The following was published by The Journal News as Commentary regarding “5 Jewish women talk about what it means to be Orthodox in Rockland,” a series of articles:
“What does it mean to be an Orthodox Jewish woman in Rockland? This is the question asked by the headline in the Journal News/lohud in a series of articles by reporter Rochel Leah Goldblatt.
The author presents Orthodox Rockland as a kind of Jewish Lake Wobegon, where all the women are modest, all the men are God-fearing, and the number of children is above average.
Is this objective reporting? Have we answered the question in the headline? Have we done justice to the lives lived by women who identify as Orthodox Jewish, or understood their complicated relationships with others in Rockland County?
Reporting the full spectrum of Jewish Life in Rockland is a prerequisite to dispelling harmful stereotypes. It is wrong to hold up supporters of Orthodoxy as paragons of virtue without also exploring the lives of those who dissent. It seems that the method used to dispel stereotypes is to offer a glowing celebration of all that is attractive in Judaism. Praise is certainly deserved, but if purple prose could undo bigotry, history would read like a fairy tale.
Those who dissent within the Orthodox community may be ostracized, unable to find work or housing, and their children may be expelled from school. For this reason, there are significant numbers who must hide their beliefs.
The Journal News should have provided a wider range of viewpoints and experiences. Instead the series results in an image that is as much a caricature of Jewish life and thought as the stereotypes it seeks to dispel.
A newspaper must interview all the stakeholders affected by a topic. There was no attempt by The Journal News to even contact those who are negatively impacted by social and political pressure and sometimes even criminal acts to enforce the rules of Orthodoxy. There is no attempt to understand the racial tensions that exist between Orthodox Jews and people of color here in Rockland.
The Journal News presents this series as a stereotype-busting look at the “truth” of Orthodox women’s lives, but it’s really a thinly veiled piece of advocacy. The reporter isn’t objective about her subject. She doesn’t uncover the facts, as journalists must do, but attempts to persuade readers that the Orthodox community she loves is misunderstood and, as a result, maligned. The feature ends with her own life story, in which she came to realize “how happy and fulfilled [the Orthodox women she knew] were in their lives,” and to appreciate “the beauty they found in their religious identity.” All of which is heartfelt, no doubt, but more appropriate in a personal essay or opinion column.
Other mainstream media outlets have covered the Orthodox community in a much broader and more accurate way. There is ample material to draw from right here in Rockland to create a more balanced perspective. Several bestselling books have been written by people from Rockland County who escaped from the Orthodox lifestyle (“Unorthodox” by Deborah Feldman) or were expelled (“All Who Go Do Not Return” by Shulem Deen).
I am hoping that sooner rather than later you will spend an equal amount of ink understanding the lives of those who are less enthusiastic about conformism, and celebrating those who stand up bravely to oppression.
The writer, a Spring Valley resident, is a leader of Power of Ten, a group that advocates for students who attend the public schools in East Ramapo