A Jewish Suburb: Cultural Diversity – or Tribalism?

This week’s Australian Jewish News reported there were plans for a new Jewish community in Melbourne:

WITH soaring housing prices proving prohibitive for families in and around Caulfield, plans have been put forward for the establishment of a new Jewish community outside of Melbourne, with Pakenham emerging as a popular choice.

The initiative, launched by Beis Chabad Ohel Devorah, came under the spotlight at a meeting, attended by around 100 people, mainly members of Chabad and Adass Israel.

… the information booklet stated,

“the aim is to establish a new Jewish community locale with affordable housing by creating a Jewish Land Subdivision, which has never been done in Australia before.”

The new community of around 170 houses would include property blocks costing under $600,000, shuls, a mikvah, a kindergarten, a preschool and at least one kosher store.

While Mottel Feiglin, heading the New Jewish Residential Development (NJRD) committee, said that there had been

“enormous interest from the Adass kehillah … and the young Lubavitch kehillah”,

he stressed he’s hoping for a more integrated community.

“It should be a merging kehillah, because we’re all Yidden. And that would be a nice thing” he said.

Member for Melbourne Ports Michael Danby, who is a member of the committee, called the project a “fantastic idea,”

It’s surprising Labor MP Michael Danby is so enthused. Could it be because he has many ultra Orthodox constituents?  Back in 2013, he made headlines in Israel, when The Times of Israel’s reported Aussie Jewish MP rapped for pandering to Orthodox.

Michael Danby, a Jewish lawmaker in Australia, is being criticized for changing the sample ballots he is sending to the large Orthodox Jewish community in his district.

Danby… placed the Sex Party last on the ballot cards he sent to Orthodox Jewish voters. He also advised the rest of his constituency to place the ultra-conservative Family First Party last on their ballots.

Yaron Gottlieb, a columnist writing on the Jewish website Galus Australis, wrote,

“It seems Danby believes that people who care about the Jewish community are more likely to be sympathetic to Danby if his second preference is a homophobic, ultra-conservative
party that doesn’t believe in human induced global warming and wants to take indigenous affairs back to the 1960s. 

What does this say about Danby’s view of us?”

While an integrated Jewish community embracing all levels of observance might sound like a “nice thing”, we know from Israel’s experience that it can lead to harassment of the less observant.  Both Israel and Australia are democracies which separate religion and politics, but sadly, many ultra orthodox do not the same perspective, as illustrated by Isabel Kershner’s article:

BEIT SHEMESH, Israel — The latest battleground in Israel’s struggle over religious extremism… has the unexpected public face of a blond, bespectacled second-grade girl.

She is Naama Margolese, 8, the daughter of American immigrants who are observant modern Orthodox Jews.  An Israeli weekend television program told the story of how Naama had become terrified of walking to her elementary school here after ultra Orthodox men spit on her, insulted her and called her a prostitute because her modest dress did not adhere exactly to their more rigorous dress code.

While Benjamin Netanyahu insisted that “Israel is a democratic, Western, liberal state” and pledged that “the public sphere in Israel will be open and safe for all,” there have been days of confrontation at focal points of friction here.

Ultra-Orthodox men and boys from the most stringent sects have hurled rocks and eggs at the police and journalists, shouting “Nazis” at the security forces and assailing female reporters with epithets like “shikse,” a derogatory Yiddish term for a non-Jewish woman or girl, and “whore.”  Jews of varying degrees of orthodoxy and secularity headed to Beit Shemesh to join local residents in a protest numbering in the thousands against religious violence and fanaticism.

For many Israelis, this is not a fight over one little girl’s walk to school. It is a struggle that could shape the future character and soul of the country, against ultra-Orthodox zealots who have been increasingly encroaching on the public sphere with their strict interpretation of modesty rules, enforcing gender segregation and the exclusion of women.

The battle has grown increasingly visible…Orthodox male soldiers walked out of a ceremony where female soldiers were singing, adhering to what they consider to be a religious prohibition against hearing a woman’s voice; women have been challenging the seating arrangements on strictly “kosher” buses serving ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods and some inter-city routes, where female passengers are expected to sit at the back.

“We are working to save our city” said Dov Lipman, 40, a local activist, rabbi and selfdefined modern ultra-Orthodox.  Seizing on the public mood of rejecting ultra-Orthodox bullying, Mr. Lipman and a group of supporters have been lobbying the Israeli Parliament….

There’s a huge philosophical divide between mainstream Jews and the ultra orthodox, and it’s unlikely that the two would make good neighbours. Jack Wertheimer wrote, in What You Don’t Know About the Ultra-Orthodox,

Their distinctive worldview—with its assumption that Judaism will flourish only if Jews sequester themselves in self-segregating enclaves—was antithetical to the integrationist agenda prevailing in the rest of the American Jewish community, who aspired to win complete acceptance; the Haredim, then as now, insisted on fitting in on their own terms.

