Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men numbering 40,000 packed New York’s Citi Field May 20 for a fiery and sometimes tearful rally about the dangers of the Internet.
As bewildered-looking stadium staff looked on, oceans of men in black hats filled nearly every seat in the Queens, N.Y., baseball stadium to hear a series of polemics against the use of the web.
Rabbis cast the Internet as a threat to children and to ultra-Orthodoxy as a whole.
“[The people Israel] has arisen like a lioness protecting her cubs,” said Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman, a well-known Orthodox lecturer.
The Internet, Wachsman said, is “changing who we are…You can see it in the ebbing eyes of the younger generation, of the jittery inattentiveness of our children, in the flippant and callous language and attitude, the cynicism … the unbelievable breaches of [modesty],” in Orthodox communities.
Vigilance is required even among adults, other speakers said. “There is not sufficient integrity among the generation today for people to be able to sit in front of a screen with the Internet, and to be able to decide what is acceptable and what is not,” said Rabbi Yechiel Meir Katz, known as the Dziboi rebbe.
Organized by a newly formed organization called the Ichud HaKehillos LeTohar HaMachane, or the Unification of the Communities for the Purification of the Camp, the men-only rally was attended by both Hasidic and non-Hasidic ultra-Orthodox Jews. Live feeds of the event were broadcast to women’s-only venues in some Orthodox neighborhoods.
The evening had some of the trappings of a regular night at the ballpark. Roving cameras put cute kids in the stands up on the JumboTron; lines for the men’s’ room were exceptionally long, and airplanes taking off from La Guardia periodically drowned out all other sounds.
But many of these men had never been to a ball field before. Some said they didn’t even know how baseball was played.
They weren’t going to learn the game that night. The Mets were in Pittsburgh, and the baseball field was empty. Tables for the presiding rabbis were set up behind the center field wall, just in front of the iconic apple that rises each time the Mets hit a homerun game.
Twin billboards advertising Cholula Hot Sauce that flank the Citifield JumboTron were covered with white plastic to hide the demurely clad woman pictured on the Cholula bottles.