*This country was founded on two ideas that don’t always mesh well.
First – anyone can make something of themselves here. Second – the country is designed to benefit some groups and people more than others.
The first idea is from the opening of the Declaration of Independence and is easily touted by everyone throughout the country. It is what made this country stand out when it was founded. It is why there has always been more people trying to get into this country than leave it.
The second idea, oddly enough is a byproduct of the first. Although there has always been more land to exploit to the west, when the population density gets too high and resources begin to become scarce, the question arises as to who is more entitled to the resources. Who will society assist in the quest to improve themselves. And while it may not be what Jefferson had in mind, the reality is that who benefits from American society has been a function of ethnicity, gender, religion, ancestry, and sexual orientation among other things I’m sure I’ve forgotten.
I recently took a trip to Lancaster County in Pennsylvania. One of the tourist attractions in the area are the Amish who have largely resisted modernization. As I learned on a 30 minute horse and buggy tour, there can be exceptions but Amish generally do not take modern luxuries because they would rather depend on others in their community instead of the society at large. Indeed the Amish are able to thrive in Lancaster, PA and elsewhere throughout the country because they shun outside help which allow people to be okay with the fact that they aren’t modernizing.
Contrary to the Amish are Orthodox and Hasidic communities of Rockland County New York where I live. They haven’t shunned modernity as the Amish have but they do observe very specific customs due to their religious and cultural beliefs. Also unlike the Amish these communities accept government assistance. So there is a longstanding tension between these traditional Jewish communities and the surrounding neighborhoods because many people do not believe the Jewish people are pursuing the American dream of making something of themselves in the right manner.
In some sense it comes back to who the country helps and who is left out as a result. Rockland happens to be a county with a good deal of affluent residents so that the county as a whole doesn’t feel its resources being sapped. But there is the sense that the Jewish communities are alienated. And among those in lower socio-economic classes within the county there is a feeling of resources being wasted by being distributed among the Jewish community. Furthermore because the Jewish communities are not pursuing the American dream the way it is thought they should, many people simply write them off as un-American and not worth our empathy.
The basic difference between the Orthodox and the Amish then, is that while both have self segregated to a degree one group is taking the public’s money and the other is not. So it is not surprising that one group generates negative feelings by surrounding communities and the other produces mostly apathy and in some cases even admiration.
Last week an FBI investigation found that wives with the Orthodox Jewish community were hiring gangs to intimidate their husbands into granting them a divorce. Regardless of what you think about Orthodox marital customs, the husbands are the victims in this scenario. But because the community is seen in a negative light, many in local law enforcement ignored the issue and allowed the wives to continue soliciting extra-legal assistance.
This just in: When people give you something, they think they can tell you how to live. If you are not prepared for the input of others regarding your lifestyle, then don’t accept their help. Because as multiple Jewish men allegedly found out over the past few months, when society views you as an outsider they won’t help – especially if they think you’re mooching.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.