Powered by WebAds

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Another Ban

It's about time:
Leading rabbis and the Jerusalem Municipality have joined forces in a battle against the widespread habit of smoking in the haredi public, in light of studies indicating that the sector has the highest rate of smokers in Israeli society.

The Health Ministry and local haredi authorities will also take part in the effort.

In a campaign that will be launched Thursday, rabbis will issue halachic rulings banning smoking. The rulings will be posted on bulletin boards and buses, and published in the community's pamphlets.

The decision to launch the campaign ahead of Purim was based on the fact that during the holiday it is usually considered legitimate for children to smoke cigarettes.
As opposed to last week's screed against Jewish music concerts, this is a ban I can wholeheartedly get behind.

I lived in Israel for a time, and I will never forget the sight on Purim day of Charedi adolescents smoking cigarettes all over Jerusalem. Smooth-faced young boys were dragging away on cigarettes at every street corner. In certain Israeli Charedi circles it's almost as if allowing adolescents to smoke is one of the positive commandments of the Purim holiday - almost as widespread as the widely kept Purim "mitzvah" of drinking enough to vomit all over the sidewalk.

We can only hope a Rabbinic ban on underage drinking on Purim is soon to follow.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Quick Thoughts on the Concert Ban

Reading about the recent Jewish music concert ban and the resulting cancellation of a widely promoted upcoming Jewish music concert in Madison Square Garden made my head spin. How did this happen? I mean, I know that a similar ban had gained foothold in the Israel Charedi world - but for some reason I thought things were different here. There are also apparently members of the Israeli Charedi community who seem to find it appropriate to spray women dressed in clothing deemed inappropriate with bleach, or get violent with a woman sitting at the front of a public bus. I guess I should have paid closer attention to the warning bells going off in the back of my brain. After all, recent events have brought us a boycott over headshots of women displayed in a storefront on a main public thoroughfare, and calls for elementary school Rebbes to stop playing ball with their Talmidim - we've even graduated to rioting over in the ostensibly more mixed Charedi neighborhood of Boro Park (before you disagree, remember that in BP, as compared to the Israeli Charedi neighborhood of Bnei Brak, men and women still shop in the same stores and walk on the same side of the street, and restaraunts in BP still seat groups of men and women eating together).

But I can still admit to being shocked that views that I consider to be so extreme have started to affect my world. Do I expect a Jewish music concert ban to come to the more moderate Yeshivish/Charedi Lite segment of the Five Towns any time soon? Well, no... but I am starting to worry that the possibility might not be as implausible as it seemed just a few years ago. I know locals who had planned to take their kids to the now-canceled concert in question - their kids were (almost) as excited for the concert as the multitudes of shrieking tween girls I saw lined up in a news story about a Hannah Montana concert. I'm not suggesting that Orthodox Jews need our own version of Hannah Montana, but I am suggesting that kids need an outlet that allows them the opportunity to have some fun and let off some steam.

The Jewish Star actually reports that the text of the ban would seem to imply that all Jewish music concerts are affected - though a Rosh Yeshiva who signed the ban seems to dispute that, leaving the whole situation a bit confused:
...the text of the ban was identical to that of a ban enacted in Israel last year, which succeeded in shutting down a joint performance of Mordechai Ben David and Avrohom Fried. It included references to Israel and called for a complete end to Jewish music concerts. That made it unclear if the document was intended to apply only to the Madison Square Garden event, or if American Charedi rabbonim intended to follow the lead of Israeli colleagues and enact a sweeping prohibition against Jewish music.
In an interview with The Jewish Star, Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetzky, a rosh yeshiva in Philadelphia who signed the ban, said, “It is very general, you’re right, but I don’t think it will refer to all concerts. You have to have an outlet for kids.”
I can certainly get behind the sentiment that our kids need an outlet. It's one thing to live a lifestyle that encourages our barely pubescent kids to spend long hours in the Beit Midrash, 6 days a week. I can fully appreciate that sort of commitment to Torah study - but how can we realistically expect our kids to sign on for said lifestyle when the opportunities for getting some release via "kosher" fun get taken away, one by one? Are we entering an era where just about everything we teach our children includes the word "don't" or "can't"? Say it ain't so...

