Packing Stadium for Anti-Internet Message

Hasidim Check Smart Phone Apps as Leaders Denounce Web

Mixed Messages: Smart phones and laptops were everywhere as black-hatted Hasidic men rushed to a rally where leaders denounced the corrupting power of the internet.
josh nathan-kazis
Mixed Messages: Smart phones and laptops were everywhere as black-hatted Hasidic men rushed to a rally where leaders denounced the corrupting power of the internet.

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published June 01, 2012, issue of June 01, 2012.
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It’s not too late to save Michael Fromowitz.

Fromowitz, 18, and a pack of his yeshiva classmates had come to the ultra-Orthodox anti-Internet rally at Citi Field in Queens from the Hasidic enclave of New Square in upstate New York. A redhead with long side curls, Fromowitz doesn’t have his own email address. He does have a cell phone, but it’s a so-called “kosher phone,” so it doesn’t take pictures or send text messages.

For Hasids even a few years older, that sort of distance from the web is rare. So it is yeshiva students like Fromowitz who are not yet a lost cause, according to one rally speaker, Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman.

“We don’t have to lose the zero to 20s,” he exclaimed at the May 20 event. “We can put a stop to it now.”

“You can see it in the ebbing eyes of the younger generation, in the jittery inattentiveness of our children… and the unbelievable breaches of [modesty],” Wachsman said, his image projected on the stadium’s JumboTron as 40,000 ultra-Orthodox Jewish men looked on.

For the older generation, it may already be too late. At the stadium, and en route to and from the rally, BlackBerrys and iPhones were everywhere. On a Brooklyn subway platform, men heading to the event discussed directions they had read on the transit website HopStop. Days later, videos of the rally were all over YouTube.

So much for being cut off from the Internet.

The evening had some 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 long. Airplanes taking off from La Guardia Airport periodically drowned out all other sounds.

Still, many of the men and boys in attendance had never been to a ball field. 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. Meanwhile, twin billboards advertising Cholula Hot Sauce flanking the Citi Field JumboTron were covered with white plastic to hide thedrawing of a demurely clad woman pictured on the Cholula bottles.

I interviewed Fromowitz and his classmates in the right field nosebleed seats. Reporters had been barred from the event — a representative preposterously blamed “Homeland Security” — so I paid $20 for my ticket in the parking lot from a member of the Skver sect who had an extra. This meant that I was sitting in a section full of Skver Hasids, many of them from New Square. (One New Square man told me that his wife had said that there were no men left in the town.)


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