Wednesday, June 5, 2013

How to make a Chilul HaShem, and then compound it

While I was on shlichut for Bnei Akiva, I often had to travel to events with large groups of teenagers. We were always very aware of how our group was perceived by outsiders. What would bus drivers or event operators who watched a group of 30 or more visibly religious Jewish teenagers think of us.

I was always proud of the way the group behaved, and several times I received comments like "I have never had such a well behaved group on my boat before, I hope that my kids grow up to be like them". This good behaviour was in spite of, or maybe because of the fact that there was little or no adult supervision. I was the only person over the age of 22, and I wasn't present on every bus or at every event.

Hearing praise of the way the kids behaved reminded me of the Yerushalmi (Bava Mezia 2:5):
“The elder Rabbis bought one measure of Barley from the Roman soldiers. They found in it a bundle of money. Now you have to understand that in these times Jews and Roman soldiers were not on exactly good terms with each other. But they gave it back to the Roman soldiers and they said “Blessed is the God of the Jews”.
(Source: Talmud Yerushalmi Institute)

Unfortunately not all Jewish groups act in a way that inspires others to emulate us.
Media outlets are reporting that a group of 100 students from the Yeshiva of Flatbush were removed from a flight for not listening to the flight crew's safety instructions.
The response of the school principal was as follows:
Rabbi Seth Linfield, executive director at Yeshiva of Flatbush, said that administrators are continuing to look into the matter, but that so far he believed adults on the trip who said the students weren't behaving that badly.

At least one of the students reported to the media that he thought that they were thrown off because of anti-Semitism.

I wasn't there, and I have no idea whether the kids were behaving "that badly". I am reasonably certain that it was no more than a small minority of the kids that were disruptive.
I also have no way to judge whether the airline was justified in throwing the passengers off the plane, or whether they could have taken a less drastic action like removing only the students who were the most disruptive, or getting the adults accompanying the group to discipline the kids.

HOWEVER, I am certain that a US airline crew were not acting based on anti-Semitism, and I am sure that throwing more than 100 passengers off a flight of 137 passengers is a decision that costs the airline time and money, and they would not take such a decision without a good reason.
According to all reports, the kids were given several warning, including from the pilot himself.

This is the essence of Chilul Hashem. I am sure that there are people watching the report who say "If that's what Orthodox Judaism is all about - I'm glad I'm not Jewish (or not Orthodox)"

The fact that the reports include accusations of mistreatment from the students and school staff, but no word of apology, even to the other passengers who were inconvenienced, does not make them look any better.

I just checked the website of the school, and didn't see a response. I sincerely hope that the Yeshiva publicly apologizes to those inconvenienced by the incident, and make a clear statement that the behaviour of some of the students was not in any way justifiable and is not typical of Jewish behaviours, and disciplinary measures have been taken against those responsible.

This should also be a reminder to all of us who are visibly Jewish that whether we like it or not, we represent certain values, and every person that we meet will base his opinion of the Jewish people based partially on how we behave.

No comments: