A Muslim girl blows bubbles at an Eid celebration / Getty Images
All across New York City, Muslims are cheering Mayor Bill de Blasio’s decision to close public schools on the two holiest days of their religious calendar. And Jews should be cheering right along with them.
Why should we be happy to see the city observe Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, days that commemorate the end of Ramadan and the biblical Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, respectively? No, it’s not because that means we Jews will also get a hall pass. It’s because we fought and won this battle long ago — and our win should be used to help, not harm, others in a similar situation.
New York City public schools decided to observe two of our holidays, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, way back in 1960. That means that we’ve been enjoying the benefits of this recognition for a full 55 years.
If you’re wondering why recognition for Muslims has lagged so far behind, your first thought might be: Islamophobia. And you’d be right. Discrimination against Muslims is a powerful force in post-9/11 America — especially now that terrorism wrought by Islamic extremists in the Middle East and Europe dominates the headlines. That discrimination has a powerful impact on our policies, and it’s been fueling the protests against de Blasio’s plan to recognize Muslim holidays for months.
Starting Wednesday night, we can all look forward to a week of eating (and in some cases, sleeping) outside.
Sukkahs come in all shapes and sizes. Some people will cobble something in their backyard, others will use the handy space provided by an outdoor balcony, and still more may see it as a chance to show off their creative streak.
From Manhattan’s Union Square to the dark alleys of Venice, here are some pretty striking symbols of one of Judaism’s most festive holidays.
Some news, apparently, is fit to print, but not too boldly. Take, for example, the demure self-censorship on display Saturday in the New York Times’ eye-opening report, headlined “On Island, Largely Blue, an Exception: Trump Tower,” on the handful of New York City neighborhoods that voted for Mitt Romney over President Obama. Overall, the city voted Obama over Romney 81% to 18%.
The headline and the first five paragraphs were about the two isolated election precincts on the Upper East Side of Manhattan Island where Romney won half or more of the vote. It wasn’t until paragraph 7 to find out that the main news began to trickle out: that the “deepest single bloc of Republican support in all the five boroughs” was a four-square-block section of Gravesend, Brooklyn, “dotted with Sephardic temples and yeshivas.”
Finally, well into the jump, we learned that Romney “enjoyed strong support from a range of neighborhoods with large populations of Orthodox Jews.” Many precincts in Borough Park, Kew Gardens Hills and Sheepshead Bay (which is largely Russian, not Orthodox) voted 90% GOP. A note on the accompanying map gave you the money quote: “Mr. Obama’s worst precincts were in Orthodox Jewish areas like Ocean Parkway and Williamsburg in Brooklyn and Kew Gardens Hills in Queens.”
The map shows the city’s 5,286 precincts as a sea of blue and red dots, shaded darker or lighter to indicate higher or lower percentages of partisan leaning. The darkest red voted over 80% for Romney, while pale pink gave him 50% to 65%. In addition to the broad swathes of dark red running down Brooklyn from Hasidic Borough Park down Sephardic Ocean Park to Russian Brighton Beach, there are dark red clusters in mostly Italian-American Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, and mostly Irish-American (and storm-ravaged) Breezy Point, Queens.
Boro Park’s Orthodox neighborhood patrol group, known informally as the shomrim — Hebrew for watch guards — has faced increased media scrutiny in the past few weeks over its role in the investigation of the killing of 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky on July 12. At issue is the fact that Kletzky’s disappearance was first reported to the shomrim at least two hours before secular law enforcement officials were brought onto the scene, raising a host of “what ifs” about whether the murder might have been prevented. The controversy has raged even as New York Police Department commissioner Raymond Kelly told the New York Times that the time lag did not matter in the Kletzky case.
The debate has been roiling in the pages of the Jewish press since Hella Winston probed shomrim practices in the New York Jewish Week. More recently, it has spilled into the secular media. On August 1, Orthodox lawyer Michael Lesher published an indictment of the Jewish neighborhood patrols in the New York Post, asking, “Does anyone truly believe that Orthodox Jewish vigilantes like Flatbush Shomrim Safety Patrol, the Williamsburg Safety Patrol and the Smira Civilian Volunteer Patrol of Borough Park—all of them on the take for budget dollars in 2012—do the city a better service?”
On Sunday, the Post followed up with an editorial calling on the New York City Council to defund the shomrim and other patrols in Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods that were collectively allocated some $130,000 in the 2012 budget: “They don’t have the same skills as the NYPD; in serious incidents, they can be as much a hindrance as a helping hand.”