‘Anti-Semitism: A Label Too Often Used
As A Shield To Fight Off Scrutiny’

By Julie D. Globus
Child of Cultural Yiddishkeit
an Attorney, an Advocate and a Mother

This letter addresses comments made by Legislator Wieder in a speech made to the Rockland County Legislature, as well as comments that followed a letter written by Assemblyman Hikind to the Attorney General. This letter seeks to establish a format whereby one can criticize the activities of a community without being labeled an anti-Semite, a self-hating Jew or defamatory. This letter hopes to give people currently silenced by the shield of being labeled an anti-Semite, a voice.

Dear Legislator Wieder:

I am writing this letter to you following your speech, delivered to the legislature and posted on the Facebook page ‘Clarkstown: What They Don’t Want You To Know‘ on February 9, 2015. In writing this letter, I call specific attention to your friends, Mr. Benny Polatsek (community activist), Mr. Gestetner (co-founder of the Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Counsel “OJPAC”) and Assemblyman Hikind all of whose rhetoric mirrors yours; and for whom I hold equal disdain, not because you are Jews or Hasidics but because you are a group of people behaving deplorably.

Benny Polatseck

Benny Polatseck

That you happen to identify with the Hasidic Jewish community is for me, quite sad. I, a Jew, find it increasingly difficult to be a Jew in Rockland because I am naturally guilty of the same misdeeds you have committed, simply by association. That you happen to identify with a community of Jews is little more, from where I sit, but the armor with which you shield yourself from legal scrutiny and critics of your collective appalling behavior, by chalking it all up to anti-Semitism, intolerance or, on OJPAC’s own webpage, defamation. The term ‘Hasidic’ comes from the word ‘Chesed’, which from the Hebrew means knowledge and piousness. As a Jew I retake issue with that label being applied you, Legislator Wieder and Assemblyman Hikind and your advocates. It is a description I reserve for those I hold to a standard of honesty and integrity, particularly when they are elected officials or hold themselves out as spokesmen for their collective community. Is the strict translation of Chesed broad enough so as not to include honesty and integrity? Frankly, that has been the source of debate. Perhaps I am simply giving the word too broad a view.

Assemblyman Hovkind

Assemblyman Hikind

But I digress. I am here to ask, how you would have criticism be levied upon you, by those who do not share your religious beliefs or who are not members of your faith? Do you deem yourselves and those who support you exempt from recrimination? Are non-Hasidic Jews to be labeled self-hating Jews and are non-Jews to be denied a voice of surfeit because in so voicing their concerns they are anti-Semites, insensitive or even defamatory, in the words of OJPAC? Are those who denounce your collective lack of decorum and its far reaching implications for a generation of children, not permitted to show animus because in so doing they risk being labeled as anti-Semites? What about Assemblyman Hikind’s notorious blackface Purim costume, which he claimed to have been a simple joke? What sir, would you say to a black man who dressed as a Hasid on Halloween? Would you show any level of tolerance? I think not. Yet, that same black man is expected to accept your explanation that your Purim costume was intended to be humorous and not wholly insulting if not utterly racist? Tell me, as you drank so you could not distinguish your enemy from your friend, did you make jokes about dressing like a schvartze? And yet, any single negative assessment of those most critical of you is to be viewed, by your own words and the collective message, as anti-Semitic. Please, sir, explain that to me.

Yossi Gestneter

Yossi Gestneter

I wholly agree with you that many of the comments on social media go too far and are often quite filled with hatred and venom, a hate that can only continue to fan the fires of ultimate anti-Semitism. I quite agree with you that there are Facebook sites entirely too filled with anti-Hasidic, anti-Jewish rhetoric and anti-Semitic locution. I contend, however, that your actions, comments, jokes, humor, contentions all fuel the fire of that revulsion. I suggest that in some cases the comments made are not anti-Semitic nor are they anti-Hasidic. Rather, they are critical of a behavior that is deemed to be abhorrent and for many it is simply too difficult to split the hairs necessary to criticize you and your band of four, and at the same time keep a safe distance from being viewed as having made wholly anti-Semitic remarks or voicing what is deemed to be anti-Semitic sentiments.

