By Rabbi Issamar Ginzberg
Who would have guessed that Anti-Semitism could lurk in the allegedly autobiographical words of a young Jewish woman? But they have, in the memoir of Deborah Feldman and the stories she tells about growing up Satmar.
I don’t think that Feldman meant to create this monster, yet the intentions, for good or bad, cannot stop the destruction this creation is causing. Many in our community say we should let it slide, to ignore it because it will go away in a few weeks and is not worth giving a platform to. I vehemently disagree. I think if we don’t address this lie we are no better than Ms. Feldman because we allow a lie to spread.
If we allow a New York Times bestseller filled with half-truths, untruths and outright lies to be the uncontested representation of the truth of our lifestyle and a butchery of Halacha, we are doing ourselves a disservice of the highest proportion. The wicked Joseph Goebbels, The Nazi minister of propaganda, used to repeat Hitler’s “Big Lie,” which paraphrased over time simply says, “If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it.”
While we ignore Uncensored, and encourage those in our community to ignore it, and say, “Why don’t you let it slide into oblivion?” the big lie is repeated and repeated and repeated. Yes. Obviously even negative PR plays into the hands of such a book, because any controversy is good for book sales. But by not contesting the truth and speaking out, a larger evil grows-that of the “Big Lie.”
As of today “Unorthodox” is a New York Times best seller, and I’m not surprised. It’s a book about us, about religious Jews, with our Yarmulkes and traditional dress, our religiously protective and seemingly mysterious lifestyle. We do seem somewhat mysterious to the general population. Because they don’t know the truth, they depend on whatever crumbs of information comes their way. Many of those reading this book already think we are all extremely wealthy. They whisper all kinds of rumors about how we conduct our personal lives, what we believe, how we live-all based on the stories of a young girl who admits she hated, refused and resented everything about her faith, her people and her community. To look for her to deliver a fair and balanced perspective of Orthodox Judaism is to expect an atheist to describe Christianity.
This is not like “kosher yoshke” or another book that we might not like but which doesn’t directly impact you and I. This is a direct attack on who we are, on the Torah, and on all that we hold dear.
I do not doubt that Ms. Feldman grew up in a tremendously difficult environment. I do not contest the fact that her decisions and her perceptions in life are hers to make. We must all live with the consequences of our decisions and now it is time for her to understand how her actions have affected all Jews.
I am not attacking Ms. Feldman. I am championing truth. Look around and see how you and your family’s beautiful and kosher lifestyle are being put into the average American’s consciousness in the most degrading way. If left unchecked, that image of you will change the way practically every non-Jew you come across will perceive you. Is that what you want?
I don’t know how I ended up being the person to write this; I’m no great scholar. But someone has to step up to the plate-to take a stand. This is not the time to be reticent.
It was during the lifetime of many of us, or our parents that the first sparks of hatred against Judaism flickered in the darkness-fanned by perceptions, rumors and gossip that the Jews were a super evil and backward cult, both in Europe and in the United States. The coals of the fires of Anti-Semitism have been banked since WWII, but they have never been extinguished. Those who fanned the flames of hatred against the Jews half a century ago, can quickly fan the flames again, intentionally or not.
There are enough well written pieces and reviews about the book and how its author wrote a compelling work of fiction that we should be worried. Uncensored gives a platform to those who envision orthodox Jews with the same paintbrush that allowed the perception of Jews as evil and subhuman “untermentchen”. Last time this happened, Hitler herded into the camps and the ovens in Germany and Poland. I am not over reacting.
All mighty oaks grow from small acorns. A liberal media, and a world of readers hungry for criticism of orthodox Jews are watering the acorn this young woman has planted. The well-written and positive reviews of this book are fertilizing an idea, a perception, a fear and a hatred of Jews among nations who do not know us.
This is WHY we need to not bury our heads in the sand and wait for this to just go away. We need to come out and forcefully say, “This is not us at all.” It would be even better if Simon and Schuster sees the hullabaloo and call her bluff. If publishers could see that this book is her fictionalized anthology of every camp story she ever heard, along with some salt and pepper added for taste and shock value, perhaps they could see that she is destroying their credibility. The public trusts publishing houses to print the truth as truth and fiction as fiction.
If you and I don’t respond by saying (pick yours) “I’m not Satmar, I’m not Chassidic. I’m not Charedi. I’m not Jewish, this doesn’t talk about ME!” then let me assure you, the only mark you are making is a mark in the sand that will get washed away the next time the tide comes in.
Anti-Semitism is on the rise. The economy is bad. When people don’t have money to spread around they are forced to face the reality of their situation. They create realities for themselves based on the lies of others and of their own fears.
This book has been prepared for publication for a while. Like popcorn, these types of stories and books used to pop once in awhile, and then be forgotten about and become silent. In today’s political and economic climate, the popping is not going away.
The sounds of Anti-Semitic stories are being heard more often. The outside world is interested in these stories, and not in a positive way, but in a way they can use to justify hatred, discrimination and attacks upon our faith. With the rise of blogs in which many unhappy (or happy but bored) individuals can share their thoughts, most bloggers understand that unless they post something unusual and attention grabbing, like Ms. Feldman, their aspirations of fame will remain unmet.
They therefore blog, making sure to take a grain of truth (if that) and fabricate an entire story out of it. They then say, with a total straight face, that their fabrication is true, whether it is or not.
When these blogs do take off, the blogger is under increasing pressure to create even more content with even greater shock value. It is the shock value that keeps the readers reading, the media reporting and the comment cravings satisfied. It’s how the “Big Lie” gets spread. Say it often enough, say it in enough places, have people who are seen as credible and responsible say it on enough blogs, or on the news and have it go uncontested and pretty soon, it becomes truth to those who don’t seek the truth.
I for one, want to be seen and respected for my choices in life. How about you?
Rabbi Issamar Ginzberg is an award winning entrepreneur, business adviser, and public speaker. Often quoted in the news for his business expertise, Issamar advises businesses across the world on marketing and business strategy. A scion of multiple Chassidic dynasties and descending from a long line of rabbis, Rabbi Ginzberg straddles the fence of being a member of the insulated Chassidic world and being a public face of a Chassid in the business world. A frequent speaker, Rabbi Issamar has presented at Google, ITA, Kishor, Ohr Somayach, and other locations around the world to audiences of all stripes. He has been featured in Entrepreneur, Fox Business, CNBC, Israel’s Channel One, Mishpacha Magazine, and hundreds of other media publications- all while studying mornings in a Yeshiva and helping to run a Chassidic family. He can be reached at Issamar@issamar.com or via his website at http://www.issamar.com