Letter To Editor Rockland Voice
Subject: The Garvey Affect – The Takeaway
By Julie D. Globus
“The ultra orthodox Hasidic community’s abusive treatment of women is epic. In that community, women must separate themselves from men, must dress as they are told, are forced into arranged marriages, can not divorce without the approval of their husbands and community leaders, they are not properly educated, can’t attend college, and can not use birth control, yet, the Rockland County Democratic Committee says nothing: absolute silence. Why? Because the people in that community vote in a block and the leaders of the Rockland Democratic Party want their votes. Please!!!!! Total hypocrisy!!!!” – Lawrence Garvey, Chairman of Rockland County GOP
“To be a bystander is to be complicit”
Lawrence Garvey’s highly publicized views on the perceived norms within the ultra-Orthodox Hasidic community were met with scathing criticism, called anti-Semitic by numerous Jewish groups, deemed unacceptable by many within our community and ultimately removed from his Facebook page, quite rightfully so. With or without intended context, his words and allusions were reminiscent of a political lawn sign this past local election cycle, which linked David Carlucci to Aron Wieder, with a caption that read “David Carlucci For Medicaid – Working together so other people can carry us” . That lawn sign sparked similar outrage as Mr. Garvey’s assertions; but in all of our indignation have we ever asked ourselves how these sweeping generalizations and morally judgmental repudiations of a community, any community can take hold?
Unlike others satisfied to pin a label on Mr. Garvey, it is my view that whatever the contextual framework, we cannot reduce his statements to point blank untruths or unpalatable bigotry. We need to examine Mr. Garvey’s statements under a microscope. We cannot simply diminish his rendering to anti-Semitism, nor can we view his critique indicting one political party as adequate. We must understand not only why he and others like him in Clarkstown and elsewhere view the ultra-Orthodox Hasidic community with so few shades of grey, but also why all of the perceived wrongs of a community are being attributed to the apathy of a single political body. Walking an excruciatingly fine line, not all Hasidic Jews are the religious zealots described by Mr. Garvey. He, like many of us, attributes the actions of a small fundamentalist swath of the greater ultra-Orthodox Hasidic community to all ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jews. The use of the term anti-Semitism, as a collective reaction to his comments, serves only to broaden the scope of his comments to include all Jews.
Is that really what we are trying to do? Is that not simply fueling a fire?
What Mr. Garvey fails to grasp is that the extremist group to which he refers is but a microcosm within the greater ultra-Orthodox community. They are religious zealots for whom the rest of us are not even Jews. They cross political barriers by offering a voting bloc to any party willing to embrace their zealotry as acceptable religious practice. For Jewish organizations and the Clarkstown community alike, to deny their presence within our community and to diminish Mr. Garvey’s comments to anti-Semitism is to do a disservice to the goal of transforming Clarkstown into a kinder, gentler and safer place to live, worship, walk with pride whatever your gender, color of your skin, religion, sex, race or sexual preference may be. Despite our collective discomfort with the subject matter we cannot deny that ultra-Orthodox religious zealotry exists in Rockland; nor can we bury references to it under the guise of anti-Semitism. To do so is to risk overlooking or accepting what Mr. Garvey suggests are abuses within a community.
Whether a reaction to Mr. Garvey’s statements or not, on Monday night, February 13th, there was a meeting for a movement called ‘Not in Our Town‘ intended to address hate-filled vitriol and bring cohesiveness to our community. I was initially extremely skeptical of the meeting. The page on which it was posted represented a single political party and the potential pretense under which it had been organized all felt a bit “off”. The meeting deserved the attention of all people in Clarkstown, regardless of affiliation. It is unfortunate that it was not more broadly publicized and was not better attended. Attracting a wider audience is a worthwhile, if not a necessary, endeavor.
I left the ‘Not in Our Town’ meeting pleasantly surprised, impressed by the tenor of the discourse, and hopeful that perhaps such a group could help to cross what appears to be an impossible divide, not only for Jews but for others who feel persecuted in Clarkstown. I do not think the issue of racism, hate, homophobia and bigotry is one of GOP versus Democrat or limited by color, race, religion or sexual preference.
Six days post-meeting steadfast in the belief that as Jews it behooves us to look at Mr. Garvey’s comments in a highly critical light, not only the words themselves but also the sentiment they encapsulate and our reaction to them if we are to subdue stereotypes. The danger, in my view, of diminishing his comments to anti-Semitism risks overlooking what has introduced this community to hate. Mr. Garvey’s words are not necessarily the issue. Their genesis is of greater import.
