Lessons from the Pale of Settlement

If I go to shul on a Friday evening, I might encounter a group of young black men in their upper teens and early twenties on the street. Instead of worrying whether they will attack me, I tell them Shabbat shalom, because they are Jews, and given their ages, probably soldiers in the IDF. Today it’s better to live in Israel than in Brooklyn, where I was born.

Antisemitic violence by blacks (and a few Hispanics) against Orthodox Jews in New York City, including a vicious machete attack in nearby Monsey, following several murderous assaults by white racists on synagogues elsewhere in America, has gotten major media attention.

The immediate response was that the NYPD should do a better job. Given the constraints placed on them by the justice system, which seems to be unable to hold anyone less murderous than the Monsey attacker for more than a few hours, they are probably doing the best they can. A massive increase in manpower could reduce the incidence of violence in particular areas temporarily, but is unaffordable in the long run.

And now we are seeing the inevitable backlash from the “progressive” community. In response to Mayor De Blasio’s statement that the police presence in affected areas will be beefed up, A group called “Jews for racial and economic justice” tweeted,

This is what dividing vulnerable communities looks like. Instead of investing in restorative solutions that prioritize the safety of all communities, @NYCMayor is implementing a plan that treats abuse of Black and Brown communities as the answer to antisemitic violence. It isn’t.

Police, they think, aren’t the solution – they are the problem, at least for the “Black and Brown communities.” The position of these “woke” Jews is that non-Jewish minorities are “vulnerable” and need to be protected (from police), while Jews need to adopt “strategies” like “interfaith collaboration and crisis de-escalation, as well as long-term interventions such as creating alternative safety teams, rapid response networks, and broader cultural education around antisemitism and white supremacy.” But no police, and of course no guns. For these Jews, the safety of other Jews is the lowest priority.

For total chutzpah or maybe just stupidity, though, nothing beats the group called “A Jewish Voice for Peace” (JVP). Usually JVP contents itself with bashing Israel, supporting BDS and working to help Palestinian terror organizations and Iran in their attempt to destroy the Jewish state. Now they seem to have turned to domestic concerns. Here is what they tweeted after eight days of Hanukkah in which New York City saw at least one violently antisemitic incident every night:

We know we have to address rising white nationalist violence – against Jews, Muslims, Black people and all people of color – while not relying on the very forces detaining and locking up and killing our friends, family & neighbors.

It is impossible that they haven’t noticed the color of the attackers in Crown Heights and other Jewish neighborhoods of New York. What seems to be going on is that they believe that “people of color” (POC) are incapable of bigotry (this is an article of faith of intersectional wokeness) and Jew-hatred is a form of bigotry. So it must somehow be that white nationalism, inspired of course by Donald Trump, is poisoning the minds of these POC and causing them to act out violently (please don’t ask me to find a coherent argument here). But whatever you do, don’t try to stop them by force.

As someone who has read a few books about Jewish history, I don’t find any of this surprising. We have a minority of Jews living among a larger low-income gentile population. The blacks of Brooklyn have problems and frustrations, and the reasons for them and the possible solutions are not always obvious. The local prince and nobles (the Mayor and city officials) talk a good game, but little changes. The Jews are nearby, easily identifiable, and there are plenty of antisemitic ideas in circulation, fed by black nationalist groups like the Nation of Islam, and increasingly by the white woke Left. Black teenagers who grew up on the street express themselves violently. Of course they pick on the Jews. And as in the days of the Tsar, antisemites can always find Jews to take their side.

The local population is generally antisemitic. Whether their complaints against the Jews are fair or not, they believe them. If they wouldn’t say that they approve of the assaults on the streets, they would say they understand them. The Jews deserve it.

The Jews, on the other hand, grew up coddled by their families and communities. It is hard for them to understand why non-Jews dislike them, since everyone they are close to loves them. Few of them engage in sports or hard physical work, and even fewer are familiar with violence in any form. They are the softest of soft targets. Things have not changed much for the Jews on the ground since my grandfather’s time in the Russian shtetl.

