Op-Ed: Are These Not Jewish Children?

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[By Rabbi Y. Eisenman]

We have heard the news and perhaps seen the pictures.

The facts are not disputed.

A little eight year religious Jewish girl was attempting to walk to her school.

A group of (how many and who they represent is open to debate) Orthodox Jews verbally assaulted and spit at the young Jewish girl.

The focal point of this contentious issue is Naama Margolese, an eight year old pony tailed, bespectacled second-grader who is now afraid of walking to her religious school for fear of other Jews who have spat on her.

“When I walk to school in the morning I used to get a tummy ache because I was so scared … that they were going to stand and start yelling and spitting,” the pale, blue-eyed girl said softly in an interview with The Associated Press Monday. “They were scary. They don’t want us to go to the school.”

It is obviously beyond the purview of this piece to decipher the intricacies of Israeli politics.

I cannot tell you how much of this media coverage is accurate and how much is anti-Semitic media hype.

I leave that issue to individuals who are better equipped and better informed than me to explain.

Has this issue led to unfair media bashing and of a mass grouping of ‘non-groupable’ peoples into one mindless mass of black-‘hatted’ men? Perhaps.

However, that is not my issue.

In my solitary mind, the only thing which irks me and causes me no rest is my constant inability to avoid the ubiquitous Elephant which invades my mind and soul.

The Elephant is ever-present and pervasive; he appears at all hours and breaches the confines of my mind as only an Elephant in the Room can.

What is this Elephant which causes me to feel unsettled and spiritually restless?

As I catch my breath and wipe away my tears please bear me as I recall a historically authenticated incident.

The event occurred in the 1930s in the Holy City of Yerushalayim.

The participants in the story are:

Rabbi Moshe Blau: an Agudas Yisroel activist and a 6th generation of the Old Yishuv. He was the editor of Agudah’s local weekly, Kol Yisroel, and was the brother of Rav Amram Blau of Neturei Karta. From 1933-1945, Rav Blau headed the Chareidi community in Jerusalem, working with Yishuv leaders in its dealings with the British Mandate authorities. (Chinuch.org)
Rabbi Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld: (1 Dec 1848 –26 Feb 1932) was the Chief and co-founder of the Edah HaChareidis, the Chareidi Jewish community in Jerusalem, during the years of the British Mandate of Palestine.(Wikipedia)

Needless to say, neither of the above mentioned ‘Ultra-Orthodox’ Jews supported ‘Modernity’ or anything associated with it.

Both fought hard to maintain the ‘Old-Yishuv’ and its strict standards of modesty and gender separation.

The Incident*

*This incident is recorded in the auto-biography of Rabbi Moshe Blau; “Al Chomosaich Yerushalayim”; Netzach Publishing, Bnei Brak, 1967. Pages 114-115.

The narrator is Rabbi Moshe Blau himself and this entire chapter deals with Rabbi Blau’s relationship with his Rebbe, Rabbi Zonnenfeld:

“One day I left Shaarei Zedek Hospital in his (Rabbi Zonnenfeld’s) company. It was Tu B’Shevat (In the Zionist movement, Tu B’Shevat was (and is) a big event as it celebrates the people’s connection to the land- this comment is my own).

I noticed that from far away that students from the secular non-religious schools were approaching us; boys and girls (emphasis added by me), male and female teenagers (emphasis added by me), with the Zionist flag at the front of each group; the ‘workers songs’ (the Zionist were closely associated with the ‘Workers Movements: me again) coming from their mouths.

They were walking four abreast and the people on the street were pushed to the sides of the road.

I knew that that the sight of a few thousand boys and girls from non-religious schools walking in a parade immodestly dressed and without gender separation would cause Rabbi Zonnenfeld pain. Therefore I said to him, “The parade of children from the (non-religious) schools is coming; perhaps the Rebbe wants to go back into the hospital building?”

“No”, was his answer. {He then asked :}

“Are these not Jewish children?”

We were pushed to the side of the road as was everyone else.

The parade continued as each school marched in its own contingent with the sound of their songs penetrating the air.

I see that Rabbi Chaim Zonnenfeld is murmuring with his lips. I bent my ear [towards him] and I hear him saying and repeating: May the Lord add upon you, upon you and upon your children. Blessed are you to the Lord (Tehillim 115; 14-15) until the entire parade passed us.”

Rabbi Zonnenfeld was not a Zionist.

He did not approve of mixed activities.

He did not approve of ‘Modern’ approaches to Judaism.

However, he never lost sight of that one single truth which was in the forefront of all of his actions: “Are these not Jewish children?”

The Elephant Appears

One day I went to visit the Bostoner Rebbe* Zt”l.

[*Levi Yitzchak HeLevi Horowitz (born 3 July 1921, Boston, Massachusetts, died 5 December 2009. He was the first American-born Hasidic Rebbe and a champion of Orthodox Jewish outreach, reaching out to many students in the Boston area through his New England Chassidic Center. He was also the founder of ROFEH International, a community-based medical referral and hospitality liaison support agency. (Wikipedia)]

He spent over 45 minutes with me and told me many, many important things.

In the midst of our conversation he related to me that he recalls when his oldest son Rav Pinchus Dovid was born- the nurse brought him to see the baby.

