MAILBAG: The Thunderous Silence of Secular Jews Is Deafening

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In the tragic crush in Meron last week, which claimed the lives of 45 people in Israel’s largest civilian disaster in history, the Jewish people were thrust into a deep mourning in a single horrific instant. We were glued to the news coming in, devastated, and praying that the human toll be mitigated.

We entered Shabbos with the heaviest of hearts. We spent Shabbos strengthening each other and our families as [with Shabbos’s limitations] that’s all we had. No answers. No culprit that can be pointed to, to take out our anger, like in mass casualty crimes. Just devastating, inexplicable loss.

On Saturday night I resumed mining the media, hoping for help in making sense of it all. Hoping to find comfort of sorts. Rummaging through the social media posts, it didn’t dawn upon me immediately that the grief was sectarian, relegated to the Orthodox community.

I ventured into the videos that were posted onto Youtube about the tragedy. One of the videos that came up was a non-orthodox Shabbos service from the previous night (Friday evening). I watched it (albeit in high speed with the user-friendly forward option) hoping to gain some comfort from the solidarity of our brethren in the more secular Jewish movements. It was with shock that I concluded viewing the service with not a word uttered about the tragic events in Meron. All business as usual. Certain it was an outlier service, I viewed a video from another congregation. No luck. And then a third….

I was stunned. I had not the heart nor the time to view any more. The apathy and indifference was deeply searing. Curious to see the written word, I turned to the Reform Movement’s website. Nothing. Then to the Conservative Judaism’s website. Also nothing about the tragedy.

In a hunt in this sea of silence, I did succeed in finding some formal communal letters and casual tweets acknowledging this calamity. However, the overwhelming silence spoke louder than words. It felt even more profound than apathy. It felt like a visceral derision of the Chareidi community. As if to say, this happened to the Chareidim, we have nothing to do with them. Not my people, not my business, not my tragedy.

I hate to compare and contrast tragedy… but, in Pittsburgh, the overwhelming response in the Orthodox world was one of shared pain. Very appropriately so.

The lack of leadership by the Reform and Conservative Rabbinate truly saddened me. I know our differences are many. But even Israel’s hostile neighbors seemed to offer us more consolation. The tradition is that even active enemies set aside differences when there are disasters. But the pain of indifference coming from fellow members of Am Yisroel, amidst our deepest sorrow, came as a shock to me. Is the chasm from one Jew to another too wide to bridge? I was sure that if anything could unite us, it would be in tragedy. Tragedy would certainly serve as a catalyst of unity. Of transcending our differences.

These words are shared with a heavy heart. And prayers for a brighter and more tolerant tomorrow.

Max Gordon – New York

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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54 COMMENTS

  1. This article is loaded with lies and inaccuracies. ill point out one “I hate to compare and contrast tragedy… but, in Pittsburgh, the overwhelming response in the Orthodox world was one of shared pain. Very appropriately so.”

    Should I remind you what was the response? Whom did a rabbi blame? something with marriage styles.

    You are trying to create a fight that is non-existent. The general response was highly appropriate and emphatathic.

  2. What is the goal of this article? To sow more division?
    I suspect that writer forgot that it’s almost always as in this case as well that the chareidim wish to further deepen the chasm separating Jews from each other.

    We are the community best known for Machlokes, it’s time we change that.

  3. There are a number of reasons that could explain this.
    Reform Jews consider themselves to be “normal” and Torah Jews to be…odd.

    Also, chazal tell us that the hatred of an am haAretz to a talmid chacham is greater than that of a goy to a Jew.

    So, considering that all these groups know what Torah is the real Judaism and, liHavdil, their version of Judaism is bogus, by acknowledging any sort of sympathy to frum Jews, they are conveying to both the world and to themselves how worthless is their fake “Judaism”.

  4. So much for unity – it appears you’re no better then them. Accept that not everyone is going to unite – but you should go out and still unite with them…

  5. Such Sinas Chinam!! What are you looking for? Do we really need to add to our nations tragedies by creating more conflict between brothers? Is this what you think Hashem wants from us? A terrible mistake for Yeshiva World News editor to approve this article.

  6. Be the change you want to see in the world. Reach out to your secular brethren and let them know they count and you’ll find they’re receptive to your needs and causes. If you shun and look down on them, don’t be surprised when they’re unsympathetic to tragedies that befall the community.

