The pandemic and persecution complex: a new Forward article

The pandemic and persecution complex: a new Forward article

Here is a link to an essay I wrote for the Forward about the governmental overreach in shutting down the Hasidic community during the pandemic. It has been unreal. The police have taken to bursting into Hasidic institutions and closing them down, terrorizing and traumatizing everyone.

Here was the scene in Boro Park, Brooklyn yesterday: Two female cops were in a car with lights flashing, going down 13th Avenue. The streets were packed; it was before the holiday Shavuos and a busy shopping season, plus people were home and looking for things to do. Everywhere I went, I heard the word “sheriff.” Sheriff? Sheriff! Sheriff! The looks on people’s faces! The best way to describe it is the Yiddish expression Yomtov in dervochen. A holiday during midweek. Or leibedig—an adrenaline rush insanity.

A tiny boy no more than four years old, all spunk and nervous energy with firmly gelled sidecurls, was gripping the side of a stroller, and screamed to a friend across the street in Yiddish:

“Moshe Arye, Moshe Arye, you saw the sheriff in Toys Something-Something? Moshe Arye did you see the sheriff? Did you get a ticket? Moshe Arye?”

Shops were pulling down grates, rushing customers out. Clusters of people were muttering “sheriff.”

I wanted to take a few storefront pictures for my upcoming video tour but oh. Bad idea! Tension is high, and a goyish looking woman with a helmet and a camera might as well be a shooter. The terrified looks…!

I keep thinking: Am I dreaming? Is this bizarre four-month saga real?

If you follow my work, you might have picked up on a theme. It’s a thread of critique of where we, secular society, are going. I would say my philosophy is Neil Postman’s; I believe that not all progress is good, yet we as a society have embraced it all, to our detriment. I see the lockdown and the intense shaming, groupthink, and suppression of groupthink as the natural but horrifying end result of an emotionally driven, unthinking public.

Yet I try not to dwell on it. I have few allies in my position, and people are quick to dismiss me as an apologist. I do believe in a moral obligation to speak out (I know, I’m an idealist, don’t mock me), but it feels at this point that the only effect is to make myself feel like a pariah.

See, my biggest audience is people from the religious community who either live double lives or left and consider themselves enlightened. They reject anything I say that seems to defend the community. I think they want me to be their voice and to channel their anger, or maybe they just haven’t lived in the secular world and don’t get it. I do understand that they are feeling powerless against the Hasidic authorities and hate that it feels like I am defend such authorities—although that’s not where I am coming from. They don’t seem to seriously consider any of my ideas. This especially became clear when I wrote about the Hasidic education debacle and was declared the “one who doesn’t want kids to have an education.”

On the other hand the religious community is friendly and full of praise, which makes me feel about as good as the rejection from the former group. It’s difficult to trust the religious community’s support; what happens when they no longer find me useful? When they say “amazing,” I hear, “Let’s lift you up so when we throw you under the bus it will hurt more.”

I am trying to take care of my mental health. I’ve been biking a lot. The weather is lovely. I am working on the video tour with a lovely editor from Portugal, Melina. I am also reading again a lot. My favorite read was the New Yorker profile of Lionel Shriver. It’s a complete change of pace, and it has transported me to a place where outspoken eccentrics get to say their bit and still live. Ah, glorious!

In other news, for anyone who missed it, here is the video of the panel on coronavirus and the Hasidic community that I participated in last week.



  • Dooet
    Posted at 02:34h, 15 February Reply

    “They don’t seem to seriously consider any of my ideas”
    Your ideas are too complex for %95 of humanity. Even if they may seem simple and even essential to you.
    And idealism? seems distant☺.

    • Frieda Vizel
      Posted at 09:55h, 15 February Reply

      Seems like I can contribute some of my idealism to a cynic like you. Tzedaka of sorts?

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