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You Can Leave Your Hat On

You Can Leave Your Hat On

Associate Editor

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

Here’s a fuller, better version of the Media Watch column that appeared in The Jewish Week (Jan. 30, 2009).

Righetous People, Self-Righteous Critics

By Jonathan Mark

Last week on “The View,” one of the guests took a cheap shot at Orthodox women, saying they didn’t look good or dress right, and their idea of modesty (such as covering their hair) was “wacky.”

I’ll lay my cards on the table. I like Orthodox women. I don’t have “December Dilemmas.”

I’m sure that many of the guys reading The Jewish Week have been in love with a fair number of Orthodox women and have had a crush on plenty more. I don’t need a TV show to tell me about their looks. To paraphrase “Farewell, My Lovely,” I’ve seen Orthodox women who could make an angel kick a hole in a stained glass window.

Growing up in yeshiva, my favorite love song was Randy Newman’s “You Can Leave Your Hat On.”

I’m no expert on these women, never have been, but in the interests of full disclosure, I’m the child of one, the husband of another, a friend to many, and the father of two. Anybody wants to talk trash about Orthodox women, well, pal, you better be smiling when you say it.

With that emotional background, and this column having rabbit ears for slights against Jews of any variety, you can imagine how I took to the fightin’ words I heard in a clip of “The View” (Jan. 21) that a reader was kind enough to send me, guessing correctly that “The View” isn’t my natural habitat.

The guest was Susie Essman, one of the stars of “Loving Leah,” a Hallmark special that aired Sunday night, in which Essman plays a Chabad woman. Essman, explaining her character, says, “I, as the religious mother, am very much against [my daughter] marrying a secular Jew.”

Barbara Walters: “Where did you go to in your own head, since you’re not religious, to understand how this mother felt?”

Essman: “I went… as if my daughter was going to marry a right-wing Republican.”

Horrors! The audience guffawed. Of course, on a show like “The View,” there are few things that most of the co-hosts loathe more than a right-wing Republican. However, we doubt even the most liberal Upper West Side mothers would prefer that her daughter break up with an honorable Republican to marry a Democrat looking and talking like Al Sharpton or Dennis Kucinich.

But anyone who knows Chabad knows that they don’t despise secular Jews the way radical Democrats despise Republicans. The idea of Essman comparing her contempt for conservatives with Chabad’s kindness and willingness to socially interact with secular Jews, not one of whom is turned away from a Chabad House, not one of whom is ever denied help and warmth, is simply ignorant. Chabad Houses across America are filled with thousands of secular Jews every Friday night.

But what makes Essman’s self-righteous liberalism all the more unfortunate is when she is asked by Joy Behar, “So what did you learn about the chasidic religion?”

Well, said Essman, “they’re not very good dressers… Have you seen what these women look like half the time?”

Behar replied, “Well some of them are pretty and some, you know, like everybody else.”

“Yeah, yeah,” said Essman dismissively.

Barbara Walters said of Orthodox modesty, well, it’s something like Islam.

Except it’s not. It’s more like the United States used to be, back when modesty was a cultural norm.

Now let’s imagine the subject were black women. Imagine someone saying of black women, “they’re not very good dressers… Have you seen what these women look like half the time?” Would not the speaker be branded as a racist, an instant pariah? So why is it OK to speak that way about Orthodox women?

I remember the photo of Rivka Holtzberg, the Chabad woman who was murdered in Mumbai. She wore a wig, like the ones mocked on “The View.” She was attractive, if I could be forgiven for speaking of her that way, all the more attractive for the dignity she exuded precisely because of her wig and modest style of dress. I was reminded of her not only for her style, but also because of her two-year-old child that almost certainly saw his parents murdered by Islamic terrorists.

There was an item in Reuters the other day from Gaza, quoting psychologists and trauma experts on how the war will make Gaza children into the Hamas terrorists of tomorrow: “Counselors and aid workers fear that Gaza’s children… will grow up hating Israel and become easier prey for extremists.”

Has anyone written, anywhere, that Jewish children, such as little Moshe Holtzberg, might grow up hating anyone, let alone become easy prey for terrorist recruiters? Why is that criminal future only assumed for Islamic children? There have been many thousands of Israeli children whose parents were murdered by Muslims; millions more whose parents and grandparents were murdered in concentration camps. Where are the psychologists interviewed by Reuters to explain why so few of these Jewish children, in Israel or the United States, have grown into violent adults? Why not, if a murderous second-generation resulting from wartime trauma is so inevitable?

Reuters spoke to a Gaza father who said he’d like his son to attend university, but wouldn’t talk him out of taking up arms. “He has witnessed the events by himself,” said the father, “so he, by himself, hates Israel.”

No one thinks for even a second that the orphaned Chabad kid, who witnessed what he witnessed, will grow up hating or terrorizing anyone just because Muslims murdered his parents.

Reuters won’t tell you why; I will. Because that kid will be raised by women in wigs.

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