  7. I went to be menachem avel at one of the families that lost 2 children whom I knew very well. I was amazed and deeply moved to see a number of secular Jews that have nothing to do with the family coming in to pay their respects and to sympathize with the grieving family. They came for one reason: to sit and show compassion for a fellow Jew who is in pain. And the father of the boys told us that tens of secular Jews come in every day of the shiva to share the pain and show their compassion. Many of these people go through the whole list of the 45 niftarim and go to each house one after the other of people that they have never met and do not have any affiliation with. Because we are one nation. We are brothers. And it’s time to tear down the barriers of hate and realize that deep down, behind the erected walls of harsh words and very real differences, we all love each other very much.

  8. יגעת ולא מצאת אל תאמין
    https://www.kveller.com/my-son-was-at-the-mount-meron-disaster/
    https://www.jta.org/2021/05/03/opinion/my-son-was-at-the-mount-meron-disaster

    The non-frum community is much more fragmented than ours, much more disconnected from Jewish news than ours and much less attuned to Jewish affairs than ours. That is a tragedy in and of itself but it is unfair to attribute the more muted response to this tragedy to callousness.

  9. I would point out that in Israel, the secular society did show large outpouring of grief. Even soccer players.

  10. I think what you wrote is completely off base and just plain wrong

    Chayalot ran to the mountain to treat the wounded only to be threatened and pushed out

    There were lines of jews all over israel waiting to give blood.

    No jew wants to see a tragedy happen to another jew.

    This is a political firestorm. For years the secular community has raised the concern and were overwritten by the powers/rabbis that be. Even Deri right up until the event was pushing for less restrictions.

    Covid or otherwise it makes no sense to jam 90,000 people into an area of 10,000.

    The vaccine only has a 94-95% success rate. That means 5-6 % will get or could get covid even after receiving the vaccine. How many of those can die from it? Common sense would mean protecting fellow jews and keeping distance. Deri disagrees with basic math and science.

    Your article is insulting to fellow jews who dress differently but still believe in the same g-d you do.

  11. a few points in all fairness
    1. does letters or public statements from organazations mean much to anybody
    2. the tragedy is so huge & compounded in so many ways ..( my head has been spinning since thurs eve. trying to really mourn & i didnt go online until this morning not wanting to get sidetracked with details & polotics.
    3. does sympathy from the president or ministers of the world soothe anybody?
    4 do you expect the irreligious to comprehend what reb shimon means, or the spiritual feelings of miron , we are on a diff. planet .. kvetching to the world why someone doesnt care is missing the point
    5 now is a time to mourn, do something real for the 18 almonos & recommit to use the time we have on this world properly

  12. Please dear friend

    It’s time to awaken from the mind identified state of consciousness.

    Unconsciousness is everywhere , in the medis on the streets, in marriages.

    Be present with yourself and see there is a whole world of sheer beauty and freedom beyond your thinking analytical, judgemental ,egoic mind

  13. Robbosai, this headline is motsi shem rah! Want to hear about what “secular” Jews did? How about the hundreds of people lining up to donate blood for an entire day in Tell Aviv? The news broadcasts all across israel? The Prime Minister declaring a day of mourning and the “secular” radio stations playing Al Eilah Ani Bochiya? The hundreds of Hatzalah volunteers from all walks of life who dropped everything and ran to support? The Yedidim volunteers of all walks of life? The countless shekels donated? The United Hatzalah campaign that raised massive amounts from all types of people and all types of Jews across the world?

    At times like this, how can we see the divisions? Nobody is EY did. And I don’t know a single “secular” Jew in america who was not shaken. I got so many messages asking if we were ok, if there was anything they could do, where they could donate.

    Am Yisrael cares. And this headline misses the entire point.

  14. Give me a break. When I read this piece it seemed as if the author was looking for groups to accuse of contempt for Charedi based on their silence. It’s like a black person calling a white homeowner a racist because of not having a BLM flag on his lawn, following the George Floyd tragedy.

    It’s also possible groups deliberately chose to be silent because there’s always someone waiting to attack their words, no matter how sensitive they are.

    Yes it was a horrible tragedy for all Jews. But there’s no need to magnify our victimhood by calling out how others missed an opportunity to respond.

    For what it’s worth, the progressive Jewish Forward website provided sensitive coverage.

    Finally, do a search on “With sadness I express my sympathy to the people of Israel for the accident which took place last Friday on Mount Meron, killing 45 people and injuring many. I assure you of my remembrance in prayer for the victims of this tragedy and for their families.”

  15. Why did he expect any different from reform or conservative with their women ‘rabbis’ . In all ways they do not behave as Jews, or resemble Jews. In a nutshell, they are not Jews.

