The past week hasn’t been a good one for Philadelphia-area Members of the Tribe, at least as far as putting our best face forward is concerned.
First up was the arrest of 21-year-old Ari Goldstein, the Temple University student — and former president of the school’s Alpha Epsilon Pi chapter, which was suspended a few weeks before — who is accused of attempted rape. The affidavit of probable cause reads like a sordid look into Jewish frat brother life, with the suspect pinning a weeping victim behind a closed door and shielded by a blaring stereo.
Then came the footage of Haverford School graduate and attorney Aaron Schlossberg, 42, berating customers and employees of a Manhattan restaurant not from his law office for having the temerity to speak Spanish — to each other. “If they have the balls to come here and live off of my money — I pay for their welfare, I pay for their ability to be here — the least they can do is speak English,” Schlossberg said in a video recorded by a fellow patron. “If you intend on running a place in Midtown Manhattan, the staff should be speaking English, not Spanish!”
Both stories made national headlines.
I’m concerned not so much for the fact that both cases put us in less than a flattering light, but for the fact that it demonstrates that any community — let alone ours — can produce individuals who happen to think that treating human beings with such contempt is OK. To his credit, Schlossberg has since apologized — he tweeted on May 22 that “seeing myself online opened my eyes [and] the manner in which I expressed myself is unacceptable and is not the person I am” — but one wonders how sincere his apology truly is.
Other footage has supposedly surfaced of him attacking as “fake Jews” those supporting Palestinian activist Linda Sarsour, as well as yelling at a Philadelphia policewoman at a Phillies game. Even granting that people do stupid and ill-advised things in the context of protest rallies and sports events — not to mention that Sarsour and those supporting her are, in my opinion, fully deserving of the ire of pro-Israel Jews — denigrating anyone as a “fake Jew” is behavior that should be condemned. So should treating the United States as an English first, English only kingdom where other languages come to die.
That’s the kind of approach that this nation used to rob Native Americans of their culture in a sordid chapter of our history that we are still trying to extricate ourselves from.
As for the crimes that Goldstein is accused of, it’s painful to realize that his fraternity is not new to dealing with accusations of sexual assault. Charges have been leveled on members at AEPi chapters across the country the last several years. Clearly, one of the three historically Jewish fraternities isn’t doing enough to stem the tide of sexual violence.
Some will reflexively blame this and other behavior on the state of civil life in America under President Donald Trump. Doing so would ignore the fact that these types of incidents have been happening long before Trump entered the Oval Office. It doesn’t help anything that our commander-in-chief chooses to govern by brash insult and innuendo, but in many ways his is the presidency fit for the culture, not the other way around.
Our community has long succeeded in producing the best and the brightest in the sciences, arts and humanities; our children have long won more Nobel Prizes than their demographic significance would demand, while our leaders long ago cemented themselves in the highest reaches of politics and law. But if recent headlines are any indication, our families and our schools might need to do a better job when it comes to instilling mentchlichkeit in our young ones.
Another story that didn’t get quite so much attention as the other examples of Americans behaving badly centered around several Jewish organizations involved in a contentious dispute being mediated by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. The organizations in question, the Zionist Organization of America, the Anti-Defamation League and HIAS, are trading accusations of engaging in ad hominem attacks on the other.
At its core, their dispute centers on what has become all-too-common in American Jewish life: assessing others as “bad Jews” or “good Jews.” In such an environment, the schoolyard insult is transformed into public advocacy, while comity and goodwill fall into the gutter. Make no mistake: This is a community problem. So long as our leaders treat each other with contempt, is it any wonder that the rank and file do the same?
Joshua Runyan is the editor-in-chief of the Jewish Exponent. He can be reached at [email protected]