Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The other side of the story

Here's a timly and thoughtful note about Agudas Yisroel from "deemer:"

Hi DovBear -

I've been noticing a trend of many bloggers lately to criticize Agudah for its recent (idiotic) statement regarding the Kolko affair. While I agree that Rabbi Shafran should have employed a bit more diplomacy regarding the situation, I've been disturbed by the recent and violent antipathy towards the organization. This email is not only going to be sent to you, although I suspect that you might be the most receptive.

While it is valid to criticize a reaction from the Agudah, I'm somewhat surprised by the extent of the criticism. For example, in your post, you call for the resignation of the heads of the organization, and make no move to defend the Agudah from the posters that comment. One of the commenters remarked that this signals the spiralling end of the Agudah. Another commenter rallied for an end to all authority. The general tone of the comments has been either a rabid hatred of the Agudah, or a strange defense of the Agudah that somehow, wrongly, parlayed itself into a defense of Kolko.

You know why I defend the Agudah? Not because I grew up with its presence in my home. Not because I admire all rabbinic authority without proper introspection. But because the Agudah has done a tremendous amount of good for Jews (and non-Jews!) alike, especially within the NY area. You've got all the organizations that are off-shoots of the Agudah. COPE, and A Time, and a myriad of others that I cannot even mention here. But the reason I love the Agudah most of all is because it is a political force to be reckoned with. And perhaps you don't understand how important it is for Jews to have clout in the political arena. I do, and I'm suffering the consequence of living in an area without the Agudah's influence.

Without going into my personal details, I know of several organizations that are desperately trying to help families that have special needs. Things that NY takes for granted, such as Ohel, P'tach, HASC, Jewish Group Homes for the impaired, live in aides for the elderly, etc, are simply not available anywhere else, or not available in such magnitude. There is nearly NOTHING available for Midwesterners or those on the West Coast, and if there is, it's overpopulated and overwhelmed, and incredibly expensive. How is this possible? Partly because of the Agudah. Because the Agudah has fought legislature and obtained funding from the government to help people. And when there is no help, when communities have to go to the same well over and over again to help people in dire need, the wells dry up or become weary. Schools cannot stay open. Homes refuse entry. The elderly suffer in nursing homes.

Children - the same children that your readers say should come first before anything else - are suffering in unimaginable ways. And in NY, there is relief for these children. Because the Agudah has had a hand in fighting for legislature to be passed so that special needs can be addressed in the private schools, paid for by the government. And so that the elderly can have in-home nurses, instead of being placed in a nursing home. The Agudah has had its hand in all that. And more.

The Agudah has fought the courts so that they would be required to honor a ruling made by the local Bais Din, and won. In doing so, they have asked that the courts respect rulings by religious institutions. You may not agree with that, but in doing so, the Agudah has helped make the United States a friendly place for Jews to live.

When people are trying to fight the public school system elsewhere in the country, which has stolen the rightful services for special needs children and have placed it in the hands of lawyers and administrators to deny the right to proper education, they go to . . . the Agudah. They are trying to change legislature, and you need the Agudah, as a political body, to do it.

I'm not asking you to retract your criticisms of Rabbi Shafran. I'm asking you to retract your antipathy against the Agudah. You are lucky that you do not need it. The rest of us do. Please defend it.


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