One of my many problems with your speech, Legislator Wieder and similar rhetoric, is that to diminish the criticism as anti-Semitism means you are defining that criticism in terms of an overall hatred for Jews. By blood, by upbringing whether Yiddishkeit or otherwise, that criticism is also then directed at me and every single member of the Jewish community, most of whose behavior is not unpalatable, while in my view yours cannot be without reproach. I find it troubling that you diminish the memory of so many Jews by using our Jewish history to shield you from criticism. I find it extremely distressing that as the targets of hatred, whether because you are Hasidics or simply poorly behaved, you have not taken a moment to look to yourselves, your collective misdeeds and the examples you set from within your own community, to analyze the demise of both inter-Jewish relations and inter-ethnic/inter-religious relations within the greater Rockland Community. And, thanks to the misplaced involvement of Assemblyman Hikind, himself not innocent of his own brand of racism, within the greater lower Hudson/NYC region.

In an article in a piece from FailedMessiah.com entitled ‘After 8 Years Of Fighting, Warring Bobov Hasidic Factions Settle Half Of Dispute In Beit Din‘, Zhmarya Rosenberg comments:

“In a special zabloh-style beit din, the two warring Bobov hasidic factions settled their fight Monday over who can – and who cannot – use the Bobov name.”

The Hasidic community has shown the world at large that they can be guilty of brutality, even amongst their own, without the label of anti-Semitism. Why is the community of public school children in East Ramapo and those who support them not given the same courtesy? Certainly the plight of those children, at your hand is worthy of recrimination. It cannot possibly be argued that the wholesale destruction of a generation of children, is not worse than the plight of warring factions of a religion. Are those outside of the Hasidic community, whether secular Jews or non-Jews not able to find words of criticism such that the anti-Semitism card is not played?

I note that the infighting within the Hasidic community is not limited to just one group. In 2007, in an article in HaAretz, dated January 14, 2007, Shlomo Shamir writes: 

“Haredi rabbis and activists in New York are astonished, and hard put to explain how an internal quarrel in the Hasidic Satmar community between the two sons of the previous admor (Hasidic leader), who are each fighting to succeed their father as the head of the Satmar Hasids, reached a non-Jewish court of law. “Heaven forfend,” shouted a Hasidic rabbi in a closed meeting of Haredi rabbis that recently took place in Brooklyn. “In our worst nightmares we never imagined that two well-known Hasidic figures would ask for a ruling on their conflict outside a rabbinical court, and would prefer a state court.” After all, the rabbi explained, this is a serious prohibition that is defined in the Jewish sources as a desecration of G-d’s name”. 

(Read more in this article: Scandals and Disputes Plague Ultra-orthodox Circles In the United States)

Nearly eight years later, after the 2007 court ruling, the Satmar were still fighting amongst themselves: from an article in Yeshiva World in November of 2014 the Rebbe of one of the warring factions within the Satmar Community, discussing the draft in Israel and the use of technology stated:

““While the two factions are fighting between themselves, there’s an imminent threat on the world of Torah,” the Rebbe declared. – [Satmar Rebbe Reb. Ahron] “The Rebbe emphasized that in the mean time, there’s a fat chance that both factions will be apprehended and share one room in jail. If that happens, “they’ll be able to continue their infighting in jail,” the Rebbe quipped.“”

Again, I ask the question, when sects within the Hasidic community can war amongst themselves, reminiscent of the Mafia crime families, without referring to one another as anti-Semites, than so too should the greater Jewish and non-Jewish community alike be permitted to hate the behavior of many within the Hasidic community simply by virtue of their conduct having nothing to do with their Hasidism. Were those most critical to be Jews or non-Jews is irrelevant. To reference such scrutiny in the same terms as the treatment of Jews in the Holocaust is disgraceful. Such reference is unfair to those Jews who are not, on a daily basis, harming the quality of life and the future of a generation of children with their reprehensible, if not criminal, actions.

From Aish.com I came across an article describing the notion of what it means to ‘Love Thy Neighbor‘:

“Love your neighbor as yourself – I am G-d.” (Leviticus 19:18 “Love your neighbor” is the universal Golden Rule, which the Talmud defines as a “great principle” of Judaism. How we treat others is a litmus test of our spiritual health. Since God is the ultimate “giver”, our pursuit of Godliness is driven by acts of giving. As any baby will attest, humans are innately selfish. That’s why, in describing the kindness imperative, the great sage Hillel said: “What is hateful to you, do not do unto others”. This negative formulation of the Golden Rule forces us to think how it would feel to be on the receiving end of indignities we’d rather be spared. Once this first stage of not harming others is inculcated – e.g. “Don’t litter” – it extends to a higher level of ethical living, e.g. picking up trash on the street.”

