Yes, it is true. I, a haredi with right-wing political leanings, stood on the same stage with representatives of Yisrael Chofshit, Hitorirut Yerushalayim, and Meretz – three secular and very left wing groups – at the massive rally in Beit Shemesh on the last night of Chanukah. I have received a lot of criticism for doing so but I maintain it was not only the right thing to do, it was the only thing to do to save our city.
I could have focused on the issues that separate me and most other residents of Beit Shemesh from those groups and not worked together with them. However, history has shown that if Jews had not been willing to put aside ideological differences to unite around the things we agree upon, we would not have a state of Israel, we would not have a functional government, and the Jewish people would be doomed for destruction. And Beit Shemesh would be in real trouble.
The Talmud is very clear that just as people’s faces are different, so are their ideologies. God created the Jewish people as twelve tribes, each with its own perspectives and focus. Our challenge is to find a way to put those differences aside and work together to achieve progress and success. How did Agudat Yisrael join together with the vehemently anti-religious communists to sign Israel’s Declaration of Independence? How did the Allies join with the Russians to defeat the Nazis? The answer is simple: necessity. The Nazis needed to be defeated so enemies joined together to do it. The Jews needed a homeland so Jews from all backgrounds united to make it happen.
Residents of Beit Shemesh had two pressing issues on the table as of just a few weeks ago. First, extremists were causing trauma to little girls through their verbal assaults, and police refused to arrest them because “it was just words.” Second, the national government was in cahoots with local authorities to build future neighborhoods for haredim alone. (No one is against construction for haredim. The issue is not building for the rest of the city’s many other populations as well). These were real threats to our city’s present and future.
We had to do something to turn the tide. As a result of our partnering with secular and left-wing groups to organize a nationally televised rally, both issues were brought to the national agenda. Now, because of our efforts, the police have committed to arrest anyone who merely screams at a girl. The national government now wants to work with us to build future neighborhoods for all populations. If I and other rally organizers are labeled “foolish” or “naïve” for joining in a coalition that helped bring about this success, I wear those appellations with pride.
Religious extremism in Israel needs to be dealt with – now. All Jews must unite to remove this threat to our country’s future. We must proactively work to transform Israel in this realm before we can reach our full potential. Along with the negative e-mails and messages I have been receiving for my activism these past few weeks, I have been touched by the outpouring of support from both moderate haredim and secular Israelis who have thanked me for taking on this challenge and doing what is right. So those who are closed-minded and not willing to join forces with other groups can remain at home while complaining about our problems. The rest of us will join together to save your country.
I must add one more point. I have been stunned at the venom with which people have written about these “left wing” and “anti-religious” groups. Have those critics ever taken the time to actually talk to representatives of these groups? Yes, I disagree with these groups about many fundamental ideas but sitting with them during the planning of the demonstration taught me so much.
I was always told these groups were “anti-religion” and posed the greatest danger to Orthodox Jews being able to continuing worshiping God in Israel. But in sitting and talking to them, it became clear that this was simply not the case.
First of all, many of them are the nicest young people I have ever come across. They sincerely wish to make Israel a better country. But beyond that, even on the level of ideology, their very liberalism actually dictates that no one be told what to do and that everyone be able to worship as he or she chooses.
They are not out to stop the religious from observing Shabbat, kashrut, etc. They simply want us to back off and not tell them what to do – a reasonable request. The proof of all this is what was said or not said during the rally. There was not one anti-haredi or anti-religious sentiment expressed.