Viral demonization

Jews were once demonized as the community responsible for the Bubonic Plague. It would seem an historic monstrosity that today Israeli Jews seem to be blaming Haredi (ultra-orthodox) Jews in the Jewish State for the COVID 19 plague.

It is with a heavy heart that I recognize this monstrosity as a growing reality in Israel today. 

 As director of a post-graduate training program in family therapy within the Haredi community I feel responsible to post this protest against such a monstrous reality.

Haredi culture is as heterogeneous as any culture. The vast majority of Haredi groups adhere closely to both the secular law about masks, social distancing and closures and to religious dicta that require care for health. They have become the “silent” – or better invisible – majority that is ignored. There are indeed small subgroups, which I will not identify here but are known to Haredi insiders, who in principle defy both societal norms and common sense. Every society has its outliers. Witness the storming of the Capitol in Washington just the other day.

The Haredi world indeed insists upon spiritual values remote to secular understanding. Among these values are large families, and devotion to Torah study in lieu of career and money. The result is a community living with large families in small quarters. Such families generally live much more outside the physical confines of the home. The “closures” declared by the government never take into consideration how to enable such a community to best comply within very different constraints. Living in a spacious apartment with a porch is an entirely different closure than 15 people cramped into three rooms. And with large families, the likelihood of spread of the virus is increased astronomically even if everyone keeps a mask on 24/7. All studies point to home as the main focus of spread.

One might expect civil society to respond to cultural difference and particularly to differential hardship with a mixture of curiosity and compassion, something once called pluralism or multiculturalism. Not in today’s Israel. The mix of anxiety and uncertainty, always a recipe for trouble, points at the Haredi “community” (rather than communities) as the source of our troubles. “They” are now formally being demonized for all that is dangerous or discomfiting.  I fear that the government policies and the media which slavishly  gives voice to these policies stand to gain substantially by this demonization. The media increases ratings when something demonic is reported. The PM distracts everyone from his soon-to-be postponed-again court date and blames his government’s Covid-management shortcomings on the demons. The police now present themselves as victims of these demons, a sudden switch from yesterday’s oppressive fine-dispensing legions.

I will not repeat here the toxic results of demonization that I expounded in a blog years ago. One recalls the famous saying of Buddha that being angry is like taking poison and thinking your enemy will die from it. No good can possibly come to Israeli society from this wave of demonization. I suggest a paraphrase (improved, to my mind) to the catchy but useless slogan used in the days of the Gush Katif withdrawal: Jews do not demonize other Jews. One could expand it – citizens do not demonize fellow citizens. And surely an honest media and a government that serves its citizens cannot in good conscience  participate in this demonization.

 

About the Author
Alan Flashman was born in Foxborough, MA, and gained his BA from Columbia, MD from NYU, Pediatrics, Adult and Child Psychiatry specialties at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, The Bronx, NY. He has practiced in Beer Sheba since 1983, and taught mental health at Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University and Ben Gurion University. He is currently CEO of Family Instiute of Neve Yerushalyim, sponsoring a first fully accredited post-masters training in family therapy for the Haredi community. Alan has edited readers on Therapeutic Communication with Children (2002) and Adolescents (2005) in Hebrew, translated Buber's I and Thou anew into Hebrew, and authored Losing It, an autobiography, and From Protection to Passover.
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