I ask you, Mr. Wieder, as a fellow Jew, is the physical condition of your community, the dirt that litters the streets, the overcrowding and tenement-like conditions of many of your community’s buildings, the violation of appropriate safety codes, the dangerous conditions for your children, the disgraceful guidance of funds beyond reproach and judgment from surrounding communities? It is of little importance that you are Hasidic or otherwise, except to the extent that those conditions directly violate the tenets of a G-d you claim to love and honor.

If we are to believe that you follow the tenets of your religion, our religion, with zeal your collective transgressions are against not only your neighbors outside your community but members of your community within. Who am I to judge? As a fellow Jew, I can only shake my head. However, your non-Jewish neighbors and critics should be permitted to judge by opinion without being deemed anti-Semitic. Is your advocacy of the treatment of the children of the East Ramapo public school, who study in deplorable, dirty, unsanitary, decrepit conditions, and your support of those Yeshivas and shtibles where children study subjects non-compliant with a state mandated education, what you would define as loving your neighbor? I daresay that you would likely not diminish your children to be subjected to the intolerable conditions in which the public school children are subject daily. Are those of us, Jewish and non Jewish, Irish Catholic, Protestant, Episcopalian, Christian, white, black, Asian, Hispanic and the list goes on, not permitted to criticize and express our criticism publicly without you belittling those comments by calling them anti-Semitic? If those criticisms and the underlying scrutiny, borne of hatred of the behavior that fosters the conditions described, makes those of us voicing our views anti-Semites then certainly each brother within the warring factions of the Satmar Hasidic faith is also himself an anti-Semite?

Legislator Wieder, Mr. Gestetner, Mr. Polatsek and Assemblyman Hikind, you and the community that follows you, those who like your comments, those who vote you into office, those who knowingly support you, I state here and now are shnorrers of the worst kind, if not outright ganevim. Nina Badzin, in a comment on ethics states:

“Nothing irks me more than a schnorrer. What exactly is a schnorrer? The best definition I found for the Yiddish term “schnorrer” comes from that wise and trusted keeper of the Yiddish language, Wikipedia. “The English usage of the word denotes a sly chiseler who will get money out of another any way he can, often through an air of entitlement. A schnorrer is distinguished from an ordinary beggar by dint of his boundless chutzpah”.

(See also On Jewish Ethics: Don’t Be A Schnorrer)

You who milk the community whether, it be the generation of disenfranchised children within the East Ramapo public school system, or the youth within the many Yeshivot in which NYS mandated classes are not taught, through dishonest acts and deeds are shnorrers. You who then disgracefully shield yourselves from scrutiny through political power and/or the label of anti-Semite, are shnorrers. In my view you are no different than members of a crime syndicate, raping a public welfare system of resources, using anti-Semitism as your ‘Ace in the Hole‘, and taking as much for yourselves as possible whether for financial or for political gain.

Unlike Assemblyman Hikind, himself guilty of his own form of racism, who calls for an investigation into the showing of a video, I would call for the attorney general to investigate the finances of the Yeshivas, each one individually, looking at the way in which meals are doled out, the way in which children are counted twice, the way in which children are registered in more than one Yeshiva to allow duplicated assistance. I would look at the Section 8 housing, examining each residence regularly to determine in whose name they are registered and by whom they are resided.

I would scrutinize, not because the community I am scrutinizing is Hasidic but because I fear those to whom this letter is addressed and their supporters are potentially “ganevim”. I would ask for an investigation into the possibility of RICO charges for the conspiracy within a system that claims to need, using children as pawns in a game, while transacting business in cash and potentially hiding finances. I would have the same comments for anyone who commits the atrocities that are currently being committed, in my view, whether Hasidic or otherwise. How dare you legitimize the dishonesty and hypocrisy by claiming it’s all for educational and not-for-profit/tax-exempt purposes? How dare you diminish the memory of those who suffered in the Holocaust by using that, and the corresponding label of anti-Semitism, to further your interests and the interests of your community, whether Hasidic or otherwise?

In one final analysis I will say this: the word hypocrite does not have a basis in the Hebrew language. In the following article describing the etymology of the word ‘hypocritewe read:

“The word ‘hypocrite’ and its derivatives trace back to the Greek. Neither the word nor the concept is found in Hebrew. The word does not appear in the Septuagint, the Jews’ own Greek translation of the Tanakh (the Old Testament), though it does appear in a different Jewish translation of the Tanakh into Greek. When the word is seen in the KJV translation of the Old Testament it translates, and possibly mistranslates, a word that simply means “godless” or “lawless”.

