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‘Voice’ Considers Bad Orthodox Landlords

Examines piety versus decency

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House in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where non-Orthodox tenants are allegedly denied repairs.(Village Voice)

The cover story of this week’s Village Voice confronts a phenomenon with which anyone who has had the Kafkaesque experience known as “renting an apartment in New York City” likely has first-hand experience: The fact that many landlords, including ones who are not very nice to you—and, in extreme cases, who are genuine slumlords—happen to be Orthodox Jews. The story, which was prompted by an earlier Voice list of the city’s worst landlords (which included several Orthodox) and a subsequent Forward column, is a series of interviews with Jews who come at the problem from various perspectives. These include a few familiar names—including unofficial Hasidic-hipster liason Baruch Herzfeld and former-Orthodox blogger Shmarya Rosenberg. Best quotes after the jump.

Samuel Heilman, sociologist who focuses on the Orthodox community: “The question we need to ask is not, ‘Does their Orthodoxy lead them to be a slumlord,’ but rather, ‘Why doesn’t their Orthodoxy prevent those of them who become slumlords from acting in this way?’”

Herzfeld: “The only reason why Jews predominate on this list is because Jews own a lot of properties in New York. It just so happens that being a landlord in New York for the past 50 years has been a Jewish business. If you went to Buenos Aires or Beijing, you wouldn’t find many Jewish slumlords.”

Isaac Abraham, a Satmar landlord and advocate for New York City Housing Authority tenants: “The landlord has to be responsible to provide services. But it gets to a point where a landlord is chasing his own tail. I didn’t create the phrase ‘Graffiti creates graffiti, vandalism creates vandalism.’”

Rosenberg: “Once you’re inside the group, there are few crimes you can commit. There are few crimes that anyone can put against you. If the slumlord was doing it to hipsters or Puerto Ricans or blacks, it would be fine. They aren’t going to condemn that person or say he shouldn’t have an aliyah in synagogue or say he shouldn’t be rewarded.”

Joe Levin, a Hasidic Jew and private investigator: “There is a belief that you are allowed to steal from non-Jewish people. It’s a kind of a sickness that these people have. I had a recent case. I said to a guy, ‘You’re taking money from a bank.’ And he said, ‘What do I care?’”

Heilman: “Satmars were always a more insular group, even within Europe. Keep in mind that Orthodox Jews in general—and Satmars, in particular—suffered much more from persecution than other kinds of Jews. In part, it was their own fault, because their rabbis told them not to change anything. So they really stood out. They looked different. And their behavior fit perfectly into those xenophobic attitudes that Europeans harbored against Jews.”

Herzfeld: “I talk to a lot of people in Williamsburg, and a few of them have had problems with Hasidic landlords. And it reflects badly on all Hasidism, because the average new immigrant to Brooklyn—and in this I include Americans who have moved here from outside New York State—can’t distinguish between Jews as a whole and individual Hasidic landlords.”

How Can a Religious Person Justify Being a Slumlord? [Village Voice]
Related: When the Slumlords Are Us [Forward]
New York’s Ten Worst Landlords [Village Voice]

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“If you went to Buenos Aires or Beijing, you wouldn’t find many Jewish slumlords.”

I don’t know whether that’s true or not, but if the implication is that Buenos Aires is not a very Jewish city, it is false. Buenos Aires probably has close to a quarter of a million Jews, making it one of the largest Jewish cities in the world.

Beijing, on the other hand…

Let’s be honest there is absolutely no connection between the degree of someone’s ritual observance and their behavior towards their fellow man.

My worst landlord was an Eastern Orthodox priest with 5 graduate degrees- He threatened us, stole our security deposit, and was unprofessional and unethical- There are always going to be jerks in any group, so too for Jews.

See also http://i115.photobucket.com/albums/n320/surlistyc/farside.gif

ahad ha'amoratsim says:

Samuel Heilman says that Jews who refuse to assimilate are to blame for their own persecution? Please tell me that’s a misquote.

And that is just some of the Orthodox ones.

Consider some of the NOT very Orthodox ones, like the notorious Perec Rachman a jew from Poland who settled in England after the Second War as a refugee, a nightmare in human form right who would not be out of place in one of Elie Wiesel fictional autobiographical works.

Two of his prostitute girl-friends were instrumental in bringing down the Conservative government of Harold Macmillan because of the Profumo scandal (John Profumo, Secretary of State for War of Profumo scandal notoriety). The 1958 race riots in Notting Hill in West London (England) were due to the intolerable and subhuman conditions abusive landlords, of which Rachman was the biggest, had placed an immigrant population which at that time had virtually no legal rights.

How Rachman, a war refugee who arrived in England penniless after the war (except perhaps for war loot) was able to build an empire and acquire the kind of influence he did, should be a subject of interest for sociologists.

A list of misdeeds could extend for pages and many questions would necessarily remain unanswered because wrestling the truth out of someone like Rachman would be like wrestling with a ghost.

Shlomo says:

I am reading Tablet for the first time, having stumbled on it from an online advertisement. It seems to me, after browsing the number of articles, that this newspaper primarily serves to the Reform Liberal-minded crowd of the American Jewry. And, having been Orthodox for the last 3 years I can tell you of the scorn and ridicule I found that come from these Reform Jews. The article would have been crying of antisemitism if you were to replace “Orthodox” with “Jewish”, and indeed — some sixty years ago in Germany most of the Jews were Orthodox and such articles were appearing in the leading Nazi publications.
This thinly-disguised antisemitism is akin to the treatment the Oxford Indians gave to their kind in India during and after the British occupation, the treatment of the native Africans by African-Americans in Liberia in 1800s or even the “Germanized” Jews in 1930s Germany who scorned their fellow Jews for being “backwards” and “embarrassing”.

Thanks for sharing this with all of us.

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‘Voice’ Considers Bad Orthodox Landlords

Examines piety versus decency

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