The Zionist Conspiracy

A clandestine undertaking on behalf of Israel, the Jets and the Jews.

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Friday, March 16, 2007
Observant Jews and the Rest of the World

Those of us who are religiously observant, received an advanced secular education, and work in a professional field tend to see ourselves as being part of the "real world."

But what do the members of the real world think about us?

A few days ago, Orthomom expressed indignation that while shopping in a boutique, an overzealous saleswoman said to her "you can let me touch you to fix your belt, I'm Jewish too, so I'm a very clean woman." Orthomom wondered:

Do you think there are really people who live and work in the middle of Manhattan who think that an Orthodox Jew wouldn't be allowed to casually touch a non-Jew because they are somehow unclean? You have to wonder how many layers of misinformation and misunderstandings about Orthodox Judaism would bring someone (who claims to be Jewish, to boot!) to think that.
Orthomom's salesperson was certainly quite bizarre. Still, nearly seven years after Joe Lieberman received the Democratic party's nomination for the vice presidency (let's not argue here about whether Lieberman was accurately identified as "Orthodox"), misinformation and misunderstandings about observant Jews and traditional Judaism indeed persist. And I think they persist precisely because we are very visible in law firms, in doctor's offices, in shopping centers and on the street, and yet in many ways we live apart from the rest of the world. We have our own shuls, our own schools, even our own stores.

A few weeks ago, on a train from midtown to the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn, two young woman in their early 20's - one was Asian and the other Irish - were talking about a co-worker who in the past had worn pants but now would only wear skirts. "I think it is because she became Hasidic," said the Irish woman. "No," her friend said. "She's not Hasidic, she's Jewish but it's a different group from the Hasidim. If she was Hasidic she would also have to shave off all of her hair. She does wear a wig though." To which the young Irish woman said, "Really? I didn't notice the wig. You know my mom had cancer and she had a wig."

Most mornings I take the questionably-named "express" bus from Jewel Avenue to midtown. It's just about the only predictable break I get from the requirements of home and the pressures of work, so I usually just read the Post and sometimes also as much of the Times as I can get through. The bus goes from Hillcrest to Kew Gardens Hills to Forest Hills before turning on Queens Boulevard and heading to midtown via the LIE and Midtown Tunnel.

Today, despite trying to, I could not avoid overhearing a detailed discussion about Orthodox Jews and Orthodox Judaism by three people - apparently two secular Jews and one Italian Catholic woman - sitting around me. Married women shaving their heads, mixed seating and mixed dancing at weddings, shidduch dating, early marriages, baal teshuvas and their integration into frum society, intra-Jewish tensions, and the differences between chasidim, modern Orthodox and "ultra Orthodox" Jews were all discussed. As could be expected, some of what was said was largely accurate, but most had a certain amount of truth but was based on exaggerated stereotyping. I didn't say anything until the non-Jewish woman mentioned her five-young old child playing in a neighborhood park and approaching a chasidic child of around the same age and being shunned by the other child's parents. "They're just kids. Don't we all come from the same God?" she recalled saying to her husband.

As the bus exited the tunnel, the discussion shifted to Jose Reyes. The non-Jewish woman appeared to be a knowledgeable Mets fan.

As I was getting off the bus, I briefly tried to explain that some people choose to remain insular and that she shouldn't take this episode personally, but that I agreed that the parents' reaction was not respectful.

That indeed is how I feel, though to be sure, the lack of interaction between frum children and other children is probably the main cause for the ignorance about Orthodoxy.

We need not apologize for or be defensive about our way of life, but those of us who live in a large Jewish neighborhood should particularly be aware that the world around us does see us as different, and watches us and our behavior closely.