The Haredim have managed to alienate many of their co-religionists… repugnance directed at the “holier than thou” surfaces powerfully whenever a Haredi person, let alone a rabbinic leader, is accused of a crime. Not only are other Jews embarrassed by the misdeeds of people so readily identifiable as Jewish, but they resent the hypocrisy of criminals parading as pious persons. The Jewish press seems to spotlight criminals clad in black hats or yarmulkes with a greater zeal than it does other Jewish criminals.

FailedMessiah.com, a blog started in 2004, specializes in documenting in excruciating detail crimes and sins committed by Haredim in every corner of the globe. … the misdeeds of Haredi rabbis are taken as confirmation that for all their holy-rolling, they are charlatans.

When Haredi communities close ranks to protect offenders, insult is added to injury. Efforts to shield criminals in their midst, especially rabbis accused of pedophilia and other forms of sexual abuse, are taken as evidence of a morally bankrupt community.

Hesed activities come in for criticism. Some have questioned whether they mask untaxed funds or in other ways benefit the ostensible givers. And champions of the liberal Jewish conception of social justice known as tikkun olam (literally, “repairing the world”) who focus their attention on universal causes are turned off by the parochialism of Hesed.

Haredim and their Jewish critics operate with vastly different assumptions about modern life, mores, and sources of knowledge…From the Haredi perspective, prevailing sexual mores are immoral, the Internet culture poses manifold temptations, the easy social association with non-Jews may lead to intermarriage, and advanced culture as exemplified by the universities is overwhelmingly secular and often anti-religious.

… gender issues are often a flashpoint. The vastly different roles of women in Haredi society compared with the larger Jewish populace have created resentment on both sides
of the divide. And then there are sharp differences in attitudes toward sexuality.

Where else but in a Haredi school would anyone be teaching that Jewish men and women must refrain from premarital sex? Or that same-sex attraction is to be discouraged? Such thinking has become anathema in most of the American Jewish community and in society at large.

This certainly resonates here in Australia, with Chabad/Yeshivah facing its second grilling by The Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse, and Malka Leifer, former Adass Israel principal living free in Israel, resisting Australia’s attempts to extradite her to face justice on child abuse charges.  This is not to mention various financial irregularities, most notably Rabbi Jo Gutnik’s tangled business affairs.

While it’s understandable that some Jews like to live close to those from a similar culture, there’s a difference between that and building dedicated Jewish-only enclaves.  When Muslims tried to do the same, there was outrage from many, including some Jews, who called it “a ghetto of Islam”.

A block in Melton South will be transformed into housing targeted at the Islamic community, with 75 separate lots and a mosque built in the middle of the neighbourhood.

It’s called Iqra Village and is said to become Victoria’s largest faith-based housing.

The development…sparked outrage on social media and there were myriad racist comments, with some even saying it shouldn’t be allowed.

“What a joke. If Australians build an Australian only suburb, we would all be racists,” a comment on Twitter said.

But the development is not a Muslim-only community. While it will be rich with Islamic culture, it’s only targeted at Muslim families who might want to live around others with the same values.

Australian Federation of Islamic Councils treasurer Keysar Trad told A Current Affair Muslims were just creating a neighbourhood free of discrimination and free of misunderstanding.

“This particular venture is an indication there’s a feeling out there that there’s perhaps less acceptance of Muslims.”

“A project of this nature will allow people to be able to develop a local place of worship or a local school without too many objections from neighbours. They won’t be getting in anybody’s way, it’s something within their local community.

“We’ve always encouraged our community to live among mainstream society and to build friendships and promote understanding and awareness.”

Town planner Bill Kusznirczuk said he did not have a problem with it.

“Australia has found that its settlement post war has been a mix of a range of ethnic cultures and that’s a good thing, it makes for the perfect minestrone from an urban planning point of view.”

Emily Crane for The Daily Mail Australia, wrote:

Developers of a new housing estate in suburban Melbourne are only targeting Islamic families in what has been described as one of Australia’s biggest faith-based developments.

Iqra Village, at Melton South, will be divided into 75 lots and marketed towards South Asian migrants.

There are also plans to build a mosque at the centre of the neighbourhood..

‘There was no reference in the planning applications that the development was a faithbased community development,’ the council said in a statement.

‘Melton City Council continues to build an inclusive community that embraces and values cultural diversity.’

Problem is, there’s a fine line between cultural diversity and tribalism. Australia is a multi ethnic society, united under a democratic government, where there is one law for all.  We must not divide it into separate enclaves where closed communities impose their own rules which others living there must conform to. Echoing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he declared “Israel is a democratic, Western, liberal state” and pledged that “the public sphere in Israel will be open and safe for all,” The same must apply in Australia.

Let’s Say NO to faith-based Suburbs!


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