Earlier this week, in Howell, New Jersey, a four month old baby girl was left in a parked car in 90 degree weather with the windows rolled up, while her mother shopped in Kohl’s with her other children. Thankfully, two good Samaritans heard the wailing child, shattered the car’s window, and rescued her. The mother, who was clearly dressed in Orthodox-attire and hails from Lakewood, New Jersey, was arrested when she returned to her car.
A picture and description of the event was posted on the News12NJ Facebook page by one of their fans with a demand that the story be covered, noting that the family shouldn’t get any “special treatment.” From there, the comments (over 1400!) erupted into a slew of anti-Semitic and anti-Orthodox vitriol.
“I’m going to make a petition to pour light onto the messed up things HASIDIC JEWS get away with. It’s foul and inhumane!” wrote one commenter. (By the way, the mother, living in Lakewood, almost certainly is not Hasidic.)
Another one then said: “I guarantee there are very few baby boys left in cars in that community.” Little does she know that religious Jewish children grow up learning about how when Pharaoh decreed that all the Jewish baby boys be thrown into the Nile and Moses’ father, Amram, who was the leader of the community, told the couples to separate so babies would stop being born altogether, his young daughter Miriam corrected him. She explained that while Pharaoh’s decree would only kill the boys, her father’s decree would stop the girls from being born too (whereby Amram followed his young daughter’s advice and told couples to reunite).
And then of course, there were the comments that were straight out conspiracy theories, evocative of good old-fashioned blood libels, though this time, the dead kids were Jewish ones: “I absolutely know that there are probably hundreds of children being killed this way on [sic.] that community and no one knows because they keep that under wraps. It’s disgusting.” (P.S. The highest rates of heatstroke deaths in children actually take place in the South.)
Some people tried to fight back, but one woman, named Lisa Bertone, went one step further and contacted us. She wrote “I am Catholic, but grew up in Boro Park and have very near and dear friends in the Orthodox community…I am writing to you because there are a series of disturbing threads on Facebook if you go to the News12NJ and see the story about a baby left in a car in Howell, the mom who is Orthodox was arrested, the comments that follow are nothing short of disturbing…how can all these misconceptions and lies be stopped somehow?
The problem is they can’t. Anti-Semitism, has always existed as we are told in the Talmud that Har Sinai (Mt. Sinai) is connected to the word sinah (hate) because that is the root of where the hatred began. So to some extent, anti-Semitism will continue, even as it defies logic. At the same time, I am a BIG believer in the power of kiddush Hashem, in the power of living up to Torah ideals. Because the Orthodox Jews who did this changed Lisa Bertone’s life.
The daughter of an Italian immigrant, Lisa said the Boro Park neighborhood she lived in during the 1960’s-80’s had Orthodox Jewish and Catholic Italian families living interspersed with true camaraderie. “We took care of each other,” she explained. “My father loved building sukkahs, and I remember thinking they were the coolest club houses I ever saw.”
Lisa’s childhood and teenage years weren’t her only exposure to Orthodox Jews. For the last half dozen years, she’s been working with Orthodox Jewish women (she works in education) who live in Lakewood, Highland Park, and Springfield New Jersey, and Lisa gushes about them as she describes her special friends.
“These women are so down to earth,” she begins, “and they are sincerely caring people, meaning, if someone is having a bad day, they truly care about someone else’s pain.” But they’re not just nice, Lisa said they have fun at work, play practical jokes and their families have embraced her too.
Orthodox Jews should get the same treatment from law enforcement and CPS as anyone else who leaves a baby in a car and anywhere that Orthodox parents are being neglectful or irresponsible with their children, we must speak out against that in the strongest of terms. But they should also get the same treatment from commenters on the internet. While it was difficult to read through the hundreds of anti-Semitic comments that Lisa brought my attention to, I can’t help but feel tremendously grateful to the Orthodox Jews who treated Lisa so kindly that she has become a lifelong advocate for our community. May our actions merit many more loyal friends like her.