By Sharon Otterman (New York Times)
May 17, 2012
Citi Field, home of the Mets, is sold out for Sunday evening — but not for a baseball game. More than 40,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews plan to pack the stadium to hear about what the event's organizers call the dangers of the Internet and how to use it in a religiously responsible way.
Tickets for the gathering have been so sought after that organizers announced on Wednesday that they had also rented the nearby 20,000-seat Arthur Ashe Stadium, home to the United States Open, for an overflow crowd.
Speakers at the rally in Queens will not seek to ban the Internet, but rather to raise awareness about how, unmonitored, it poses a grave risk to the community, said Eytan Kobre, a spokesman for the organizers. The risk, he said, comes not only from pornography, but also from social media and the addictive pull of the Internet, which can limit human interaction, reading and study.
"These are the same concerns that people across society — in academia, in psychology, parents, spouses — have about the Internet," he said. "But here is a community that is actually standing up and coming together and putting our money where our mouth is, to express a unified communal resolve to address the issues."
At both stadiums, only men are invited, because of the ultra-Orthodox practice of strict gender separation. The meeting will be broadcast live to audiences of women in schools and event halls in Borough Park and Flatbush in Brooklyn and in other ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, according to Hamodia, a newspaper serving the Orthodox.
The rally is being organized by a relatively new rabbinical group, Ichud Hakehillos Letohar Hamachane, which means Union of Communities for the Purity of the Camp. Two prominent rabbis are backing the event: Israel Portugal, the Skulener rebbe of Borough Park, and Matisyahu Salomon, the spiritual leader of Beth Medrash Govoha, the main yeshiva in Lakewood, N.J.
The Ichud sponsored a meeting for 600 rabbis last year that became the basis for this weekend's session. The group has links to the Technology Awareness Group, of Lakewood, which runs a hot line for people concerned about the Internet and helps install filtering software.
In Lakewood, home to the largest yeshiva in the country, residents have taken an aggressive approach to the Internet. In 2005, the town's Orthodox schools and institutions issued a proclamation forbidding children and high school students from using Internet-linked computers. The proclamation also prohibited adults from going online at home, except for work-related business — and then only with rabbinical authorization.
Rabbi Salomon recently told a gathering of thousands of people in Lakewood that by coming together they would be asking for God's help in fighting evil inclinations, according to Hamodia.
Religious concerns about the Internet are big business in the ultra-Orthodox community. Companies sell "kosher" smartphones that limit Internet access, as well as software filters for computers. The event at Citi Field, for which tickets cost $10, was originally planned with a technology expo to show such products, but that was canceled; instead, a booklet that each person at the meeting will receive will provide a range of suggestions, Mr. Kobre said.
Posters promoting the rally have filled Williamsburg in recent days, playing off biblical themes. The event is being held right before the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, which marks the giving of the Torah.
"Accept it Again, Like One Person With One Heart" one sign says, adding, "No one should miss it."
A counterrally, called "The Internet Is Not the Problem," is planned outside the stadium. Its goal is to draw attention to the issue of child sexual abuse in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. "It's infuriating that these rabbis are so focused on the Internet, instead of far more serious dangers," an organizer, Ari Mandel, said.