In 2005, Israeli TV journalist Amnon Abramovich said that we must protect Ariel Sharon “like an esrog.” Ariel (Arik) Sharon had always been an anathema to the Israeli left. He was, after all, a hawk who was the main driver behind the settlement movement. He pushed especially for the settlement of Gush Katif, which flourished for many years thanks to his encouragement. He was an aggressive military hero in his campaign during the Yom Kippur War and brought the IDF deep into Lebanon during Menachem Begin’s time. In short: He stood for everything the left was against.
Then, about the year 2005, Sharon finds himself accused in a serious corruption scandal. He suddenly does an about-face and calls for the “disengagement” from Gush Katif. This meant the expulsion of about 10,000 Jews from the very land that was cultivated under the encouragement of Mr. Sharon and the Israeli government. The expulsion sadly took place on Tish’ah B’Av that year, as the beautiful land was handed over to Hamas terrorists. Anybody with an ounce of logic knew this would end in disaster. A few years and a few wars later, this fear was proven to be tragically accurate.
Why did Sharon reverse himself so completely? Common thinking at the time was that he correctly understood that if he makes himself a darling of the left, the media will lay off him and he will be able to avert any serious criminal charges for his financial wrongdoings. Thus was the statement of Mr. Abramovich that the left needs to protect him like someone who carefully cares and protects his precious and delicate esrog. Sharon’s calculation was right. He never suffered criminal consequences, although he fell victim to a stroke and was in a coma for about two years.
We are witnessing the same “esrog” syndrome today. Despite many controversial issues facing President Biden such as illegals flooding the Mexican border; the clumsy COVID vaccine rollout; support for the Iranian Nuclear Deal; the appointment of people such as Maher Bitar, a known Palestinian sympathizer (his participation in Students For Justice In Palestine), to be senior director for intelligence programs of the National Security Council; the promotion of Ilhan Omar within the House Foreign Relations Committee, etc., the press conferences are always very benign or soft-pedaled. He is being protected like an esrog.
Yet there are other groups that are trampled upon like rotten apples. In particular, I refer to the Orthodox community. As much as I am among the first to criticize those in the Orthodox community for not always adhering to COVID safety protocols, you will notice that the media and the politicians blame the Orthodox themselves for their COVID problems. With other minorities that also suffer from a disproportionately high COVID rate, the blame goes to “systematic racism” or, as President Biden stated on February 18, their “lack of knowledge how to get information online.”
Last week, I was watching (for as long as I could, as an aveil) the HASC virtual fundraising concert. I sat in amazement as they reached their goal of raising three million dollars for this most worthy of causes. And this is only one of countless organizations that the Orthodox community is called upon to support, even during these most difficult, COVID-rattled times.
Unlike any other community, we need to pay huge tuition bills, synagogue membership dues, and support our local charities – not to mention the higher cost of kosher food and the holidays. Hatzalah, Tomchei Shabbos, Shomrim, and the mikvah are part of the staples of any respectable Orthodox community.
Just a couple of days ago, I was in Baltimore for a family simchah, and coming down the street was an ambulance-sized vehicle with strobe lights. At first I thought it was a Hatzalah truck. As it came closer, I saw that it was Chaverim on its way to help someone stuck in a bad situation at home or in his car. I really marveled at this modest Orthodox community for its volunteerism and generous support of such a vital service.
Last week you may have seen clips of the community in Lakewood sending vans down to Dallas, Texas, for a 25-hour trip to bring food to that weather-stricken community. The Orthodox are behind the major campaigns to donate lifesaving plasma to help COVID patients across the country survive their ordeal.
The list goes on. You get the idea. Yet how much of this is covered in the general media? Nada!
We have a lot to be proud of – only we don’t know it. We are unfortunately not as worthy as esrogim. But we can stand tall and proud like lulavim.
Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, Vice President of the Coalition for Jewish Values, former President of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens, and the Rabbinic Consultant for the Queens Jewish Link.