It was soon after the Holocaust and the festering wound of genocide was fresh on every Jew’s flesh

The Rebbe’s holy and clear eyes began to tear as he looked at me and said, “As I gazed into the face of my new born Jewish child I could not help but wonder with amazement, “What type of human being would want to kill such an innocent baby?”

My eyes are tearing and my heart is breaking as I finally give expression to the Elephant in My Room which stalks me.

“What type of Jew spits on a Jewish girl?”

“Are these not Jewish children?”

May Hashem heal our festering wounds.

Rabbi Y. Eisenman is the Rabbi of Congregation Ahavas Israel in Passaic, NJ.

NOTE: The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of YWN.

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13 COMMENTS

  1. or perhaps the issue involves some juvenile delinquents or ner do wells, trying to show off, not acting on the basis of what some Rav and Rebbe told them to do but because they want to feel powerful — and because our community is too busy with big issues we are not doing a good job of putting such brats in their place

    p.s. if one ends up producing information on a Gadolim who authorized such attacks, I will admit I’m wrong

  2. I would like to add what i believe to be common sense.we are supposed to learn from the history of torah how to act(react)in all situations. We have as a paradigm, the 2 situations 1 with yehuda and tamar and 1 with yosef and potifars wife. they both acted lshem shomayim(in their opinion) the acid test was when the chips were down. in other words when we feel strongly about an issue do we get belligerent(hardly an indication of lshem shomayim)or do they simply feel bad regarding an issue without getting personal(nasty etc)

  3. Thank you Rabbi Eisenman. And to #1 akuperma:

    if one ends up producing information on a Gadolim who authorized such attacks, I will admit I’m wrong

    Unfortunately, it seems that most Gedolim are completely silent to these issues. It may not be blatant authorization, but it is most definitely not condemnation.

  4. All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.
    Thomas Jefferson

    The Gedolim could stop this. At this point I would recommend they personally escort the tinnokos shel beis rabban to their school.

  5. akuperma, as I am sure you know, we have a concept in halocho – shtikah k’hodo’oh – silence is acquiescence. IU will leave it to you to consider the implications of this.

  6. byepluto
    I am sure that Rav Elyashiv, Rav Wosner, Rav Shteinmann, Rav Kanievsky, Rav Shternbuch and the rest of the Gedolei Yisroel need your recomendations.
    I am also quite sure that barring they’re recommendations one would hink they approve of such behaviour.
    In fact one sees there thousands of followers engaing in it all the time.
    Are you really normal?

  7. Thank you Rabbi Eisenman. As much as I am convinced that the people perpetrating these crimes represent an extreme minority, the silence of Gedolim on the issue is deafening. It is reassuring to finally see someone not only issue a rational condemnation, but an emotional rejection based on stories with Chareidi gedolim of the past as well.

  8. What scares me the most is that somehow there are people who actually side with sikrikim! There was a protest in Kikar Shabbos where they dressed their children in concentration camp uniforms and wore the yellow Jewish star with the word JUDE on it! The Chillul Hashem is flaming out of control! People the world over think the very worst about Charedim, and people who observe Torah. The comparison of their so called media “persecution” to concentration camp inmates is laughable! In the camps ALL Jews-no matter what their level of religious observance was were forced to wear the uniform. They are definitely acting like the Nazis did by trying to segregate women and spit on Jews no matter how defenseless. If they were defending the kavod of the Torah then they would find ways to be mekarev Jews by acting with derech eretz. The demonstration tonight was a travesty and an embarrassment and will be plastered on every media page of the world. Please make this nightmare stop!

  9. #4 and #5 – if the person is acting according to Daas Torah (which is the asumption of everyone who is accusing the “Hareidim” of being behind the attacks), either they would be announcing it proudly, or the Hilonim would have announced it.

    Remember the most of the media in Israel is viciously antagonistic to Orthodox Judaism in general, and to Hareidim in particular. If there was a Rav (or Rebbe) behind the attacked, it would be a banner headline.

    Second, remember that Israel is a “police state” in which the police and and do use various investigative techniques that would not be allowed in the United States (informers, agents provacteurs, wiretaps, “torture”, etc.). Being a country in a perpectual state of war does lead to very effective police. If there was a “Beis Din” behind the attacks, the police, who are not known for their love of Hareidim, would have announced it and made arrests.

    Which leads me to feel we are dealing with some punks who are in way interested in Daas Torah or couldn’t care less what their family’s rabbanim think.

  10. Thank you for this story, so important for us to read this now.

    The story of so called charedi children dressed up with concentration camp uniforms or gold stars is to upsetting for words, we are all Jews, whatever our disagreements, to invoke the grotesque images of Nazi torture is outrageous. Reading your article puts things in perspective and reminds us of what truly righteous rabbonim thought.

  11. Rabbi Eisenman as usual will find every opportunity to be “dan lkav zechus” and exhibit “Ahavas Yisroel”, and thank you.

    The events in Bet Shemesh are not at all connected to non religious or male/female mingling yet rather a Dati Leumi school called Orot that educates girls from Gan to Kitah Vov (5 to 12 year olds). The extremists and many others in the community want this piece of property and control over the area — this has nothing to do with Purity of Modesty, Holiness of Toras Moshe or anything else religious. The bottom line is MONEY, CONTROL and POWER.