Culture, Global, Identity, Justice, Religion

Boro Park and East Harlem’s Cry for Help

One of the most counterproductive ways to view entitlement programs is through the myopic lens of race or ethnicity.  Few of New York City’s large ethnic enclaves are free of the destructive forces of entitlement programs, and Jewish enclaves are not the exception.  And while Dov Hikind deserves praise for unequivocally condemning the riot of Boro Park,  perhaps he should have included more specific topics for contemplation than his call for general existential “soul-searching.”  And perhaps the Jewish Press editorial board should not have breezed past the rioters’ behavior with a flippant concession that, “It goes without saying that the kind of actions attributed to young residents of Boro Park that night are unacceptable,” only to return to throwing red meat to their readers with a call for a focus on the true feelings of New York’s Finest, because it is “incredibly important to determine whether one of the highest ranking police officers in the NYPD views people in terms of their religion and ethnicity.”
It is also “incredibly important” to find out why a community feels it is normal or acceptable to let its youth riot (again), and identify and acknowledge what may be a the critical contributing factor for recent antisocial behavior of the young Chasidic mobs: general disenfranchisement due to a lack of a quality secular education or vocational direction, and has little to do with the actions or even the personal feelings of “one of the highest ranking police officers in the NYPD.” 
This is something that even those Charedim more unequivocal than the Jewish Press in their denouncements of the riots and genuinely willing to assign the bulk of the blame on the rioters and bystanders will still not do.   For while the more responsible Charedi leaders like Rabbi Yakov Horowitz may be willing to consider the problem of Charedi contempt for “others” among a whole host of possible influences including the evils of the “secular media,” as a potential culprit, they are not willing to identify the massive treife behaima in the Bais Medresh which must not be acknowledged in any way, shape or form: the not so secret socio-economic dysfunction of Charedi society.  But of course, that couldn’t be it.  Not even in theory.  Because everything is wonderful in Glatt Kosher Food Stamp Land.  It must be other influences.  You know, outside ones.
I’ll say what Rabbi Horowitz and other Charedi leaders won’t.  These people acted like antisocial bums primarily because they have been taught to be antisocial bums, by their families, their yeshivas, and their communities.  Far too many of them are being groomed on the fundamentalist fast track career path of poverty.
It is not hard to discern why there are never such riots by young Modern Orthodox men in Forest Hills or on the Upper West Side.  The appalling lack of a work ethic has failed too many of the haredim.  The solution is not greater communication between the mayor and communal leaders.  It is not greater sensitivity training for the police force.  The solution is to get the Chasidim off the government’s tit. 
But just as we should dismiss charges of antisemitism as an acceptable justification for riots and arson, so too we should reject racism as the root cause for the murder of Broderick John Hehman, and instead should reevaluate the role government entitlement programs that produced these types of thugs in the housing projects of East Harlem, a dystopian experiment which structurally, culturally, and financially enforces a vicious cycle of poverty and criminal activity. 
The housing projects of East Harlem, one of the most densely clustered in all of New York and the nation, line this Manhattan neighborhood in towering anonymity.  The socio-economic cost to the city because of their existence can be as horrific as it is expensive. 
One of the implicit selling points for these inverted bottomless pits of misery to the more resistant conservative lower-middle and middle classes by the progressive powers that once were was that the assumption that they would deflate minority rage and criminal activity by offering affordable housing and a sense of dignity to their inhabitants.  But that has not happened.  Rather, it has trapped many of its inhabitants by quarantining them in a dense culture of poverty and disenfranchisement.
The payoff of this social-engineering nightmare was illuminated yet again with the unprovoked murder of Broderick John Hehman on East 125th Street. 
We do not only allow a culture of poverty and despair to subsist in our midst; we subsidize it.  Rather, we sponsor it.  But not only do we assign massive tax dollars from out city and state budget to these projects and its inhabitants, we do so at the expense of tax dollars we would surely collect if the buildings were inhabited by working stiffs. And it isn’t the largest leap of faith to assume that the tax dollars of private apartment buildings in Manhattan might be a rather lucrative source of income.   
