Monday, November 29, 2004

Thanks a Lot, Mr. Savitsky

Stephen J. Savitsky, incoming president of the OU (Orthodox Union), has started his term of office by planting his foot squarely in his mouth. The Jerusalem Post quotes him as saying:

People are starting to go to Israel for the right reasons. Years ago aliya was for people who were running away from something. They weren’t successful. They didn’t have a successful marriage. They were coming because there was a reason. They weren’t role models.
But today I see really successful people. Young people. Doctors, lawyers, business people, finance people, who are giving it up not to come here to starve. Not to schnorr from their parents.

The very next line of the article reads: “Savitsky is a successful businessman.”

Well, bully for you, Mr. Savitsky. I suppose that in your book, only successful businesspeople and wealthy physicians, lawyers and finance people need apply. As for those of us who moved here because we wanted to fulfill the mitzvah of living in our Jewish homeland; who struggle under a tax burden among the highest in the world, working several jobs just to make ends meet; who moved here before Nefesh b’Nefesh was a gleam in anyone’s eye—I guess that as far as you’re concerned, we’re all a bunch of losers with failed lives who can all just crawl back into the woodwork.

You have just bad-mouthed most of my friends and acquaintances, who are some of the most accomplished, hardworking, menschlich people I’ve ever met. (Including one lawyer who has been happily married for nearly three decades and has married off three of his children within the past four years. But he is not rich, so I guess that for you he doesn’t count.) By your ill-considered and narrow-minded statement you have slung mud at—among others—every teacher, musician, artist, writer, editor, translator, store owner, computer technician and technical writer I know, who I dare say work harder than you can imagine for less than you would possibly want to.

Or can it be that the sort of people you described are the only American immigrants to this country that you ever met? If so, then I feel sorry for you—and I can also show you far better places to hang out.

(A personal aside: when I first came here, a friend of mine in the States, a religious man whom people would probably describe as “black-hat,” sent me a quote from a religious source comparing those who move to the Land of Israel to lions because of their courage. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the source of the quote offhand, but it was written a long time ago, when the journey to this country and life here were uncertain and dangerous. At the time that my friend sent me the quote, I thought it was a bit over the top. I didn’t see myself that way at all. Now, after living through more than four years of the terror war and nearly thirteen years of struggle, I can appreciate my friend’s gesture of encouragement far more deeply. So in case you ever see this blog, ZM, I still remember, and thank you.)

But as for you, Mr. Savitsky: how can you dare to claim to represent the Orthodox Jews in this country after you have slandered them so badly? On a more personal level, by your lashon ha-ra you have just made sure that my chances of joining the OU are absolutely nil. If I ever had any question as to whether the OU represents me, the answer is now as clear as can be.

We long-time immigrants to this country need hizuk [encouragement] more than anything, Mr. Savitsky, but apparently you’re too dense to notice that. If you hope to salvage this situation at all, then the best thing you can possibly do is to take responsibility for your statement and issue a clear and honest apology for it without insulting our intelligence by claiming, for example, that you were quoted out of context.

One final note, sir: our Sages praised silence, calling it precious and a fence for wisdom. Too bad you didn’t listen.

(For more takes on Steven J. Savitsky’s unfortunate statement, check out Allison Kaplan Sommer at An Unsealed Room, David at Treppenwitz, Sarah, Alisa, Jeff and Dave. Nathan’s take is a bit different.)

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