Everyone is up in arms with this article that was published yesterday, an interview with a Chasidic developer from Brooklyn. When I first read this article I was utterly shocked and my immediate response was that this Chasidic guy is so stupid, he has no inkling that he is doing and saying something wrong. At best, this guy is a stupid ignoramus; at worst, he’s an outright racist and a bad person.
Many (including my friends and fellow bloggers Fred MacDowell and Shulem Deen) have commented extensively on this article, some pointing to some inherent flaws of Chasidim as a society that causes such behavior. I would like to examine this issue from two different and unique perspectives and show that this has nothing with the Chasidic society as a whole. If the Chasidic society can be blamed for something it is for the ignorance portrayed in this guy’s bold and blatant way of saying these statements – so matter-of-factly – in a public medium. But first I would like to state clearly my strong opposition to such behavior regardless who perpetuated it. I have actually written on this topic before and called some of them out on this blog and on other forums.
The ignorant bigoted and superstitious statements are possibly a result of the Chasidic upbringing but the behavior is in my opinion a result of the American dream.
The American dream says that anyone and everyone can be successful. Success in America is measured by the bottom line on your balance sheet, how much money you earned, how much real estate you own etc. We exalt making lots of money more than anything else. The sharks on the popular TV show ‘Shark Tank’ are heroes to millions of Americans, including many Chasidim. Hundreds of books are published every year on how this person or those people went from rags to riches and how YOU can do it too. These books are extremely popular. No one will read a book on how a person didn’t have a job, how they went into real estate and when they reached an earned income level of two hundred thousand dollars, they were satisfied and stopped working. No one will publish a book that tells the story of how someone was an honest hard working plumber all his life, paid his bills and never went to Cancun or Hawaii for vacation.
This is the world that we live in. People grow up knowing that it is their duty to work hard, take risks and become as rich as possible. People see it as their duty to make sure that their business runs as efficiently as possible to turn the highest profit possible. Some paint it with an altruistic paint brush and say that it is their duty to the shareholders of their company. They will say whatever makes them feel better, but at the end of the day they are the ones going home with millions or billions in their bank account, not the shareholders.
This isn’t a result of the Chasidic upbringing; this is a result of an American capitalistic greedy upbringing. When a CEO takes home a million dollar bonus, flies in a private jet and parties on a luxury yacht, while hundreds of (black) employees in his company toil away seventy hours a week to bring home a minimum wage salary that doesn’t cover their expenses, is that a result of the Chasidic society? How about when banks foreclose on homes while turning a multi-billion dollar profit “for its shareholders”? Is that also a result of the Chasidic upbringing? When companies lay off thousands of workers, thus rendering them and their families homeless, whose fault is that?
Isn’t this exactly what these shark real estate investors are doing? Aren’t they simply running a business as efficiently as possible to bring in the most money they can? Why when these people behave so atrociously do you blame the Chasidic system? This has nothing to do with the Chasidic system; this has to do with the American system, one which the separatist and sheltered Chasidim have unfortunately not succeeded in protecting themselves from.
I know many developers who do this, many are Chasidim, as are most people I interact with on a daily basis, but many are secular or non-Jewish altogether. I judge these people very harshly but not differently than the way I judge any other ambitious businessman – that will do whatever they can within the grey confines of the law and still get away with it – to make more money and become richer, while people around them suffer because or despite of them.
Another point that needs to be taken into account, in order to gain some perspective, is the archaic and somewhat unfair nature of rent control laws in some areas. I’m not very familiar with the specific laws in order to be able to comment on the topic on an intellectual level, but I do know that most of the shenanigans that we are discussing here happen mostly in these areas that have such properties that are protected by these laws. I have read many explanations as to why it happens. The point is that the government needs to do a hard examination on those laws and see if they aren’t ending up hurting those same people that they are meant to protect. Sometimes the Talmudic idiom is correct, “the mouse isn’t the thief; the hole is the thief”.