  16. I generally agree with the overall sentiment here, but as someone with many friends and colleagues in the more secular world and cursory exposure to those movements, I think the author is not capturing the unfortunate vast lack of knowledge, understanding, current events, and general dialogue about most things going on in Israel — good or bad. Even more so when it pertains to Orthodox or Ultra-Orthodox, who are “others,”: best case not thought about and worst case misunderstood. Add that this was a “minor” holiday/celebration/custom, where there is a tremendous lack of understanding, too. Anyone who caught headlines in the New York Times probably thought it was awful and no different from an Earthquake in Peru, almost as foreign. Put this all together and I think it explains the relatively minimal support or conversation quite well.

  17. Very well written, and the comparison to the Pittsburgh tragedy is very on target.

    Sadly; the Reform and Conservative communities may have forgotten they are Jews.

    So yes- Not my people, not my business, not my tragedy. They have lost their way entirely.

    My guess; they probably have more to say when a black robbing an elderly woman is shot by police officers after pointing a gun at them. Sad world we live in.

  18. A large percentage of them aren’t Jewish Al Pi Halacha, do you expect them to cry with you? Look to your fellow Jews for comfort.

  19. I’m sorry, but who cares? Why are we being divisive for no reason….. did we not take any lessons from the tragedy? Hashem will take care of them in the way He sees that they deserve it, and if they want to ignore it then that’s their problem. Not ours to create greater divides between am yisroel.

  20. I must admit that the Times of Israel did report a lot about this tragedy. They really discussed it. Let us give credit where credit is due. They really were not silent.

  21. I read Mr. Gordon’s letter and did not know whether to laugh or … not laugh. Many frum Jews have such overt and unwarranted antagonism and contempt for their less observant fellow Jews that I am surprised that anyone expected or even wanted an explicit response to the tragedy at Meron from the less observant (or, perhaps, the not yet observant) members of Am Yisrael. What antagonism and contempt am I talking about? Consider:

    – use of quotes in the phrase “Reform ‘Rabbi’ “;
    – the insistence of some frum Jews that the non-observant Jews are not worthy of the term “Jew”;
    – the contempt for prominent Jews, e.g., George Soros, who are benefactors of liberal causes and political interests, particularly when compared to the forgiveness extended to frum Jews who have committed serious chillulim Hashem, e.g. Jonathan Pollard or Sholom Rubashkin. (Just to be clear, Rubashkin’s sentence was extremely excessive, but his crimes were serious and his convictions were valid.)
    – the frum comparisons of Israeli police to Nazis;
    – the mishuganah belief that Torah requires US Jews to be politically conservative and vote only for Republicans, including a supporter of antisemites like Donald Trump.

    There were few, if any, non-frum Jews at the Meron event, and there is so little contact between frum and non-frum Jews that there are probably very few non-frum Jews who know of or have family members who suffered death or injury at the event. That would explain why non-frum Jews have not “reached out” to the strangers who are frum and have suffered a loss from the Meron event. Israeli police and other governmental authorities, and any thoughtful frum Jew who was familiar with the Meron events of prior years, knew that part of the problem and risk of the Meron event was overcrowding. Any Israeli public official who considered saying as much – or should have said as much – held back in part because he/she did not want to be labeled as anti-frum or antisemitic.

    So, Mr. Gordon, if you want or expect sympathy or rachmones from non-observant Jews, you can start by showing a little more chesed.

  22. why do we frum jews always look at what others are doing or not doing?
    do you think this is what hashem wants us to take out of this tragedy, whether our not yet frum brothers are on the same page as us as far as the tragedy? this directly affects us specifically as their were none not yet frum brothers who were their so it really is so out of place to castigate and musser others why they havent mentioned anything about the tragedy. we dont need anyones validation of the tragedy to know hashem is talking to us and wants us to better ourselves
    and not look out at what others are doing about OUR TRAGEDY

  23. Thank you Max for turning a golden opportunity into something divisive and hateful.
    I have no doubt that these were the exact feelings HKBH wanted us to have after this tragedy.
    Tell me, Max, did you once point the finger at yourself and ask how you could grow from this? I doubt it. You know why? Because people who are too focused on how others react usually can’t focus on themselves.
    In Israel, where I live, the non religious neighbors are walking around in the same daze as the religious ones. People are shocked.
    But max, you continue looking at what you “want” to find as opposed to what you “should” be finding.
    May HKBH grant you a refuas hanefesh.

