Monday, August 11, 2008

Stop cking on the Orthodox

Exaggerated media coverage of religious girl forgotten at airport reflects anti-haredi bias

Uri Orbach
Israel Opinion

I chuckled bitterly when I saw the bogus shock of newscasters in the wake of repots about a girl forgotten by her parents at the airport. I saw the newspaper headlines and the journalists who made sure not to mention that this was an ultra-Orthodox family, but also made sure to note that police officers bought the girl strictly kosher candy. I heard a radio host reprimanding a family friend who said it was merely a “small mishap” and I realized again, for the hundredth time, that this is the era of the herd. Do you like children? Because at any given moment, thousands of children are being driven in cars without wearing safety belts, and that is more dangerous and more malicious than any girl who was forgotten because of a momentary misunderstanding at the duty-free store. Many children are neglected, beaten, and attacked, and that is much worse and much more shocking that this nonsense about the little girl.

The girl who was forgotten at Ben-Gurion International Airport is an excellent news item because it’s rare, not because of the story’s severity. “Kid was left behind, parents off to Paris” is certainly a nice headline, but it also makes people forget that much more terrible things happen to many other parents.

After all, this (abandoned! Neglected!) girl (whose parents don’t care about her at all!) did not face any kind of danger. She was walking around at a highly secure area full of police officers and good Samaritans.

What about the seculars?

When it comes to secular families, and I truly apologize for the generalization, other things happen to the children, and they happen more frequently. Not all parents know where exactly their kids hang out on a Friday night; not every secular parent can swear that his son isn’t familiar with the neighborhood drug dealer.

And what about the younger children? They have different traumas. Many secular parents abandon them for too many hours in front of TV shows that are too much for adults even. Many secular parents divorce easily without thinking too much about the ongoing trauma and damage caused to their children, even if they only have two.

Secular children are not forgotten at the airport (although last year, a strictly secular kid got lost at a Jerusalem market,) but they certainly suffer from various syndromes that are typical of the secular lifestyle.

The exaggerated coverage of the girl forgotten at the airport stems from populism, which embodies a hidden charge against families with many children that mostly happen to be religious. The subtext here is that “if you didn’t make so many children, you wouldn’t be forgetting them.” This exaggeration allows secular Israelis who view themselves as modern to look down on religious parents.

A girl was forgotten at Ben-Gurion Airport because of a mistake by her parents. This is the whole story. It shouldn’t have happened, it’s a bit odd, and it featured a happy ending, so in retrospect we can even joke about this case. Instead of turning it into a dramatic story about parents abandoning their children, it would be better if each one of us, both religious and secular, simply check where our kids are hanging out.

Full disclosure: Uri Orbach is one of five siblings; his grandparents had eight children. In 1965, when he was only five-years-old, he got lost at the (religious) beach in Tel Aviv. He was eventually found alive and well.

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