The containment area proposed by several Orange County officials- isolating only members of a specific racial, ethnic, or religious group- follows historical precedents that have always ended disastrously. I have lived in Woodbury for many years, witnessing hate speech directed towards the community of Kiryas Joel that is breathtaking in its vitriol, and the casual acceptance of that speech by the men elected to represent us. Were these comments referencing any other ethnic or religious group, it would be immediately condemned. I remain astonished at how comfortable people are insulting “those people”, “the KJ people”, “the Jews”, and how the smallest of the small town politicians fan divisiveness; this article further demonstrates how true adversity reveals character.
There is a willful ignorance about the traditions, the customs, and the history of what brought KJ members here to form an insular community devoted to their God, decades before most of us arrived. What is most interesting to me, as a social scientist, is the hypocrisy: we celebrate our own large families, but condemn theirs; we’re dismayed at our own children spending hours online, but denounce theirs for filling the streets; we barely know our neighbors, yet criticize the closeness they share with theirs; we raise our children to hate the housing they build, yet applaud the construction of another chain store. We’ve never met a commercial or townhouse development we didn’t love, but tsk tsk any ability for KJ to expand their neighborhoods. The Covid-19 statistics of KJ are perfectly aligned with any close community that revolves around study in close quarters and daily communal celebrations, and one that has responded exactly as required by the county and the state: by dismantling the fabric of their society. The changes they have made to the very foundation of their lives deserve our compassion.
This global pandemic is simply another itch for those with the fetishistic obsession of KJ. The political creatures who proposed the containment should be ashamed of choosing, again and again, to titillate the basest instincts of the hateful few by skewing facts and misrepresenting the actions of our neighbors. The signatories of that letter sow fear, not calm. No, Orange County, they do not live the way you live. You do not raise your children the way I raise mine. The ideal of our nation is that we are allowed to do so.
I was born in the Midwest and raised by Scot, Irish, and Polish families who taught me to be proud of the American promise: that anyone can come here, make a home, live the way they want to live. My America is that ideal. The sparse and stout churches I visited preached compassion first, then understanding. What I see from a very loud minority in Orange County is no understanding of history, and no compassion for the present, and politicians hearing and reacting only to their amen corner of antisemitism. History will judge us all, no one more than those whose names grace government offices.
Rebekah Zwick, PhD.
Woodbury, New York
Opinions expressed in Letters to the Editor are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Mid-Hudson News.