HomeFebruary 2012The Battle in Bet Shemesh

The Battle in Bet Shemesh

It was a family reunion with our Israeli cousins in a restaurant in Tel Aviv.  They are the Israeli elite, captains of the tech industry, billionaires, educated, urbane, sophisticated, secular Tel Aviv Ashkenazim.  Out of nowhere the elder Israel cousin blurts out, “All the religious are parasites; they don’t go to the army.”  The yelling erupts; in classic Israeli style we go at it.  I tell him, “Come with me to Kfar Chabad, the Chabad town on the edge of Tel Aviv where I spent my youth in Yeshiva. “My classmate was a soldier killed in the Yom Kippur War.  Let’s go house to house and ask to see the Pinkus Meluim (the army ID), and they all work.”
A year ago my wife is visiting again.  This time it’s a pilgrimage to Rachel’s Tomb on the edge of Bethlehem.  On the bus she takes the front seat.  A few moments later a group of men get on and ask her to move to the back.  She tells them, “if we were good enough to give birth to you, we are good enough to sit in the front.” Meekly the men move to the back; the driver yells out, “bravo.”
Over the last few weeks the culture clash in Israel between religious and secular has been driven by extremes.  In Bet Shemesh young girls are accosted by self-appointed modesty police who corrupt the Jewish values they claim to uphold.  Religious are accosted on buses by secular, and demonized in Israel’s agenda-driven media.  It’s a visceral emotional conversation, driven by fear.  Both sides are climbing the ramparts.
Charedim (the traditional Orthodox) are in shock, astonished by the venom of attacks due to the actions of a tiny group that most do not support.  A Charedi friend of mine, university educated, who served in the army, tells me “it’s just another war against religious Jews.”  The religious are closing ranks; the voices of insularity are rising.  They are challenging the changes underway that are moving Charedim into greater integration into Israel society.
Sixty years ago secular Zionism triumphed, and Israel was created.  Along with it came a new Jew, bold, self-empowered, worldly and tough.  There was a small religious remnant that most believed would fade into oblivion in a few years. Today that Israeli feels challenged from inside and out.  The normalization that Herzl envisioned has not happened; internally Zionists fear the growing religious population will take over the society they pioneered.
It’s time to change the tone of conversation.  Neither side has a chance of being victorious; secular Jews in Tel Aviv should not dictate how people choose to ride buses in Jerusalem.  Religious Jews must treat those who are less observant with dignity and respect.  The fundamental value that needs to animate the discussion is the principle of Ahavat Yisroel, the common historical and spiritual bond that connects all Jews.  Secular Jews need to recognize that a black hat and beard do not make you a supporter of those who spit on small children on the way to school.  Charedim need to appreciate that many who are not fully religious have great respect for Jewish values and tradition.  That as Jews they share a common destiny, no matter where on the spectrum of observance they find themselves.
Both must stand up to the voices of extremism in their segment of the communities, be it rabbis who support imposing morality or an Army Chief of Staff who orders religious Jews to participate in an event that is contrary to their religious beliefs.  Israel’s destiny is too important to be taken over by the extremes.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Camp Connects


Why Camp?

Plugged In