The opportunity cost of this constant drain of the city’s finances is an unfortunate one for many.  While many of the city’s handicapped may not be saddled with the debilitating legacy of slavery or the Holocaust, they do face the less existential but unenviable challenge of very limited access on and off the subway.  We are still unable to guarantee our freelancers affordable (though not free) emergency medical insurance.  While we may see a Second Avenue Subway, there are not even plans to build a much needed 86th street cross town line, and plans to build a freight rail from New Jersey into Brooklyn were scuttled, unfortunate since it would have eliminated many of the asthma inducing diesel truck trips into the city each year. 
The lack of coveted private housing is partially why rents are out of control, and why New Yorkers spend such a significant portion of their disposable income on housing.  Demand is nowhere near being met, and this is the underlying justification for allowing real estate companies to destroy the history and character of Lower Manhattan and now Brooklyn through bulldozing long-standing low-rise buildings in favor of high-rise ones.  These buildings and neighborhoods should be landmarked, but something has to give.
We should give them the tracts of land where the high-rise projects now stand.  No new affordable housings project should be created to replace them.  No further tax breaks for affordable housing units within luxury buildings should be granted.
We can start on a limited trial basis for a couple of years.  We should remove the charter of 100 high-rise projects and raze them.  Fifty of them should be chosen because of the high value of the land they are squatting on, and fifty of them should be chosen because of they have produced the highest incidents of violent crime per building compared to other affordable housing projects in Manhattan.
In order to encourage a spirit of cooperation from each project’s current residents, all inhabitants should be given a one year warning for eviction, and awarded a $10,000 cash settlement if they leave without incident prior to eviction day. Additionally, the move, the security deposit, and the first month’s rent should be paid by the government.   I think there will be a lot of takers.  Sure, we’ll have to send in the cops or even S.W.A.T. teams on the final day of eviction, and sure, there will be protracted standoffs between high-profile and aspiring civil rights leaders and the police, but if we ensure that all hundred buildings hit eviction day on the same day, we will prevail.  It is near impossible for civilian protestors to effectively protect all one hundred separate buildings at the same time in a sustained effort, and residents will not be happy when they are forcibly evicted and therefore no longer eligible for the $10,000 settlement or paid moving expenses.  Resistance will prove not only futile, but a very bad financial decision.  Additionally, while only violent crimes will generally be counted towards the index utilized to select 50 of the next 100 buildings to be slated for demolition, we should make an exception and include all crimes and illegal obstructions at the site of the projects evacuation of the building’s tenants, and open selection of buildings with the fifty highest incidents of crimes to all five boroughs the second year of the program, in order to allow demonstrators to vote for their own project’s selection for demolition through criminal acts of solidarity. Over time, all hundred buildings will be evacuated and razed to the ground.  These plots should then be auctioned to private developers to build free market residential buildings. 
But it would be tragic if we did not extend the opportunity for a more dignified existence to the most needy not lucky enough to be in one of the select hundred buildings.  That’s why anyone convicted of a violent crime of any sort should be stripped of at least some of the government benefits not also offered to middle class folks.  That would include eviction from affordable housing, as well as the food stamps programs.  In the off chance that the crime was committed by a person under eighteen, the head of the household of the convict’s family should be designated as a failed beneficiary and lose benefits as well.
Perhaps I am being overly cynical, but I suspect that the Chassidic community in Boro Park would have been a lot less prone to rioting or tolerant of the rioters if they knew that the families of the most aggressive vandals risked becoming the burden of their community instead of the government’s in the off chance that a large portion of them came from the community’s ever-growing schnorrer underclass.

