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Building Bridges to Save a City and a Nation

dov spaking at mass rally

Yes, it is true. I, as 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 Bet Shemesh on the last night of Chanukah. I have received a lot of criticism for doing so but maintain that it was not only the right thing to do but the only thing to do to save our city.

I could have focused on the issues which separate myself and most residents of Bet 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 surrounding 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, Bet 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 and work together to achieve progress and success. How did Agudat Israel join together with the vehemently anti-religious communists to sign the Israel Declaration of Independence? How did the Allies join with Russians to defeat the Nazis? The answer is – necessity. The Nazis needed to be defeated so arch enemies joined together to do it. The Jews needed a homeland so Jews from all backgrounds united together to make it happen.

Residents of Bet 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 with police refusing to arrest them because “it was just verbal”. 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 populations as well). These were real threats to our city’s present and future.

We had to do something to change the tide. Our efforts on our own to address both situations were not yielding fruit. However, as a result of our partnering with the 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. Success for our present! The national government now wants to work with us to build future neighborhoods for all populations. Success for our future! If the partnerships which helped bring this success mean that I and other rally organizers are labeled as “foolish,” or “naïve,” we wear those labels with pride.

Let it be clear. Religious extremism in Israel needs to be mitigated and dealt with, now. All Jews, from moderate Haredim through secular, must unite together 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 which I have been receiving for my activism these past few weeks, I have been so touched by the outpouring of support from moderate Haredim to secular 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. No worries. The rest of us will join together to save your country.

But 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 that these groups were “anti-religion” and the greatest danger to the religious continuing to worship God in Israel. But then, 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 and most quality young people I have ever come across and their sincere intentions are 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 they choose. So, they are not out to stop the religious from observing the Shabbat, kashrut, circumcision, etc. They simply want us to back off and not tell them what to do – a very reasonable request! The proof to all this is what was said or actually not said during the rally. There was not one “anti-haredi” or “anti-religious” sentiment expressed.

If I can put on my religious hat for the moment since most of my critics have been religious: The Temple was destroyed and the nation was exiled over 2,000 years ago because of “sinat chinam” – hatred with no cause.” The Sages of the Talmud teach that redemption can only come through restoring our unity. We were plunged into exile because of the hatred of one Jew towards another and salvation can only come through repairing ourselves in that realm. In other words, we can engage in peace negotiations, defeat our enemies in wars, and even gather en masse in the streets and tents to demonstrate against all the social injustices imaginable, but we will not succeed in creating the healthy society we all crave until, at a minimum, we learn to treat each other with respect. I can think of no greater disrespect than an unwillingness to even explore working together with other groups.

The Zionist dream will not fully materialize until we all relate to one another as brothers and sisters regardless of our countries of origin or levels of observance. We must love each other like family despite our cultural nuances, care for each other’s needs as best friends despite our ideological differences, and recognize the role that each one of us plays as pieces of the puzzle that create a “complete nation.”

We can argue with each other passionately about the critical issues of our times. However, we must never close the door on working together for common causes. Those who do advocate those notions will undermine our country. May the successes we have achieved in Bet Shemesh serve as a glowing example and may we learn to unite on the issues we agree on as to move forward as a county and achieve redemption as a nation.

About the Author: Rabbi Dov Lipman is a member of the 19th Knesset with the Yesh Atid party. He has rabbinic ordination from Ner Israel Rabbinical College and a Masters in education from Johns Hopkins University.


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3 Responses to “Building Bridges to Save a City and a Nation”

  1. yuta says:

    Baruch Ha-Shem for the heroism of Rabbi Lipoman.

    He is devoting himself to righting that which is wrong in Beit Shemesh, and, by extension, in other Israeli cities. The atmosphere in that city was outstanding until it was poisoned by the actions of the extremist Sikrikim. These young men, who collect stipends for “learning in yeshiva,” instead spend their days wreaking havoc in the community with their incessant hostilities toward little girls and to all those they consider “impure.” Instead of putting these goons in cheirem or calling in the authorities, Chareidi rabbonim and other community leaders were cowed into silence. Intead of protecting the populace, the mayor and the police totally failed in their obligation to protect the welfare of the citizenry.

    Rabbi Lipman spent years trying to unite all the elements in Beit Shemesh. He intervened in flare-ups between chareidim and dati-leumi neighbors. He worked tirelessly to improve the lot of Ethiopian olim and, despite being a private citizen, refused to accept the status quo when the extremists began their rampage. With great personal sacrifice he rose to the helm of the struggle to re-normalize Beit Shemesh, the city he loved.

    The success of his undertaking is evident in the national response to this story. As a rational Chareidi he is creating a kiddush Ha-Shem for all of us who are yirei Shamayim and believe that “dina demalchuta dina.”

    As a result of his efforts, anyone who violates the law and endangers the well-being of a fellow citizen will now experience the full consequence of his actions and be subject to arrest and incarceration.

    Rabbi Lipman has shown that when all segments of the population, despite their ideological, cultural and religious differences work together to achieve a common goal that is righteous, justice will prevail.

    The residents of Beit Shemesh thank Rabbi Lipman for all he has done to secure the successful future of the city.

  2. Dan the Man says:

    There are religious extremists and there are secular extremists. Both are using Beit Shemesh and the other problems to push their agendas.

    Unfortunately, Rabbi Lipman, a moderate Hareidi thinks he sat with moderate secularist – because some of them may have been.

    But please don’t fool yourself, these NGOs aren’t looking for freedom of religion, but freedom from religion.

    You’re right Rabbi Lipman when you say they just don’t want anyone telling them what to do. But have you followed that to it’s natural conclusion?

    With all due respect, will you be OK then if they promote Reform marriages and divorces? Or Reconstructionist “Kashrus” certificates? Because, there liberalism dictates that you “shouldn’t tell them what to do”?

    There are still certain basics keeping us a unified religion and country. If those who just want you to “back off – and not tell them what to do” have their way, the secular extremists – if you more carefully consider the ramifications of what they are asking for, and if you don’t stand your ground either – and be considered a religious extremist in their eyes for doing so, you’ve let them accomplish their goal of removing a little more of what unifies the Jewish people in Israel.

  3. David Sher says:

    Thanks Rabbi Lipman for one of the rare voices of achdus in the community today.

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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.

Now, because of our efforts, the police have committed to arrest anyone who merely screams at a girl. Success for our present! The national government now wants to work with us to build future neighborhoods for all populations. Success for our future!

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