Inevitably, when I post about something wrong in the religious world I get accusations such as, “You hate Haredim! You’re Anti Religious! You have an agenda!”  Gloriously, it’s less often now that more people ‘know’ me, but they still come.

So, let me tell you a little bit about myself.

I grew up in Lakewood, back before it was Brooklyn. Then, the trails around the lake were clean and empty, Central Avenue always had parking, I knew the owners of Friedman’s and Gelbstein’s, there was still a co-ed Day School and a Modern Orthodox shul, and large swaths of forest outnumbered the homes.

In the Hebrew Day School, all of my Jewish subject teachers were Haredi though I did not know that word back then. I knew that there were women who wore wigs and that they were ‘more’ religious than than my Orthodox cousins, and far more religious than myself (who was not very).  And they were smart and bright and some had far more patience than others for my questions.  In fact, Reb. Nechama Reich, Rav Kotler’s daughter, never let me get away with anything, but she never shied away from my questions either, and it was an honor to have her at my wedding. So too, Reb. Shulamis Rozansky (sister to Rav Malinowitz of Bet Shemesh fame/infamy).

I never knew of “Haredim” until I moved to Israel. I only knew of “Jews”.

It is true that here, one must choose a camp. And for me this is the saddest part of Aliya. I never wanted to choose a camp within Judaism. I really don’t believe in it.

Since we believe in the State and the Army and God’s hand in both, we were decidedly out of the Haredi camp, though we did live happily in snood and hat for a while in Har Nof (no, you cannot see pictures).  A short move back to the US and then a second aliya brought us to Bet Shemesh. I had heard rumors about a repressive society, an author being banned for books on science and dinosaurs, a gym being hassled for having TVs. But I dismissed them as fanatics.

Well, I have learned over the years that when fanatics are not stopped, they take over. I can hardly believe what I have seen with my own eyes. Women and girls erased from books and magazines. Jewish mothers and daughters removed from scenes of Shabbat tables. My own daughters told to move to the back of the bus. Spit flying at my face by a man calling elementary school girls whores. Burning garbages and throwing trash. Rabbis refusing to denounce the garbage burners and spitters despite being begged to for unity. Hiding sexual abusers. Calling Jewish police officers Nazis. Beating soldiers. Inciting to hatred.

They look like the men I grew up seeing in Lakewood, but they are not them. Their souls are not Yiddish souls. They have traded the crown of Hashem for the coat of self righteousness.

All of them? Chas V Shalom.

But, as I said, fanaticism seeps.

When I walked down the street in Lakewood, walking the mile to shul, every Jew said “Good Shabbas,” man or woman, ‘Haredi’ or not. This does not happen so much anymore.

I don’t go to Lakewood now. It is too painful. It is the land of huge houses and $5,ooo sheitels. It is a place where kids are refused from schools, and the individual can no longer be found.  Do these things eclipse all the wondrous chesed done? No, but they do dull it to a point where it is not the thing that shines through any longer. Modesty is gone and I’m not speaking of skirt length…

Here, in Israel, everything is political and that includes religion. While Haredim may not equal Haredi parties, the damage is often done before that statement can be made. In the interests of keeping control of finances and people, deals are made that are not in the best interests of wider society. This is not exclusive to Haredim but their deals affect areas that affect many people outside of their numbers.

When I take on corruption in the courts, when I rail about Haredi women dying of breast cancer, when I agonize over agunot, this is not me being anti Haredi. This is me wanting the ideals and justice I was taught directly from the mouths of Haredi women.

When I speak against the regulation of religion and the alienation of Jews from Judaism, it is not me being anti-religious, it is me understanding that forcing religion down someone’s throat only sends them running.

So, when you accuse me of having an agenda, you are right. My agenda is justice for those who are being oppressed or harmed in the name of ‘Torah’, to call out those who use Judaism as a shield and cudgel for their oppression of others.

I have never been one who can walk away when someone is being hurt. From standing up to elementary school bullies who picked on a girl mercilessly, to nearly getting knifed for taking a teen’s anti-semitic idea of a joke (he put ‘curls of a Jew’ on the list of things to gather in the high school scavenger hunt and I got him suspended),  I’m simply doing the same things now except the bullies are different and the stakes are higher.

People are people and people do horrible things. But people who do horrible things and use the good name of Judaism and Torah to do so are the worst of all.

I hope that explains why I do what I do.  I hope that if you hear someone say I have an agenda or I hate Haredim, you will tell them, her agenda is to fight the good fight where it needs to be fought, no matter who needs justice, Haredi or not.