Whether it’s a translation or a mis-translation depends on the degree to which the Biblical Greek word’s meaning had diverged from its classical Greek meaning. In classical Greek the word “hypocrite” means someone who is pretending to be or acting as someone else. It can be negative, as in the case of a fraud, or neutral, as in the case of stage actors and public spokesmen.

Legislator Wieder, and collectively your political cohorts and advocates, Mr. Gestetner, Mr. Polatsek and Assemblyman Hikind, I daresay that you are hypocrites, not in the neutral sense but the negative one. I make this comment from one Jew to another, not as an anti-Semitic remark, but as one defined by a criticism of truly intolerable behavior. It is, as Legislator Wieder suggested in his speech, about time that a change is made. I, however, don’t see redemption coming from a discussion between Legislator Wieder and Executive Ed Day. I see it coming from a change from within a community which has to date destroyed the lives of countless children, through actions and deeds which are less than neighborly. I see change coming from within the community which votes according to rabbinical edict rather than collective conscience.

It is my hope, indeed, that an investigation into the activities of your communities is commenced not because it is Hasidic but because I believe that a fraud is being committed. I would be happy to lead the financial review of your books and records. I am someone who is ashamed of my fellow Jews for their poor behavior because I, too, am a Jew. I am not an anti-Semite, nor am I a self-hating Jew. I am someone who wants to see a better life for the children of East Ramapo, of all shapes, sizes, races, colors, religions and cultures. I am an attorney who wants to see justice levied upon members of a community whether Hasidic or otherwise, for their collective and in my view wretched behavior and potentially criminal activities.

I apologize to those members of the Hasidic community (communities) who do not know this is happening, who are naïve to the outside world or who are not given a voice because of your current situation or domestic dynamic. I hope that my comments will allow you that voice. To the lost generation of children, both Jew and non-Jew, I am sorry for your plight.

There are no adequate words.

Julie D. Globus

{Editor’s Notes:

1) The Torah or Talmud uses two terms for a thief — the “Gonif”, (which is the more familiar term) and the “Gazlin”, and two corresponding terms for robbery “Genaiva” and “Gezaila”. A Gazlan is someone who steals openly – a robber – while a Ganav is someone who steals surreptitiously – a thief.

2) In 1991 Julie Globus graduated with honors from Skidmore College with a BA in Government and Philosophy which she completed in 3 years. Following graduation, Julie accepted a grant to attend The Hebrew University of Jerusalem on Mount Scopus in Israel for one year. While she did not speak the language when she left for Israel, at the end of the year Julie was offered a scholarship towards completion of her MA, which in 1995 she earned with honors in Political Theory, studying mainly in Hebrew. Julie returned to the US to earn her law degree from Rutgers Law School in Newark and give birth to her first son, who managed to sit through the better part of two years of law school with her.

In 1998, Julie returned to Israel, two children in tow, to practice as a foreign legal consultant. While there she studied towards a certification as a Trustee in Bankruptcy under Israeli Law. She spent time in London on behalf of some of her clients and in 2001, she returned to the US to join Mandel, Katz, Manna and Brosnan (n/k/a Mandel, Katz and Brosnan) as an associate. She joined Rohit Sabharwal as a named partner in 2004, and closed her firm’s first trade, three months later, Blackberry and cell phone in hand during the delivery of her youngest child.

Julie is an Associate Member of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. Her focus is on all aspects of financial fraud, embezzlement, misrepresentation and the corporate culture related to fraud. In the context of her established information wall and compliance practice, Julie has expanded to assist her clients with building an architectural framework for compliance with State and Federal securities and finance laws, and in establishing strong internal controls. This expansion of her practice is a natural marriage of Julie’s love of numbers and spreadsheets and her keen ability to identify breaks in patterns.

In addition, to her love for her family and practicing law, Julie is intent upon saving the world one person at a time and one business at a time. In this effort, Julie, like her partners, commits a significant amount of time to pro-bono work, now an integral part of SGL’s practice. She uses her education, personal knowledge and life experiences to assist her pro-bono clients in avoiding numerous pitfalls, both related to her usual practice, and also focusing on other areas like Wills, Trusts and Estates and not-for-profit law.}

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