Monday, February 7, 2011

On Ghettos

Over the centuries Jews have often been forced to live in what we call ghettos. By definition a ghetto is " A usually poor section of a city inhabited primarily by people of the same race, religion, or social background, often because of discrimination; An often walled quarter in a European city to which Jews were restricted beginning in the Middle Ages; (Sociology) a densely populated slum area of a city inhabited by a socially and economically deprived minority; (Sociology) a group or class of people that is segregated in some way; Italian, after Ghetto, island near Venice where Jews were made to live in the 16th century, perhaps shortened from borghetto, diminutive of borgo, settlement outside a walled city."

Inherent in the definition is the idea of forced occupation and discrimination and restriction. Someone else made the decision about where and how we Jews had to live.

Yes, this may be 2011, but ghettos have not disappeared, neither from our vocabularies nor from our lives. For we Jews, however, there is one great difference, at least here in the US and in Israel: ghetto living has become a choice rather than something imposed by a hostile government. In fact, any imposing that is being done comes from within, from a Jewish leadership that sees ghetto living as a way to safeguard a strictly frum way of life. As we have seen from some reports coming from Israel, not only are the residents told not to leave their ghetto, but any strangers wandering into the ghetto area are quickly harassed and expelled unless they 1000% match the residents already in the ghetto. Discrimination is thus reversed from the traditional European ghetto.

One thing that has remained fairly constant, however, is the idea that ghettos are poor areas. Those living in these ghettos can truthfully be described as "socially and economically deprived." Granted, not all communities with a heavily frum presence would qualify for being a ghetto (think the Five Towns), but there are areas of Brooklyn and New Jersey and Israel that would. When a frum area has a large percentage of its population that remains fairly uneducated and with large numbers of its members who are not employed (whether by choice or not) or who are unemployable, that says ghetto. When hordes of dwellers in these communities are on public assistance for the basic needs to sustain living, that says ghetto.

So, is a ghetto any better a place to be living in just because we have chosen to do so rather than having been forced to do so? Are not the problems in living this way the same as they were long ago? What say you?


aminspiration said...

Well..with anything when you chose something it is easier to deal with the reality. But the question comes when the children who didn't chose the reality are forced into it? How do they perceive the ghetto? A lot of them do not even know that they are in one
(think Meah SHearim)
besides alot of people call Baltimore a ghetto, and Brooklyn as well..they are far cry from the ghettos of pre-war Europe.

Tuvi said...

Sure there is a difference between the ghettos of Europe and the ones we see in the US and Israel. The chief difference is not having to be afraid all the time that someone is going to try and kill you.

But I don't understand what is really planned poverty with no chance for improvement. Okay, not everyone has it in them to be a huge success in business or super educated, but not trying at all? Letting yourself become dependent on the government and on tzedaka when you are not being forced to? How is that a frum value?