  1. Yehonatan Zerbib says:

    I admire your courage , Shoshana
    Totally agree with you in this letter
    Kol Hakavod, you still gave me a tiny hope iving in Ramat Beit Shemesh
    Thank you and i support you

  2. Helena Hadef says:

    “I knew her when” …. When you brought your sharp wit and warm heart and pure love of Torah to conservative shul kids in north jersey and never once cared about their kippot or their kashrut- only their Neshema. Not only should one not be judged for having an agenda, one should be judged for failing to have an agenda- for being a bystander to corruption, evil and arrogance. THAT is hillul Hashem

    • Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll says:

      Thank you Helena. You were always unique and strong in your fierce love of Torah and the Jewish people.

  3. Shoshanna.
    I specifically remember the scavenger hunt issue in H.S. It left a very strong impression on me; of the vulnerability of the underrepresented populations . You have always been unapologetic about speaking up for those who have little or no voice. Please continue to do so. They need this advocacy.

  4. Shoshanna I would like to invite you and your family to spend Shabbos with us at Kehillas Shivtei Yisrael . I am sure that you will enjoy our warm religious non judgmental Kehilla.
    At KSY the overwhelming feeling is one of respect and love of God, His people and His Torah.
    Serious invite – call 02 6447308, and we can do this.
    Shabbat Shalom
    Bayle Haber

  5. Dear Shos,
    I am honored to be associated with you. You have pinpointed the issues so clearly. It is painful to actually see it so vividily in writing. Your honestly and passion to help all those oppressed without an agenda is outstanding. You should be given an award instead of people insulting you. May you be zochar to continue your work, your passion and your love and never stop.

  6. Zev Shandalov says:

    I loved this post….it is similar to what drives me to write as well. By the way, you’re welcome to check out Maale Adumim! Let me know if you want a tour😃.
    Yasher koach and keep writing!

  7. Angela Corrnblith says:

    Still Charlemagne’s wife! Thank you for your letter. I still live in Lakewood but not for much longer. The changes are overwhelming. I do still think of you when I drive by your old house!

  8. Dr. Moshe Mann says:

    As a personal friend of Rabbi Natan Slifkin, I couldn’t agree more with the sentiment of this article! I too grew up in the 80’s in New York in the good old days when Torah UMadda was still fashionable and yeshiva students were expected to attend college in the afternoon.

    However, the rapid chareidi growth within Orthodoxy is not the juggernaut that chareidi propagandists make it out to be. There are plenty of niches for rationalist, levelheaded Orthodox Jews like you and I. If chareidi society repulses you, then there are no shortage of dati leumi communities to join. Anecdotal evidence indicates that there is a “silent majority” of chareidim who want to live a normal life and admire science, higher education, and Zionism. Life is full of choices, and if you feel that you must “convert” to Modern Orthodox, then gesunteheit – go ahead!

  9. This is a very accurate description of what Lakewood used to be and what it has sadly become.
    My Grandfather was the gabbai of the old shul (rabbi yaffe) in lakewood for more then 30 years.
    I remember going to shul with him ,all the congregants were very friendly many were holocaust survivors as was my grandfather.
    There was no hint of the type of sinat chinam that we see today.
    Lakewood and many other places have become intolerant of anyone who does not subscribe to frumkeit.
    We need to remember yiddishkeit is what our ancestors died for .
    Great article Shoshana.

  10. Avigael Cassel says:

    I only disagree on the point of “regulation of religion”. We need to legislate to return to Torah, but in an inclusive enriching manner that allows for all of us across all camps to embrace and uptake Torah through our different interpretations. So I like you, look forward to bringing that into reality that we can be proud of our Community that we have dealt with all of the major issues that we now face. The leaders of the future are not those of yesterday. We look forward to fixing this – with no more excuses.

  11. This seems like a heartfelt and sincere article, so knowing very little about you (aside from the occasional articles liked by my friends on Facebbok), I am inclined to take this post at face value. But I am curious if you are equally critical in applying your haredi-taught ideals and sense of justice to other groups and communities across the Orthodox spectrum. From where I sit, there is plenty room to critically apply these standards across that spectrum. If you don’t equally apply these standards I could see why one might perceive you as biased or agenda-driven.

  12. Just read this today. Beautifully written. You have a lot of courage. Never knew there was a non lakewood yeshiva community there. That was all I knew about Lakewood. I have friends who relocated within Beit Shemesh because of Haredi harassment. I have no tolerance for any form of hate. I came of age in the 60’s in the south side of Chicago during the civil rights era.

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