The Wall Street Journal reports on the planned haredi CitiField asifa, gathering, against the Internet, scheduled for May 20th:
"We're hoping to come together as a unified community to address a challenge that in the last number of years has begun dawning not just on our community and the larger Jewish community but society as a whole," said Eytan Kobre, 52 years old, a spokesman for the event who is also the North American editor for an Orthodox magazine, Mispacha.
"Hopefully we'll fill the role that the Jewish people have tried to fill from time memorial, which is serving as a beacon to the world and as a force for the transformation of the good in society," he said, adding that the event has already had sold out the 42,000-seat stadium.
Kobre was one of the original apologists/bloggers on Cross Currents, a haredi blog founded in large part to refute allegations against haredi leadership that time has proved true.
The WSJ continues:
But the meeting, which some published reports have estimated will cost nearly $2 million, has drawn a series of sharp attacks—for its men-only policy, for instance, and for its cost, criticized as extravagant at a time when many families are struggling.
The Hasidic rabbis wanted women to attend, but "logistics did not permit for it," said Mr. Kobre, noting that in this community "a religious gathering of this nature is gender-separated."
A live video-feed will be streamed to six locations around the metropolitan area for women to watch, he said.
Other critics say the event is a smokescreen for religious leaders seeking to consolidate control over their congregations by limiting access to outside information.
A counterprotest—dubbed "The Internet Is Not the Problem" and expected to draw hundreds—is scheduled for across the street from the stadium event. It accuses Jewish leadership of scapegoating the Internet while avoiding a more pressing problem: child abuse.
"You can spend all the time and money protesting the Internet and you can't get worked up about child molestation?" said Ari Mandel, who said he left the ultra-Orthodox community about six years ago, joined the Army and recently returned to civilian life.
Mr. Mandel, 29 years old, organized the counterprotest after learning last week that a young family member had been molested. "We were outraged," he said. He is mobilizing supporters through a website and Facebook page for the protest.
This bothers the asifa organizers:
Organizers said they were disappointed to learn of the counterprotest.
"Whether it's a legitimate issue or not, and I'm willing to posit that it is a legitimate issue, are they really going to make progress on it by holding a counterrally?" Mr. Kobre said. "It seems like a cheap political circus. It's sad. It's unfortunate."
Organizers stressed that the intent of the Citi Field event wasn't to ban the Internet but to promote its responsible use. Speakers will be recommending that all Orthodox families install filters on their computers, and block out all social-media sites including Facebook and Twitter, said Mr. Kobre.
He cited recent reports in mainstream newspapers and magazines depicting families of all faiths grappling with the issue, particularly how to speak to children about Internet pornography. "I expect that any member of society in good standing would be pained by that sort of thing," he said.
Still, he acknowledged that Orthodox standards could well exceed secular ones: He included People Magazine as an example of a website for recommended filtering.
What will get filtered and banned are blogs, news websites which do not let teams of haredi rabbis edit their content, and all other attempts to get uncensored news inside the haredi community.
Anyone knowing almost anything about the haredi community knows that. Unfortunately, that does not include WSJ reporters, and that point was, apparently, not understood when protest leaders made it.
Many of the same haredi leaders backing this asifa have already banned the Internet – something that puts Kobre's claims in a whole new negative light and would have been reported, one hopes, if the WSJ and other media knew about it. But they don't appear to, again because it seems they weren't told.
The oddest thing, though, is the fact that the asifa's creator and organizer, Rabbi Nechemia Gottlieb, is not mentioned.
Gottlieb, as first reported here, is a savage physical abuser of children. He beat children so hard and so often in his Lakewood school that he was finally forced out.
Even so, Rabbi Matisyahu Salomon, the mashgiach of Lakewood Yeshiva and the first big haredi rabbinic name behind the asifa, backed Gottlieb and allowed him to organize this gathering.
You'd think the multitude of comments from his victims and their parents posted here would be worth mentioning.
So why didn't the WSJ mention it?
The counter asifa protest organizers did not want to get 'off message.' The asifa is wrong, they say, because these haredi rabbis have done nothing about child sexual absue. To devote all this money and time to censoring or banning the Internet is horrific when children are being raped and these rabbis are silent about it.
Now, you might think that the key asifa organizer turning out to be a sadistic child abuser might fit with that message the counter protesters want to deliver.
But you would be wrong.
Also not mentioned is that Gottlieb allegedly owns part of an Internet filtering company and he stands to make a lot of money from the gathering.
Those omissions are the big reason why the WSJ coverage is, I think, largely favorable to the haredi rabbis, not to the protesters.
Non-Orthodox and non-Jewish parents are also concerned with the impact of the Internet on their children, and the haredi gathering seems almost sympathetic if the backstory is removed.
The protest leaders are amateurs trying – and largely succeeding – to do a good thing. Most are doing something like this for the first time.
So what I've written isn't meant to be a slap at them and should not be taken that way.
It is, however, meant to be a slap at the (somewhat) more experienced people helping them.