When the Shoah, antisemitism and Israel-as-sacred-underdog narratives no longer capture the imagination and affiliation of the mainstream Jewish community, what scary bedtime story can you tell to keep folks interested? Wait, I got it… ! FEAR OF A BLACK PLANET! THE HAREDIM ARE COMING! (Sorry, Public Enemy fans…)
That the haredim play the role of villain in the Israeli press is not a new development. The attack of a modern Orthodox girl in Bet Shemesh in December 2011 is a recent flashpoint, capturing the attention and evoking much tongue-clucking from North American Jews who saw themselves in the cowering eight year old girl from Chicago.
Add to this a persistent delegitimization of liberal Judaism by haredi leaders on and off the Israeli government payroll and what you get is analysis, analysis and more analysis bewailing the gap that widens between Israel and North America’s Jews. (…As opposed to say, action. But that would be silly to expect someone to be able to actually do anything about the haredi campaign to delegitimize liberal Judaism… silly indeed.)
…And all the while, quietly, the haredi menace proliferates… With each baby born, with each new pashkevil, with each new day care program opened in a soon-to-be-haredi neighbourhood, with each government coffer emptied out… Quietly, the haredim are taking over Israel. But we did not speak up because we did not live in Israel… Azoi…
But now, in recent weeks, one can see the coalescing of a different narrative… The haredim are taking over in North America too!
One can almost picture a female Reform rabbi riding across the countryside, sounding the alarm “Through every Middlesex village and farm / for the liberal folk to be up and to arm”…
Consider the coverage of the purportedly anti-internet Asifa on May 20, the largest gathering of Jews in one place, EVER, IN THE HISTORY OF NORTH AMERICAN JEWRY. And they were all haredim! And they were all men! And they wanted to throttle the internet!
The 2012 Israel Day Parade on June 3 in New York was dominated by Orthodox Jews!
And, because all good things come in threes, then came the kerfuffle over the recent UJA-Federation of New York survey that reported, among other dire statistics, that 6 in 10 babies born in New York were born into frum households. JJ Goldberg of the Jewish Daily Forward opined that if this trend continues, North American Jewry and Israel would return to (cue ominous music) the days of the shtetl where most Jews were poor, uneducated and haredi. Though fans of “Fiddler on the Roof” might be excited for the return of singing milkmen, and a new generation of yeshiva buchers with bottles on their borsalinos, let us also remember what the Good Book says: When a journalist kills a chicken, either he or the chicken is sick. (Yes, that made no sense at all – but then again, the same was true for much of what Tevye said.)
At the many talks I gave around the launch of End Of The Jews, I talked about how the real challenge facing the Jewish people today is existential in that we cannot count of negative narratives (i.e., don’t give Hitler posthumous victories, the goyim hate us, Israel is in danger, Israel invented the cherry tomato) to keep us committed to our tradition and our people. We have to think of something positive, affirming and energizing (tikkun olam, perhaps?) to engage the next generation in the hard work of being a Jew.
But I was scooped by the great minds of the previous generation! Ladies and gentlemen, we now that all the makings of a new galvanizing narrative for the unaffiliated, apathetic and the aloof … and just in time too! Let’s see how long this one sticks…