Thursday, July 12, 2007

Fighting The World

We spoke before of the misleading reports about the Ramapo/Monsey Wal-Mart controversy; it was presented as a conflict between an over-religious, insular group and Corporate America. The NYT article was misleading, and those who couldn’t get enough information on Monsey’s turbulent history from an older resident during chazoras haShatz, were seemingly too lazy to perform a simple internet search. In any event, blaming the entire problem on the “Charedim”’s insularity is foolish at best. The Charedim are themselves split on the Wal-Mart issue, and if the Hassidim are actually as insular as Harry Maryles implies, I wonder why they can be seen at all times of the day and the year in the Tallman Wal-Mart, two miles down the road from the controversial site, shopping for anything from DVD’s to lingerie to “bratz” dolls? (Yes, I’ve actually seen that. More than once.) A scant glimpse into only one of many intricate components merging into a nexus of the crises – the origin of storms, is obviously inadequate to understand the rather complicated dynamics of this diverse region.

You don’t have to be an Orthodox Jew to understand that when you buy a house, you don’t just want the lot and the walls – obviously, the neighborhood is a key factor in your decision. But if you are an Orthodox Jew, you understand it tenfold better than anyone else. Orthodox schools, synagogues, mikvahs, kosher shopping are not just luxuries or added bonuses – they’re vital essentials. Only thing is, Uncle Sam doesn’t give a hoot about your religious needs. Uncle Sam provides every American (and every illegal immigrant as well) with ‘free’ public education. Free in this case – as in many others – means that Uncle Sam takes money from those who have it, operates mostly shabby institutions which it proudly labels as ‘educational’, and then magnanimously asks you to say “thank you”. Of course, if you’re rich, you say it’s unfair that you should pay so much taxes and get so few in return – if you’re poor, you say it’s unfair that your kid gets such bad education because those rich parents buy Jaguars instead of paying more taxes. If you’re an Orthodox Jew, you say it’s unfair that you should pay so much tax for someone else’s education, and in addition pay your private school tuition, too.

But in American mentality private education is not only a luxury – it is the last luxury to afford – after the nice home, the vacation home, the two-car garage, the three fancy SUVs in the two-car garage, after the money set aside for the kids’ higher education, after the two yearly family vacations to the Caribbeans, after the fifteen rifles, golf clubs, Cuban cigars and exclusive bars – if you still have extra money can go further into debt, then, and only then, can you send the kids to private school.

Truth be told, if the school system were the only factor here, the Orthodox community would be on the right side of the argument – in a locality where the vast majority of residents do not use the PS system – why pay so much in school taxes? Sadly, the answer is, because every other property is tax exempt – many fraudulently so, and because a great portion of the private school using community lives off government handouts. The third issue is that the Hassidic communities get away with building 200 units on an area zoned for 15. The permit is ‘only’ for about 160, but houses are never demolished, nor are residents evicted. A closed community which knows exactly what it wants, and often operated by a leader’s remote-control will vote en bloc for whoever promises the sweetest deals. But “sweet” is defined differently by different communities, and politicians know that in order to stay in office, they have to deliver the goods. That is why many Hassidic neighborhoods (Vizhnitz has actually incorporated the areas that they have “conquered”, under the name “Village of Kaser”) are de-facto exempt from property tax.)

Fair or not, the original residents of Ramapo have no one but themselves to blame for not having voted in a favorable candidate for so many years. Heck, no politician will pander to people who spend a good deal of their lives sitting mesmerized in front of a TV set, then argue for hours about the ballgame, instead of figuring out what’s really good for them, when they have six to ten thousand votes on a silver platter with a clearly spelled out plan.

And clearly, those who now protest the out-of-control overbuilding, overpopulation, inadequate sewage, traffic congestion and now Wal-Mart, are accomplices in creating this situation. They sat idle while their businesses profited from the newcomers; they kept quiet while nearby Spring Valley got overpopulated by illegal immigrants and communities of poor, uneducated minorities who provided cheap labor; they kept quiet when cops were paid 90G in a virtually zero-crime area, who pull you over for doing 32 in the 30 zone, but close their eyes to insurance fraud and different government fund defrauding scams as well as illegal immigration.

So the situation is not so simple. But one way or another, things will have to be sorted out. If a major conflict is to be avoided, people on both sides will have to come together and make some painful concessions. Yes, I’ve said that. And though I was brought up in a staunch anti-Communist family, I have no choice but to repeat a famous Bolshevik catchphrase –and fully agree with it-

Religion is the “OPM” of the masses…

PS - this article about the Hassidim's inpact on their neighbors just went up on Haemtza - dig it, as well as the links therein. An eye-opener.

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