History can be useful. There are lessons to be learned from the Pale of Settlement that can be applied to Crown Heights, Williamsburg, and Boro Park. And here is one of the most important and most relevant:

Jews can’t depend on the goyim to defend them.

The police in New York are not the police of the Tsar. They don’t participate in or even approve of attacks on Jews. But they cannot be everywhere, and there is even opposition to their temporarily increased deployment.

Here is another lesson:

Antisemites can’t be educated by Jews.

Some people, like the aforementioned “Jews for Economic and Racial Justice” think that we can talk to, negotiate with, and educate the local community to stop hating us. We can’t. Louis Farrakhan Is more credible for them than we are. And that will always be the case.

That leaves only two options: defend oneself or leave. Many people, including myself, have called for Jews to learn Krav Maga or similar martial arts. While this would be healthy, most Orthodox Jews – especially the Haredi (“ultra-Orthodox”) ones – have spent most of their lives in books and not struggling to survive in the street. They do not have the aggressive personalities or physical fitness that are needed to go with the technical knowledge to defend themselves successfully.

Perhaps it would be possible for Jewish communities to expand self-defense organizations, such as Shomrim. Such volunteer patrols cannot legally carry weapons, although they can make citizen’s arrests. But there can be serious problems resulting from legal restrictions and the complicated relations with the police. While the Shomrim have helped the police capture some of the assailants in recent weeks, the justice system apparently does not treat them in a way that deters them from continuing to commit offenses of the same kind, over and over. And of course the Shomrim are not capable of stopping more serious crimes, especially by armed criminals.

So, what about leaving? Nobody wants to abandon their home, even to go to a safer place. But as Jews –  including my grandparents – learned, sometimes there is no other solution. There is one place that any Jew can go to if he wants to enough, and that is the State of Israel. This is a problem for some Haredi Jews, in particular the Satmar Hasidim of Monsey and Brooklyn, who strongly oppose the Jewish state.

It would be a problem for Israel, too, which surely doesn’t need any more residents, Jews or Arabs, who oppose the existence of the state that protects them and makes it possible for them to thrive. But saving Jews is part of the reason for being of the Jewish state, whether or not they are grateful. That is what this country does. They should keep that in mind.

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4 Responses to Lessons from the Pale of Settlement

  1. michaelbn says:

    Honestly, I am tired of being concerned over useless traitors and Court Jews like Satmar and Neturi Karta, not to mention their secular versions in JVP, J Street and the like. They can all go down in another Shoah, as far as I’m concerned. Israel needs to protect those who would protect it. No-one else.

  2. mlmandell says:

    I am not shocked that “Jewish” groups which show no sympathy or concern for six million Israeli Jews should have little concern for the tens of thousands of Haredi Jews in Brooklyn who are being victimized. On the other hand, JVP, If Not Now and JERJ represent at most a few hundred people. I imagine that they are able to get attention simply because they represent a “man bites dog” angle with their extremist views.

  3. Shalom Freedman says:

    Encouraging Aliyah of Haredim does not make sense for Israel. Increasing the population of those who do not intend to participate actively in the defense of the country, and who will be only marginal in the workplace really does not make sense. This is because the Haredi population is increasing so rapidly already-and it combined with the Arab population- threatens the Zionist majority and the security of the state.
    The United States is not Tsarist Russia. The political establishment and police will act against violent anti- Semitism and not encourage it. Of course, the best solution would be a transformation away from the mentality which refuses to train for active self- defense. Here the irresponsibility of the Haredi leadership is central, as it is in the whole ‘backwardness project’ by which there is a hiding away from present day realities and challenges.

    • I don’t want to encourage anti-Zionists of any stripe to make aliyah, as I implied in the last paragraph. But this country exists to save Jews. Whatever it takes.

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