By Dean Whittaker

This month I had the privilege to speak about the future of work at the Annual Award Luncheon of the Rockland County New York Economic Development Corporation. Rockland County is on the border of New York and New Jersey on the West side of the Hudson River, and it is the smallest county in New York State. In preparation for my discussion, I researched the STEEP trends impacting the future of work and the social, economic, and political trends of Rockland County. In the midst of my research we had a presidential election.

What I learned about Rockland County was that it has a very diverse social fabric with a large and growing Hasidic Jewish population that had migrated there primarily from Brooklyn, New York, seeking lower cost housing. Having grown up in a small Midwest farming community made up of Irish and English immigrants, I had virtually no contact with anyone other than white Protestants and Catholics. So I began to educate myself on the Hasidic beliefs by reading Chiam Potok’s book, The Chosen, which is about the friendship between two teenage boys, one a Hasidic Jew and the other an Orthodox Jew. Both are sons of Rabbis.

One characteristic I learned of their faith is they tend not to participate in the workforce but rather focus on prayer and studying the Talmud, the laws governing their faith. In their belief system large families are the norm, women don’t drive, and they follow a strict dress code. Men have beards and long sideburn curls. Their children are educated in private Jewish schools where they’re taught Yiddish rather than English and study the Talmud rather than math or science. Their micro-culture relies on the welfare system to allow them to focus on their faith.

Rockland County has one of the highest property tax rates in the country and finds itself in a perpetual state of fiscal distress at the local and county government levels, but has recently been improving under new leadership that has instituted strict financial controls and reduced expenditures.

As I took what I learned about Rockland County, in light of the election, I realized the importance of seeking first to understand others. We live in a country made up of immigrants with diverse religious, political, and economic backgrounds and beliefs. It is important that as we come into this new chapter, we need to remember our commonalities that brought us together rather than just our differences that pull us apart. The Bill of Rights and the Constitution has made us a strong nation. Let’s not lose sight of this.