  24. In Tel Aviv, the secular turnout to donate blood was overwhelming. It was beautiful to see עם ישראל come together.

  25. Ever since the Talmidei Chasam Sofer kicked them out from Klal Yisroel they are considered Goyim. That explains their indifference You don’t hear the French or the Italians offering any sympathy, these are the same.

  26. I dont understand this article..
    Who are you looking for sympathy from?are you expecting the people who you call nazi at protests every day to love you?

    Are you really waiting for condolences from the people all of the land who you constantly annoy by blocking roads and highways not letting them get to work etc.?
    99 percent of the time a chareidi is on camera is a chilul hashem misoif huoilom v’ad soifoi! This is what they see night and day and u can’t understand why they are ignoring us..

    No the negative media is not at fault ..we are! They are tinokes shenishbu who never learned Mesilas yesharim and know nothing about working on midos, but we do and yet we behave like ungrateful kefiyai Tovah..

    Simple psychology and common sense is what we don’t have..
    Get thousands of kids and bocherim at the next protest and mobilize them to start shouting instead of nazi “tzadikim! Achim shelanu! Anachnu ohavim etched! And I bet you right here and now that not only will a single member of the security forces not raise their hand towards another yid , but instead the entire country will slowly be engulfed in a wave of love ,teshuvah, and understanding thereby moving all of us towards the geulah..

  27. While they are nebuch apikorsim, Reform and Conservative are not technically secular. They supposedly have religion, though we don’t recognize it as such. But your taanos about why they didn’t mention the Meiron tragedy are good taanos.

  28. It’s true that they should be more verbal about their grief. I don’t see social media and websites being a way to properly judge the way they feel. Silence is not necessarily a sign of apathy. If it bothers you this much you should reach out to them.

  29. Very well written and very good point, however if this tragedy would have fallen on a Reform group how many Frum Fabonnim would reach out to them?

  30. Really the charedi community shows solidarity when something happens outside their community, who are you kidding, when a terrorist attack in tel aviv occured they didnt blame it on chilul shabbas who are you kidding

  31. First, I think the author is incorrect and there were many expressions of sadness and sympathy in the non-frum community Also, Aa some point, after a year of countless episodes of Chareidim deliberately ignoring all the rules and guidelines of the public safety authorities regarding crowds, masks etc. I suspect that a tragedy like this triggers involuntary feelings of “it was inevitable” etc. Rather than make some stupid comments, blaming the victims, etc. the “silence” in some circles may have been the best course of action.

  32. Please people!

    Wake up

    Stop this ego fighting ego thing
    We are all expressions of divine beings and we need to stop paying attention to our egos. That thinking analytical voice in our heads that is driving most of the world today insane and is the reason that millions in the western world are taking psychiatric drugs tho “heal themselves”

  33. It is a trying time for Jews, all Jews. I’m sure that the authors grief has kept his google from functioning.
    May ALL mourners be comforted.

  34. Haha if a conservative or reform Jew took as much time to see what the frum were up to as you did, we would consider him frum.

    ….are you conservative or reform?

  35. I have a few comments to make:

    1) DUH, are you surprised? Why should reform Jews care? To them, we’re the ultra orthodox fanatics who didnt adhere to covid rules etc etc. They don’t care.
    2) The situation in Israel is very different. People from all walks of life including many secular people have been going from shiva house to shiva house to cry with the aveilim. The entire Israel is in mourning. It’s very b’achdus’dig….

  36. I don’t think the seculars are silent. I read the Jpost and on the comments there is a lot of negativity and gloating about the deaths of the charadim. They seemed to enjoy our agony.

    I recommend people to read the Jpost and see the nasty comments from the seculars. They were NOT Quiet, they were out right nasty!

  37. The response from secular Jews has been many times more compassionate than our response to Pittshburgh.
    More than that, even in the midst of our own tragedy, somehow our leaders managed to abuse and insult the ‘secular’ Prime Minister of Israel.
    Wake up man.

  38. My brother, who is secular, texted me to to express his condolences, knowing I belong to the frum community. Please don’t stereotype Jews. That’s the last thing Hashem wants from us.

  39. I think the writer is correct to the extent that American Jews no longer see themselves as part of a larger Jewish nation because, for the most part, American Jews no longer see themselves as Jews. Like a husband in denial whose wife ran off with another man, it is now up to us who remain in the faith to accept the plain fact that American Jews are no longer really Jewish. Other than the orthodox and very, very few others sprinkled here and there, the overwhelming majority of people who call themselves Jewish are not even halachaclly jewish and they certain have no chelek in our nation and in our Torah. We need to stop seeing them as Jews.