A Conservative Jewish Magazine's Double Standard On Welfare And The Haredi Community's High Birthrate
Perhaps without realizing it, Commentary Magazine has now shown that its years of campaigning against welfare and other "entitlements" has much more to do with how the recipients of that welfare vote than the cost of that welfare to government and taxpayers.
A study done for the UJA Federation shows that NYC's Jewish population grew for the first time in years.
But the growth largely came from haredim, whose high birthrate is starting to make a very visible impact on things Jewish.
Commentary Magazine lauds this news as the "beginning of the end for liberal Jewry."
Another writer, noting haredi poverty, concludes his post by celebrating the rapid increase of the haredi community anyway:
The Orthodox certainly face challenges as their community grows. The Haredi community’s insularity means they must work hard to ensure that guidance counselors, special-needs educators, and other forms of crucial youth development services are available to their community. And poverty is often correlated with health risks that should not be ignored. But the Orthodox are also the source of the positive trends in the study. If the goal is Jewish continuity–as of course it should be–the Orthodox are leading the way.
What Commentary does not do is mention the fact that many of the haredi children that make up NYC's Jewish population growth are welfare recipients.
Writing at Open Zion, Raphael Magarik attacks Commentary for its double standard and notes:
You know what else [haredim] possess? Staggering quantities of public assistance. Take the overwhelmingly Hasidic Kiryas Joel, the poorest place in America. As the Times reported last year, “half of [its] residents receive food stamps, and one third receive Medicaid benefits and rely on federal vouchers to help pay their housing costs.” And boy, do they have children: The median household in Kiryas Joel has six people, and the median age is twelve. Many of its men learn Torah full-time instead of working, and the community’s low high-school graduation rate would be even lower if its religious schools had real academic standards. These kids are hardly being “socialized to the world of work.” And it’s not just Kiryas Joel: back in 1996, at the heart of “welfare reform,” a full third of Williamsburg’s Hasidim received public assistance.
Welfare is, and has been for some time, a crucial ingredient in these communities. While Hasidim take care of their own, they also get taxpayers to take care of them. Like Israeli Haredim, Kiryas Joel’s Hasidim vote together to secure, for instance, a “luxurious 60-bed postnatal maternal care center… built with $10 million in state and federal grants.” Off the record, New York City officials admit that Williamsburg’s Hasidim “work the system,” and experts who don’t have to be reelected come out and just admit there’s widespread fraud.…
As I wrote almost seven years ago, haredi communities are not self-sufficient. They rely on donations from non-Orthodox Jews, government grants, welfare – and, yes, welfare fraud – in order to survive.
To extol the birth of more children into poverty because those children are Jewish, but to decry similar growth in other, non-Jewish, poor populations is racist.
And its also very short-sighted.
But Commentary does note something worth mentioning – 58% of NYC's Jewish poor are not Orthodox or haredi.
What Commentary does not say is that those Jews need to be helped.
To do so we need to find out where the Federation's anti-poverty money is spent.
Does 58% go to non-Orthodox projects and neighborhoods?
Or do haredim net a disproportional amount of this communal money distributed by organizations like the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty?
In the last couple years I've written several posts on Jewish poverty and homelessness. One of the things I've learned is that Jews who are not members of powerful religious communities, like Satmar in Williamsburg and Lubavitch in Crown Heights, seem to get less help than those who are members. (This seems to be true with regard to government programs and Jewish community programs, as well.)
But whatever the actual pie-cutting is, the Federation is doing too little to help poor Jews no matter what their affiliation, just as the government is doing to little to help poor Americans of all affiliations.
And that needs to be changed.
Haredism looks good on the surface. It's Fiddler on the Roof, singing and dancing Jews happy to be Jewish and proud of it.
But probe a little deeper and what you find is massive poverty, cult-like behavior, and a surprisingly large attrition rate hidden by the haredi community's famous insularity.
And look even deeper and you'll find a surprising number of haredim who want to leave their community but who cannot due to their woefully poor secular educations, their inability to communicate clearly in English, their fear of being cut off by their family and friends, of losing custody of and access to their children, and their fear of a secular world they do not know how to navigate.
In short, they are trapped in and by what we would call a cult if that cult was not so overtly Jewish.
But for Jews who care about numbers more than they care about lives, none of this matters. And it is those numbers-worshiping Jews who control today's Jewish community.
And after all, what's a little cult-like behavior and self-inflicted poverty if it gets the Jewish community more babies?