8 thoughts on “Boro Park and East Harlem’s Cry for Help

  1. Mr Kelsey.
    Your thesis reeks of elitist, bassackwards opinion. Take it out of New York context.
    Were the recent poverty riots that gripped France in our recent past a matter of privileged, pampered peasants lashing out ungratefully at the society that gently washes their collective bottoms while collectively spoon-feeding them and giving well-lubricated handjobs? Were the poor taking up the coveted space within Paris’ city limits? Were the riots a dog biting the hand that feeds them?
    Or just make sure they are confined to the unsightly suburban slums you’d consign them to?
    As Jews, we should be committed to the general health of our communities – and by that, not just our own corner of New York City or Los Angeles or Tel Aviv or Palm Beach or Iowa; but the general welfare of the larger communities we are sewn into. Your definition of ‘health’ treats the poor as a tumor, best treated by excision.
    Two words: Fuck. THAT.

  2. Monk,
    Middle class people (like myself) are only relatively “elitist.” It is a bit of a stretch of the term. Flattering though, I admit.
    You asked,
    “Were the poor taking up the coveted space within Paris’ city limits?”
    Irrelevant, but no, of course not. The French are too smart to put their projects within the city limits of Paris. We should learn from them.
    “Were the riots a dog biting the hand that feeds them?”
    The “dog” was “biting” because it (correctly) sensed weakness.
    “Your definition of ‘health’ treats the poor as a tumor, best treated by excision.”
    No, it treats anti-social behavior as a tumor that must not be rewarded with special priveleges.
    “As Jews, we should be committed to the general health of our communities – and by that, not just our own corner of New York City or Los Angeles or Tel Aviv or Palm Beach or Iowa; but the general welfare of the larger communities we are sewn into.”
    Exactly. We couldn’t agree more on that one.

  3. David, I don’t disagree with you about the Hasidim perpetuating a culture of dependency, but where do you suggest that they go? Where can a Hasid with little formal education, a poor command of English, numerous children, limited job skills and a fear of the outside world find a place to live for $10,000?
    I think that a gradual withdrawal of public assistance would be a more compassionate solution – perhaps in partnership with private Jewish philanthropies. On the other hand, it may be impractical, given that they form such a powerful voting block that the politicians are scared to death of them.

  4. Cipher,
    The $10,000 thing was just for people evicted from the most dangerous or most potentially lucrative land below the high rise projects. That wouldn’t really affect the Haredim. They needn’t go anywhere, unless they are on public assistance and are convicted for arson or the like.
    What needs to happen is for the community to take socio-economic responsiblilty. In the schools and yeshivas, better care by the government could be made to make sure they are receiving English studies until they are 18. That alone would help them greatly. Reading and writing are pretty important general skills; Yiddish alone is pretty useless in the larger business world.
    Additionally, they have to stop being taught the same high level of contempt for gentiles. It is clearly out of control. The Jewish community needs to make them understand this is unacceptable.

  5. “Additionally, they have to stop being taught the same high level of contempt for gentiles. It is clearly out of control. The Jewish community needs to make them understand this is unacceptable.”
    I agree, but I don’t see that we’re in a position to make them understand anything. They have a fair amount of contempt for us as well. In fact, it’s often greater than the contempt that they have for gentiles, as they view us (the non-Orthodox) as being destroyers of “authentic” Judaism.

  6. “…as they view us (the non-Orthodox) as being destroyers of “authentic” Judaism. ”
    An interesting comment, and probably true, yet ironic given the fact that shortly after the Hasidic movement began in the mid-18th century, its followers were excommunicated (placed in cherem) by the leaders of the Orthodox establishment. This was done because the Hasidic movement was seen as posing a threat to traditional, authentic Judaism.

  7. RJ,
    I’m sure the Vilna Goan would have realized how mistaken he was if he would have seen the riots committed by the frequently young members of Boro Park’s Chasidic enclave. Nothing screams “yiras shamyim” quite like a spotaneous riot tolerated by the kehillah.

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