Lakewood Jews doing bad things — why it’s newsworthy (Opinion)
Regarding the latest stories about Medicaid fraud by Lakewood Orthodox Jews and the amnesty associated with it, there’s a lot to say.
I will never advocate or defend the defrauding of government programs or the policies that seek to whitewash these crimes. Wrong is wrong. But perhaps because I am a Jew, I have often wondered if it was my sensitivity that made me notice that every time Lakewood Jews do anything wrong, most NJ media outlets jump on the stories like a dog in heat.
And I’m obviously not alone.
I received these letters (along with many similar ones from Jewish listeners in and out of the Lakewood community) after our station’s news and opinion shows covered the story.
“The press rarely reports about our low crime rate, our strong families, our beautiful communities, our Chesed, [kindness] our tzedaka [charity] how we pay hundreds of millions in taxes and get near zero back, nor will it portray us as decent people. Instead we are typecast as evil: Case in point: the APP ran the story of Medicaid fraud well over 100 times. A much bigger Medicaid fraud story with fifty two non-Jewish families in Pennsylvania ran exactly two times in any media. A school in Eatontown that was convicted of stealing millions from veterans merited two stories -while the [special needs school] SCHI story ran over 50 times. The APP comments pages are routinely filled with calls to gas the Jews, kill us all, drive us out and deny us our rights.”
“Why does your station feel the need to highlight these stories on its talk shows when they know it’s only going to invite nasty comments about Jews from your callers saying things they would never say about blacks, Hispanics or Muslims?”
And it IS true. These stories get more press and attention than similar stories involving non-Jews. A simple Google search will verify it.
I’ll be honest: I considered talking about the Medicare fraud amnesty story on the air because I KNOW it’s something people want to talk about. But taking into account the anti-Semitic calls and commentary these stories inevitably elicit, I decided not to. I opted instead to examine why this fascination with Jews doing bad things exists — and an interesting parable game to mind.
The other day a topic came up on the air and we ran with it: What’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever done at work? A guy called in and said he made a technical mistake as a mechanic’s apprentice that caused a beautiful Corvette to be crushed right before his eyes. The reaction? “No! Not a corvette?!” Of course the story caused gasps and groans all around. We said, “Couldn’t it have been a Ford Focus??!!” But the story simply wouldn’t have been nearly as dramatic or interesting had the car been a Ford Focus.
At the risk of comparing the Lakewood Orthodox Jewish community to a luxury car(!), I think the message is clear: The higher a standard people are expected to uphold, the more dramatic (and newsworthy) it is, when they fail to do so. The unexpected, the ironic, the dramatic is what makes a good news story. And since Orthodox Jews commit so few crimes relative to the rest of the world, of course it’s a juicer story when they do.
When a community as devout, and as charity minded as the Orthodox Jewish community shows its few bad apples, it’s like watching a luxury car getting crushed into bits. There’s just something about it people love.
Are there people who want to justify their hatred of Jews by seeing them steal or cheat or otherwise fail to uphold the high moral standard that they’ve set for themselves and the rest of the world? Yes. But the simple reality is, the masses just like an amazing story. And those masses will find it just as interesting when an elected official takes a bribe, a police officer commits a drug crime, or a priest is accused of sexual abuse. Why? Because the mayor, the cop and the priest are people for whom we have high expectations—people who have, by society’s standards, set a high bar for morality and have fallen off.
I have chosen to look at it this way because I believe deep down, people inherently understand that regardless of what prejudices people have against them, religious Jews, like other devoutly religious communities, have set the standard for human behavior and morality. Hence, there’s a tiny bit of joy in all of us when a religious person sins. Because after all, WE can’t be that bad if even THEY can mess up.
Now I’m also not naive: I know that many people who call in to our station in response to these stories are breathlessly venting their latent Jew-hatred. They’re just waiting for the opportunity to publicly say what they have been yearning to say for so long to someone who will give them the forum: “I JUST DON’T LIKE THOSE PEOPLE NO MATTER WHAT THEY DO, GOOD OR BAD!”
The media, however, are a different story. They’re just telling the stories that make people want to read, listen or click. Because as human beings, though we may be good citizens, good parents, good friends and good people, we still get a kick out of watching a Corvette get smashed to smithereens.
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