*People who live in a certain school district are worried that their community is going to become overpopulated with folks who (in their opinion) do not pay their fair share of taxes but sap resources from the federal state and local governments.
So far it seems pretty cut and dry; wouldn’t we all be worried if a group of people represented the threat of resources being taken away and not replenished. Within the past two weeks I’ve had conversations about this threat with two different couples who live in the community being threatened and each time I’ve felt uncomfortable afterwards because it seemed like I was exhibiting bias against a specific community.
Let me be more specific. In the past two weeks I’ve had conversations about Orthodox Jews moving into the Pine Bush school district. I’ve written about this situation before and it seems it has only become more tense since then.** Moreover the people of Pine Bush fear they can see their future when they look at the East Ramapo school district which is grossly underfunded in part because of the Jewish population within its limits (I’ve written about this as well)** or the Kiryas Joel community which is fighting to have a pipeline built to augment their water supply. At the end of the day I concluded that I wasn’t being anti-Semitic and my critiques were justified.
Here is how I quieted by inner conscience.
First I concluded that there is a difference between criticizing a person or group of people for their politics and criticizing them for their religion. Religion is something that for many people is chosen for them by their parents. This is particularly true of the Orthodox communities in Rockland and Orange Counties in New York. There is little interaction between them and the community at large. I’ve been in the local park when my daughter tried to play with some Orthodox children and she was basically ignored. This isn’t to say that all Orthodox shun outsiders, but that their community is more insular than most. Politics by contrast is something that people generally choose for themselves. Certainly there is a degree of influence from one’s background, family and friends. But there are plenty of examples of people who grew up working class but who favor economic policies that lean conservative. I could say that these are the exceptions that prove the rule, but I think it is more common than that. At the end of the day it is more likely that a group of immigrant Latinos (generally a population that favors liberal policies) would have a conservative or two among them than a household in an Orthodox community has a reformed Jew living under that roof.
Secondly I concluded that history was a factor but not in the way that I initially thought. Nazi Germany famously committed genocide against Jewish people. So it is a sensitive topic when Jews get criticized simply on the basis of their religious background. In addition I’ve found that the existence of Orthodox communities in this part of New York is a direct result of the Holocaust. Survivors and their descendents came to the United States looking for a place to settle. Many chose New York City and then migrated further upstate when their communities grew. Everyone generally votes in their own self interest, but having experienced or having heard about the chain of events that led to the Holocaust these Orthodox Jews understandably have become an even stronger voting bloc in favor of policies that help their community.
I have no problem with them voting in their own interest. But then it only makes sense that others will vote in their self interest and if those two things don’t line up it is unfair to call the non-Jews anti-Semitic. Look back at this column and think to yourself if you felt funny about the group that perceived a threat before you knew that they perceived the threat from Orthodox Jews. I know for me that if I substitute any other group in for the Jews I don’t feel at all bad about my disagreement with what they want.
I still want every person or group of people to have the ability to settle wherever they would like. I still want every person or group of people to be able to pursue their American dream. I just don’t think that means I have to agree with everything a group wants.
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.