The New York Times has a piece today on Chulent, the weekly gathering of disaffected Orthodox Jews (mostly haredim) in Manhattan. There's a slide show narrated by Isaac Schonfeld, the event's host, and this mention of a fellow JBlogger, SholomAnarchy:
Among the early arrivals this evening was Sholom Keller, a 24-year-old with black glasses and an overgrown mohawk. Mr. Keller grew up in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, in a Lubavitch Hasidic family, the seventh of 10 children, but became disillusioned with that life early on. To escape, Mr. Keller enlisted in the Army at age 18, serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. He returned home two years ago with a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, newly radicalized political beliefs and a new name — Sholom Anarchy.
And then, this:
A man named Avrohom burst through the door, shaking the rain off his peacoat and cargo pants. A 36-year-old writer who lives in Sunnyside, Queens, he grew up in an esteemed Lubavitch family in Crown Heights but had always been drawn to literature and art, subjects far distant from strict Orthodox education.
In 1989, when he was 18, Avrohom received a special dispensation from his grand rabbi to study outside the community’s religious institutions, and he ended up at Brooklyn College studying poetry with Allen Ginsberg. Within three semesters, Avrohom had stopped wearing his yarmulke and shaved his beard. Once during the next decade, he returned to his strict Orthodox roots, only to leave the community again in 2004.
“There’s a lot of warmth in the haredi world that I miss like crazy,” Avrohom confessed. “Twenty-four hours a day, your life is wrapped up with your family and friends. There are certain beautiful things, certain truths there that don’t exist in the secular world.”
His friend Shmulik Nemanov, 38, a man with melancholy eyes who was dressed this night in a gray sweater and jeans, had reached a similar conclusion. Mr. Nemanov left Hasidism as a teenager, only to realize that much of the outside world was populated by, as he put it, “neurotic, desperate people sitting in bars with short skirts.”
He said the movement between the two worlds had sharpened his understanding of the nature of suffering. “You have to get beyond being upset with one environment and extolling another,” he said. “The worst thing about growing up religious is falling under the illusion that your misery has to do with religious stifling, not realizing how universal it is.”
The author, Jennifer Bleyer, quotes Marvin Schick (of all people) and Aguda's Rabbi Avi Shafran. But she doesn't quote Hella Winston (now Dr. Hella Winston, I believe) who first wrote about Chulent and about hasidic rebels, and the author does not mention her book, Unchosen,
even though she clearly draws heavily from it. In other words, borderline plagiarism, just enough on the the right side of line to be legal but still unethical. Bleyer also seems to have read and used Shoshana Olidort's Current piece as unattributed background. Almost, but not quite, Jason Blair.
UPDATE: Lapsed Chabadnik Radloh (who still pimps for the cult) challenges my understanding of Jennifer Bleyer's work:
Jennifer Bleyer happens to be an integral part of the Chulent community. She is there every Thursday night. Not as a journalist, but as a participant.
You obviously got all your facts wrong. She didn’t have to read Winston’s mediocre book, because she is friends with and part of the community of tens of characters who can fill twenty such books.
Her story is different than all the others because it speaks of the need for a community for those that left. It is not an anti-religious piece, ala the Village Voice.
I call upon you to apologize.
I have confirmed that Bleyer has attended Chulent weeky for more than a year, just as Radloh writes, "not as a journalist, but as a participant." Ethically, Bleyer needed to fully disclose this relationship – she did not do so.
And, as I wrote, she clearly used Hella Winston's work as background. This is unethical. Worse yet is what Radloh writes, "[Bleyer's] story is different than all the others because it speaks of the
need for a community for those that left. It is not an anti-religious
piece, ala the Village Voice."
In other words, not reporting on the rampant drug use, on the real violence and ostracism hasidic rebels face, the homelessness, the other real problems that reflect poorly on the haredi world or on Chulent was Bleyer's choice – a choice she and the Times did not share with readers.
This is horrible journalism. The only apology here should come from Bleyer.