Is It ‘Anti-Orthodox’ To Seek A Safer Community?

Is It ‘Anti-Orthodox’ To Seek A Safer Community?

Editor & Publisher of The NY Jewish Week.

It is sad, if not maddening, when this newspaper is labeled “anti-Orthodox” for its reporting on scandals and other disturbing incidents in a segment of the community whose culture places a high value on policing itself.

Such accusations are not new, but they have ratcheted up significantly in recent days following the tragic death of young Leiby Kletzky of Borough Park, and The Jewish Week’s report and Editorial (July 22 issue) calling into question the role of the much-respected community watchdog group, Shomrim, in terms of its procedures and relations with law enforcement authorities.

The headline last week of an Orthodox magazine, Ami, used the word “slander” in referring to our reporting on Shomrim. Rabbi Avi Shafran, director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America, wrote in Ami, where he is editor at large, that The Jewish Week “seems bent on viewing and portraying the charedi community with” a “jaundiced eye.”

Marvin Schick, an expert in the field of Jewish education who writes a paid-for column in The Jewish Week, goes further in his criticism, proclaiming in a blog that “Orthodoxy-bashing is alive and well” at The Jewish Week, which he said has reached a new low in offering up “a vile exercise in group libel.”

We generally choose not to respond to such charges, trusting that our readers can judge for themselves over time whether or not we are biased in our coverage. But such inflammatory rhetoric should not go unchallenged.

It should be noted that The Jewish Week, chastised for alleged insensitivity, published a full-page article on the large-scale communal search for Leiby in our July 15 issue (“Volunteers Scour Borough Park For Missing Child”), which went to press while the youngster’s whereabouts were still unknown.

The following week’s issue featured on Page 1, in addition to the Shomrim story, a lyrical essay, “Lamentations: Loss of a child, of a shul, haunts the city,” by Associate Editor Jonathan Mark, that included a description of his shiva call to the Kletzky family, and a Media column, “Haredi Sensitivity,” that praised Hamodia, a “Torah Jewry” newspaper, for its sensitive coverage of the tragedy.

In addition, last week’s issue included a Page 3 report, “Helping Families Ease The Mourning Process,” highlighting the volunteer efforts of Misaskim, the independent Orthodox group that assists families (including the Kletzkys) during shiva.

Would such a range of coverage be found in a publication bent on “Orthodoxy bashing”?

The crux of the matter, though, goes deeper, to the role of a community newspaper. We believe it is to report as fully and accurately as possible, seeking to combine journalistic integrity with Jewish values, with a duty to expose as well as a need to protect.

In this case, we sought not to expose Shomrim but to raise legitimate concerns about its practices in the hopes of better protecting the community.

Rabbi Shafran, in his critique, acknowledged that Shomrim’s practices and relationship with the police – issues raised by concerned members of the NYPD sensitive to the community — may need to be addressed. But he maintained “it is not a matter that deserves to be exploited by any reputable publication.”

We took comfort in a letter written to Ami magazine from a reader, Faigy Klein, who noted that “the relationship between the Shomrim was not exploited, it was explored, and every thinking person is free to draw their own conclusion.”

She asserted that our report “had nothing to do with vilifying the charedi community and everything to do with the quest for the truth,” and suggested that Ami take up investigative reporting and “find out the truth and possible mistakes which were made in the Leiby Kletzky case … and the lessons learned from all this.”

Similarly, Binyamin Flamm, another reader writing to Ami, called the magazine’s report “a full frontal attack on The Jewish Week, unwarranted and irresponsible.”

He wrote: “It is far from libelous to say that within ‘strictly Orthodox’ communities there is a general sense of taking care of issues internally before going to the secular authorities, if at all. I don’t think the leaders of many of these communities would argue this point and some would be proud of it.”

Flamm concluded his letter to Ami: “It is a disservice to your readers to attack a publication that tries to shed some light on a troubling incident which deserves a thorough review.”

I write these words virtually on the eve of Tisha B’Av, commemorating the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem and attributed by some sages to the belief that the Jews of that time were engaged in sinat chinam, or causeless hatred, one for the other.

I note with a deep sense of irony and a heavy heart that our critics no doubt ascribe such feelings to The Jewish Week. We do not see it that way. Far from it, and we harbor no such feelings in return.

We and our critics may disagree over tactics and strategy, particularly in terms of calling the police rather than a rabbinic authority when abuse is suspected – and immediately, when a child goes missing – but we share the same goals.

It has been said that the antidote to causeless hatred is causeless love, caring for our fellow Jews beyond measure or reason. Perhaps on the way to reaching that idealistic level, we can all focus on what connects rather than divides us, and how best to protect and strengthen the community that is our common heritage and our future.

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