My takeaway of the ‘Not in Our Town’ meeting is many believe that our bucolic county is rapidly becoming a safe-haven for anti-Semitism, bigotry, hatred and potentially violence against others. The swastikas horrifyingly and glaringly painted on trees in the woods in New City are simply the next bridge being crossed by those interested in spreading a hate-filled message. We have forgotten how to be kind to one another. The words that come from our keyboards, typed on Facebook pages and stated in public are endemic of insensitivity, racism, bigotry and hatred, no more or less dangerous than the swastikas, a terrifying reminder of a unique historical context.
My dilemma, however, is that while the vitriol within our cross-religious and multi-racial community has gotten out of hand, what brought us to this precipice, at least with respect to the Jewish community at large, cannot be ignored either. In retrospect, I am no less guilty of stereotyping or broad generalizations. But while being a bystander to racial prejudice and bigotry is to be accepting, a message conveyed at the ‘Not in Our Town’ meeting, to ignore abuses within a community because articulating a problem is too difficult or risks condemnation is no less guilt by complacence. Finding a path down that fine line can be elusive.
Mr. Garvey’s comments are highlighted here because he is a public figure and his stature imparts a measure of credibility. We should be learning from him and others who similarly cannot recognize that there is a distinction between open and obvious religious observance and fundamentalist zealotry, regardless of race, color, sexual preference, and mainstream views and practices within the global Jewish community and likely similarly within other religious communities.
Mr. Garvey’s message might have been understandable were it not to have marginalized the mainstream ultra-Orthodox community and been explosively political. The irony is not lost on me that he too is guilty of being a bystander to the malaise of fundamentalism and zealotry. His comments might have had a meaningful impact had they not focused on judgmental condemnation of a political party for ignoring the mores of a fundamentalist group. His contentions might have had significant value if they did not so easily elicit an expeditious label of anti-Semitism, thereby sweeping all Jews into the tide of his criticism. Both parties are guilty of allowing the religious zealotry, to which Mr. Garvey refers, to flourish. Both parties deserve criticism for supporting politicians, whether Hasidic, ultra-Orthodox Jewish or otherwise, who have failed to condemn, if not actively participated in, for example, the wholesale disenfranchisement of East Ramapo’s school children and the destruction of their school district. This is but one small example of the meeting of politics and religion which has tainted the world view of many, including my own, with regard to the ultra-Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Hasidic communities.
I have asked that my opinion be posted on the pages of Rockland Voice and Clarkstown: What They Don’t Want You To Know – CWTDWYTK) because they have been targeted as a source for hateful posts and anti-everything-venomous keyboard warriors. One woman at the ‘Not In Our Town’ meeting suggested to the senior administrator of CWTDWYTK that perhaps the site should get scrubbed and re-vamped into a wholly different more accepting page. While I believe that perhaps its moderators need to refocus the tenor of their posts and the comments they find permissible, the genesis of that Facebook group was to shed light on the crimes within our community (think Sparaco, Brega, Savino and Silver) which were being ignored by law enforcement caught in political gamesmanship. There is an important place in Clarkstown and surrounding communities for this page, even when it focuses on religious zealotry and does not acquiesce. It might serve us all well to be conscientious of the profound sensitivity by some of the subject matter.
As Jews I firmly believe that we must admit to ourselves that there are fundamentalist groups within the ultra-Orthodox Hasidic and non-Hasidic Jewish communities, radical adherents to the practices Mr. Garvey describes. I maintain that we cannot ignore, within that microcosm of fundamentalist observance that women are the property of men; marriages are arranged and children are denied a secular education. Women are forbidden to drive and violence against those who are unwilling to attend a specific synagogue is commonplace. To disregard fundamentalism is both to dishonor the needs of those who may wish to leave those communities and to perpetuate the stereotype engendered in its existence. It matters not whether the discourse focuses on a particular religious community. It is no less fundamentalist. It is no less radical. It is no less divisive, extremist and dangerous.
True to Mr. Garvey’s words any politician on whatever side of the political fence willing to set aside his or her personal moral compass to obtain bloc votes is guilty of strengthening the fundamentalist community, perpetuating the resentment and consequently the resulting divisiveness and hatred. Unfortunately discourse on this subject grows in import only when people like Mr. Garvey state what in frighteningly growing numbers others are thinking, which is more than a little chilling.
In my view if we are to tone down the rhetoric, which ‘Not in Our Town’ rightfully refers to as bullying, we must first understand its origins. As parents don’t we ask children who bully the same question: “Why did you think it was okay to behave the way you did?” As one community we must jointly and severally educate and be educated. We must hear and be open to listening. We must join hands and have our hands enjoined and we must set aside preconceived notions in order to instill a more positive message.
“To be a bystander is to be complicit”
[Julie D. Globus is an attorney who advises clients in corporate, securities and compliance matters. She is an Associate Member of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, is on the faculty of the National Business Institute where she lectures frequently, and sits on the Board of Directors of a Canadian company. On her leisure time she competes in triathlons and ½ Ironman races.]