Friday, July 17, 2009

Haredi intifada


Gevalt!


An innocent and devoted mother sits in jail because Zionist authorities want to make an example of her to intimidate God-fearing haredim struggling to preserve the sanctity of Jerusalem. The trumped-up charge that keeps this selfless (pregnant) lady behind bars is that for two years she starved her little boy almost to death.

They claim she is suffering from a psychiatric disorder, Munchausen syndrome-by-proxy, which caused her to harm her son to win attention for herself. What nonsense! Everyone knows she is perfectly normal.

Why isn't the media reporting the truth? The child suffered from cancer and had undergone chemotherapy. The doctors told his mother not to allow him food by mouth - which is why the three-year-old became so emaciated, requiring multiple hospitalizations, and ended up weighing seven kilograms. Everyone in the Hadassah oncology department knows this to be true; they saw how she stayed with the child from early morning until late at night.

Then one day she said something that offended some big-shot doctor, because they were doing experiments on the child. Naturally, our community is in an uproar over her unjust arrest…


THIS IS a composite of the conspiracy theories circulating not just on the streets of Mea She'arim and Ramat Beit Shemesh, where the extremist, anti-Zionist Toldot Aharon hassidic sect - to which the troubled family adheres - and its fanatical Naturei Karta allies hold sway, but also in other ultra-Orthodox areas such as Jerusalem's Har Nof, where denizens lead considerably less insular lives. There is sympathy in the wider haredi world for the grievances of the rioters, who have vandalized traffic lights, burned garbage dumpsters and thrown projectiles at police, city workers and passing vehicles.

Haredi women have conducted special prayer meetings for the mother's release. Hassidic politicos have denounced as "collective punishment" Mayor Nir Barkat's decision to suspend municipal services in the affected areas after city social services and sanitation workers came under attack. (Only Lithuanian haredi rabbis have urged their followers not to participate in the rioting.)

For the record, Dr. Yair Birnbaum, deputy director of Hadassah hospital, has confirmed that the abused child never had cancer, and was never treated with chemotherapy. Also that since the boy's separation from his mother, he has been gaining weight and his physical condition has improved.

THAT THE haredi world - particularly Ashkenazi hassidim - finds it enormously difficult to grapple with child, sexual and spousal abuse comes to light when community members turn to the state for vital medical and social services. That's how we learned about Rabbi Elior Chen, who instructed a gullible mother to cleanse her child of "satanic possession." And about Yisrael Walz, who shook his son to death - that became known when the infant was brought to hospital. Some haredim, fearing the diabolical designs of Zionist authorities, say they now hesitate to take their children to hospital.

There are dysfunctional families among all strata of Israeli society. But the only stratum that reacts with collective violence when abuse is exposed is the most insular subdivision of the haredi world.

Why is such antisocial behavior tacitly countenanced by the more conventional hassidim? Because they share values which hold that men should be gainfully unemployed, women socialized to believe that the back of the bus is where God wants them, and youths reared to be clueless about the outside world.

Violence - stopping archeological digs (which might unearth Jewish graves) and protesting the opening on Shabbat of cinemas, 24/7 mini-markets, and parking garages outside their neighborhoods - has become a default, communally sanctioned response.

THIS impulse is emblematic of an alienation which, because it is ripping Israeli society apart, begs to be better understood. Haredim, like Arab citizens of Israel, want to be accepted as different, yet feel shunned.

The Kerner Commission was established to examine the causes of rioting in America's inner cities; in Britain and France, commissions have examined Muslim unrest. Here in Israel, the Orr Commission investigated Arab rioting.

Perhaps we need a state commission to tell us not only why a volatile minority of hassidic sects periodically runs amok - but also how to discourage the culture of extreme insularity that lies at the root of their self-perpetuated estrangement.

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