The Way We Are

While those of us here south of the border (the Canadian one, that is) were focused on our own local elections, a Chassidic woman candidate in a Montreal borough was busy making history.

Mindy Pollak, a chassidic woman (from the Vizhnitz community) was elected – the first chassidic person to do so – to the Montreal borough council of Outremont, where there have been running tensions for years between non-Jewish residents and the growing number of Orthodox Jews living there.  Her opponent, journalist Pierre Lacerte, had supported a borough councilor widely considered anti-chassidic (if not anti-Semitic) in the latter’s attempt to undermine the construction of an eruv and new shuls in the neighborhood. According to one report, supporters of Mr. Lacerte went knocking on doors without mezuzahs, distributing flyers and announcing that “We’re here to talk about the Jews.”

Ms. Pollak’s political ally and friend was, and is, Leila Marshy, a filmmaker of Arab ancestry who describes herself as a “militant Palestinian.”

An article in the Globe and Mail before the recent election quoted Ms. Pollak as saying that “if we focus on what we have in common rather than what divides us, then we can work toward solutions.”

So begins this week’s roundup of heartening Orthodox Jewish news.  Unfortunately, the media tend to go for the negative or scandalous  And so it’s good every now and then to highlight what, in a bad pun referencing one of the New York tabloids that see their role as highlighting real or exaggerated bad behavior, I call the “Daily Jews.”  That is to say, the vast majority of observant Jews who live their lives in consonance with their religious convictions.

Exhibit B is the “subway guy,” the middle-aged man wearing a yarmulkeh whose shoulder became the makeshift pillow of a young black man in a hoodie who dozed off sitting next to him on the Q train.  Someone snapped a photo of the pair and posted it on the web, where, within days, it garnered over one million “likes” and nearly 200,000 “shares” on Facebook.

Providing that courtesy to a fellow passenger on New York city transit shouldn’t be as surprising as it apparently was to so many.  I remember once when my own shoulder served to provide a fellow citizen the same service, on a bus.  And I’m glad no one had thought to aim a phone then at the sight of the dozing lady and slightly befuddled but unmoving bearded rabbi.  But I’m glad the subway guy was snapped in action (or, better, inaction); I suppose that even doing something simple and decent, it seems, is impressive in our selfish, rude times.

And then we have the finally ended saga of Sarah Shapiro, a respected Orthodox writer in Israel, whose work had been shamelessly plagiarized by another writer, Naomi Ragen.

In December 2011, a district court judge in Jerusalem ruled that, in a novel she wrote, Ms. Ragen had intentionally used passages, often copied word for word, from a book written by Ms. Shapiro, ordering Ms. Ragen to pay Ms. Shapiro damages and court costs, and to omit the copied sections from future editions of her book.

Ms. Ragen appealed to the Supreme Court, which last week brokered an agreement that requires her to abide by the lower court’s order that she remove the plagiarized material from any new editions and translations of the novel; and stipulates that 97,000 shekels of the 233,000 shekels in damages and court costs awarded to Mrs. Shapiro be donated to charity.

Ms. Ragen’s response was to claim victory at that “compromise,” wish herself mazel tov, and rail against “people like Mrs. Shapiro.”  For good measure, she also accuses the woman she plagiarized of plagiarism of her own (for including in a character’s ruminations the words of a well-known popular song from the 1970s, clearly assuming that readers would recognize them).

And Sarah Shapiro’s reaction to the closing of the case?  She offered “a profoundly felt thank you” to the justices “for protecting my work” and called their “peaceful resolution” of the case “quintessentially Jewish.” She had words for her adversary too, embracing her “fellow American immigrant to the Land of our Fathers” as someone who “has done so much, with passion… to defend this country with her power of words…”

“I look forward to meeting you again someday, G-d willing,” her statement concluded, “as fellow writers.”  And she quoted Dovid Hamelech in Tehillim:”Then we will be as dreamers… May we reap in joy what was sown in tears.

And that wraps up our survey of this week’s “Daily Jews.”

© 2013 Rabbi Avi Shafran




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