A New Low at the Jewish Week

By Marvin Schick (Cross Currents Blog)
July 27, 2011

As the Kletzky family began the shiva period and Jews everywhere joined in their mourning, and as millions of persons who are not Jewish felt the pain, there was one notable exception to the universal grief over the murder of young Leiby. That exception was the Jewish Week of New York, a community newspaper that over the years has specialized in targeting Orthodox Jews, depicting us as engulfed in wrongdoing, notably of a financial or sexual nature.

I write a column that is published in the Jewish Week. It is sponsored, meaning that it is paid for, not by me but by persons who believe that my views should have a forum. Admittedly, this is a highly unusual arrangement. In the first column years ago, I explained that my aim was to counteract the flow of negative writing about the Orthodox. Not that I believe that wrongdoing by religious Jews should be defended or covered up; to the contrary, it is obligatory that we do not justify or excuse such wrongdoing or simply act as, "we see no evil." But it is also wrong to indulge in group libel, to take a community that is enveloped in so much chesed, Torah study and much else that is truly good and to take the wrongs that some do as representative of this community.

As I reflect on what the Jewish Week publishes on a regular basis, I know that I have failed. Orthodoxy-bashing is alive and well at this newspaper and this was abundantly on display recently in two long articles that unfairly attacked Ohel Children's Homes, one of the many projects that we religious Jews are proud of. These articles were written by Hella Winston, whose animus towards the Orthodox knows no bounds.

The expectation was that coverage of Leiby Kletzy's murder would be different, that like every other newspaper of whatever orientation in the New York area, as well as broadcast media, the Jewish Week would cover the tragedy with sensitivity and with empathy toward a community in pain, a community for which the unforgettable sacred face of young Leiby is forever seared into our consciousness.

It was not to be. The assignment for the main story at the top of page one in the current issue went to Winston, whose stock and trade includes anonymous sources, innuendo, surmises and believing the worst about the Orthodox. She flourishes in a netherworld of journalism. The fact that she was given the assignment is telling, because it meant that she was given a green light to utilize the tragedy to target the Orthodox. This is striking in its inappropriateness.

In fairness, the same issue that features her lead story contains two sensitive articles on the tragedy, one by Ari Goldman, the noted writer on religion, who has kind words for how Hamodia has handled the story. To my knowledge, this is the first mention ever of Hamodia in the Jewish Week, this despite the remarkable achievement of publishing a top-flight daily newspaper. The other article is by Jonathan Mark, who writes about his shiva visit: "Before writing about Leiby, I wanted to close my eyes and inhale, as it were, the holiness of the Kletzky home, imagining their final Shabbos."

No such sentiments from Winston. Her long article, entitled "Tragedy In Borough Park Puts Shomrim Under Scrutiny" opens with a few cursory words about Leiby and then gets quickly to its purpose. Winston writes, "the tragedy is shining a light on the neighborhood watch groups that operate within the strictly Orthodox communities – and the largely under-the-surface tensions between these groups and the NYPD (New York Police Department)." What follows is a full-scale attack on Shomrim, featuring of course the Winston trademark of unnamed sources. Police Commissioner Kelly's public praise of Shomrim's role is brushed off.

I will not defend Shomrim, because to do so would inadvertently give credence to Winston's nastiness and it would cloud the critical point that the negative focus on Shomrim and the Orthodox is unacceptable journalism. Instead of praising Shomrim for the good it does and the role it played in this sad episode, Winston uses it as another launching pad for an attack against the Orthodox, treating us to a vile exercise in group libel. She writes "Strictly Orthodox communities have a long history of not reporting crimes – and in particular, sexual crimes against children – to the secular authorities, preferring to police their own."

There was one paragraph that goes beyond the bounds of ordinary odiousness. I cannot fathom how the Jewish Week allowed it to be published. It reads: "A law enforcement source with knowledge of the case told the Jewish Week that there is 'reason to believe,' based on the video footage of Aron and Leiby last Monday, that this was not, as the NYPD has publicly claimed, an abduction by a stranger, and that the two may have been acquainted prior to the tragic encounter."

This is sick and despicable. If there is any decency left at the Jewish Week, it would apologize.