Saturday, February 09, 2008

"Lean on Me" - circa 2008?

This story likely warmed the hearts of NY Times readers:
Junior High School 22, in the South Bronx, had run through six principals in just over two years when Shimon Waronker was named the seventh.

On his first visit, in October 2004, he found a police officer arresting a student and calling for backup to handle the swelling crowd. Students roamed the hallways with abandon; in one class of 30, only 5 students had bothered to show up. “It was chaos,” Mr. Waronker recalled. “I was like, this can’t be real.”

Teachers, parents and students at the school, which is mostly Hispanic and black, were equally taken aback by the sight of their new leader: A member of the Chabad-Lubavitch sect of Hasidic Judaism with a beard, a black hat and a velvet yarmulke.

“The talk was, ‘You’re not going to believe who’s running the show,’ ” said Lisa DeBonis, now an assistant principal.

At a time when the Bloomberg administration has put principals at the center of its efforts to overhaul schools, making the search for great school leaders more pressing than ever, the tale of Mr. Waronker shows that sometimes, the most unlikely of candidates can produce surprising results.

Despite warnings from some in the school system that Mr. Waronker was a cultural mismatch for a predominantly minority school, he has outlasted his predecessors, and test scores have risen enough to earn J.H.S. 22 an A on its new school report card. The school, once on the city’s list of the 12 most dangerous, has since been removed.
So, apparently against all expectations, an identifiably Chassidic principal is able to turn around a failing school district - despite what appears to have been the skepticism of so many:
Mr. Waronker, 39, a former public school teacher, was in the first graduating class of the New York City Leadership Academy, which Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg created in 2003 to groom promising principal candidates. Considered one of the stars, he was among the last to get a job, as school officials deemed him “not a fit” in a city where the tensions between blacks and Hasidic Jews that erupted in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, in 1991 are not forgotten.

“They just said he may be terrific, but not the right person for that school,” Chancellor Klein said.
No matter how benignly expressed, I feel that the opinion that Mr. Waronker was not fit for a job due to his religious views is nothing short of veiled discrimination. The excuse that it was simply a realistic view of the situation is obviously belied by the success Waronker has seen at his post.

Even more heart-warming than the soft-peddled discrimination of school officials is the wonderful spirit of tolerance in which Mr. Waronker was accepted by some of the school's parent body:
Some parents at J.H.S. 22, also called Jordan L. Mott, were suspicious, viewing Mr. Waronker as too much an outsider. In fact, one parent, Angie Vazquez, 37, acknowledged that her upbringing had led her to wonder: “Wow, we’re going to have a Jewish person, what’s going to happen? Are the kids going to have to pay for lunch?”
Um, is this what passes as hard-hitting journalism these days? A quote that shows that there are people who feel perfectly comfortable being quoted, by name, as believing that old canard about Jews and money - while the paper asserts that such bigotry is nothing more than "suspicion" based on the woman's "upbringing"? Is there any way, shape or form that had this comment been made by an Orthodox Jew, spewing racist or discriminatory stereotypes about another minority group, that it would have been buried in the middle of the story as a perfectly reasonable "suspicion" instead of actually being the story? Perhaps some of that extreme political correctness that seems to be going around could be applied across the board? Maybe?

Either way, these two minor quibbles should not take away from the spirit of acceptance and harmony in which this story should be read. Regardless of the low expectations that appear to have been shared by so many regarding both Mr. Waronker and the students of JHS 22, they seem to have together defied the conventional wisdom in their district and achieved, in a scene out of some 2008 version of Lean on Me - starring Matisyahu instead of Morgan Freeman as the embattled but ultimately successful principal - real progress.

I wish both students and principal more of the same continued success in the future.