Yesterday, a woman collapsed on a plane from New York to Fort Lauderdale and a Hasidic Jewish man was the one to step in and help save her. In the article though, there was no mention of the fact that he was Hasidic. He was called “a man” in one outlet and “a man wearing blue gloves” in another. If this were a disparaging article about the same man, you better believe that his Hasidic identity would have been noted. Also yesterday, a Hasidic man was accused of trying to kidnap a boy in a synagogue (community members are explaining that a security camera shows there was a misunderstanding). In any event, the NYPost managed to make a Hasidic reference in the article by commenting on the Leiby Kletzky case.
See, this is not the only time that traditional media has had a double standard in their treatment of the religious Jewish community compared to how they report on other marginalized groups. Other marginalized groups often do not have their identity revealed in any way, see recent example of Brooklyn subway shooter with no racial description here and only called “dark skinned” here (scroll down to when he’s first caught and still at large). Or an Asian shooter in California, who has no mention of his ethnic identity mentioned here.
However, there is a tendency for news outlets to call the community “Orthodox Jews” or “ultra-Orthodox Jews” when they do something illegal or abhorrent, yet when they do something praiseworthy and exemplary, their religious affiliation is left out. There are countless examples of this, but here are just a few:
On Oct 8, 2013, the Daily News reported, “An ex-employee of a Brooklyn health care company says he was sexually harassed and abused by a top male executive who is an Orthodox Jew.” (Americare boss loved hookers, drugs and gambling, according to ex-employee’s suit). On January 5, 2014, The NYPost reported that “slumlord” Menachem Stark was murdered, noting that he was Hasidic. (Slain slumlord found in trash has enemies list a mile long). In May 2016, the New York Times, when discussing the sentencing of ex-New York Assembly Speaker, Sheldon Silver, mentioned that Mr. Silver is an Orthodox Jew. (Sheldon Silver, Ex-New York Assembly Speaker, Gets 12 Year Sentence). On Nov 1, 2017, Politico reported on the Jonah Rechnitz case, calling Rechnitz a 34-year-old Orthodox Jewish real estate investor from Los Angeles. (Rechnitz admits to a string of falsehoods, including doctoring emails from de Blasio). And finally, in the Lakewood New Jersey defrauding scandal of 2018, every single news outlet made sure to note that the individuals arrested were “ultra-Orthodox Jews.”
And of course there is the recent dozen articles from the New York Times on the Hasidic community of Brooklyn, in only a few months, all very explicitly naming Hasidic Jews.
Our organization has also tracked countless examples of Orthodoxy being left out when the story is a positive one. On September 9, 2012, TMZ mentioned America’s Got Talent star Edon Pinchot and noted that he’s Jewish, but failed to mention what type of Jewish he is. (‘AMERICA’S GOT TALENT’ STAR Yarmulke Store Honors ‘Jewish Justin Bieber’). On November 11, 2013, Mashable told the incredible story of a man who found $98,000 in a used desk he bought which he returned to the owner, but never mentioned that this man is “ultra-Orthodox.” (Man Returns $98,000 He Found in Desk Purchased on Craigslist). On February 7, 2017, People Magazine wrote about the YouTube sensations, The Maccabeats. Despite the fact that they are Orthodox, People only called them “Jewish.” (10 Hilarious Parodies of Grammy-Nominated Songs). On April 2, 2019 Eye Witness News reported that Tuli Abraham helped save a man from jumping off the Verrazano Bridge, yet didn’t mention that he is an ultra-Orthodox. (Driver, police pull back man trying to jump off Verrazano-Narrows Bridge).
If Orthodox Jews are only known for committing the most heinous acts against humanity and rarely shown to be adding goodness to the world, it is very easy to other them and dehumanize them. I have no idea how many Asian pedophiles there are in the New York area or how many Hispanics defrauded the government in the last few years because stories are never reported like that. Other than the Catholic Church abuse story, I rarely see ethnic or religious groups cited when a scandal is described – even assailants at large – like this recent shooting . I just see individuals. Yet somehow when Orthodox Jews do bad things, they are mentioned as part of their larger community. The shortcomings of some (and we must vigorously call them out whenever they occur), open up the window not only for violence but justification for violence as well.
When Jersey City school board member, Joan Terrell-Paige, wanted to explain how murdering Hasidic Jews in her town was understandable, she ranted in a Facebook post about rabbis who trafficked human organs. It didn’t matter that the scandal she was referring to was from a decade earlier or that the people involved in that matter had nothing to do with the Jews of Jersey City. To Terrell-Paige a mistake by one set of visible Jews was enough to justify killing another set of them. The Facebook page of the Passaic chapter of the NAACP recently also used a scandal (the Lakewood defrauding one) to justify why violence against Jews in different times and places is OK.
In 2007, I founded this organization, Jew in the City, with the mission of challenging people’s negative perceptions of Orthodox Jews. Our organization has been tracking news stories for years, only to see countless examples of this bias. (No formal study has ever been conducted on the subject, but we plan to commission one soon with a leading academic media group in conjunction with the launching of our Hollywood Bureau, which is advocating for better treatment of Jews in media.)
A friend of mine, who is a proud Reform Jew, told me a few years ago that the spike in anti-semitic attacks against members of the Orthodox Jewish community had her so concerned that one day, when she passed a Hasidic man walking down the street, she thought to herself, “I hope he gets home safely.” She admitted after that though, that before a recent wave of violence at that time, she would have thought, “I bet he hates women.”
My friend doesn’t personally know any Hasidic men, so the fact that she assumed this passerby was a misogynist is surprising, especially since she is against prejudicial thinking. My friend’s double standard is just one example of a disturbing trend that exists among otherwise open-minded people when it comes to how they view the Orthodox, and I know a major source of the problem.
I too was raised with a revulsion towards religious Jews, despite being against bigotry and despite not knowing any of them. As I became observant in my teens, my family and friends (none of whom personally knew religious Jews) did all they could to dissuade me from “ruining my life” even though they all espoused the idea of people making self-actualized choices.
If so few secular Jews and non-Jews have personal knowledge of Orthodox Jews, why do so many dislike them? I believe the media has been complicit in promulgating negativity about Orthodox Jews with biased news reporting for years (and fictional storytelling) and that there is a connection between slanted reporting, which leads to the dehumanization of a population, and the uptick in attacks we’re seeing
So what is the answer in news media? Reporters need to know the community better before they report on them, so they confront the prejudices they hold. Plus, there should be a standard across the board — all stories (for any minority) should include the group the individual comes from or should not. This, of course, will not end antisemitism, but it could hopefully create a few more allies for the Orthodox Jewish community and possibly prevent creating more enemies.
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