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April 19, 2014 / 19 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘israeli society’

The Clash at the Kotel: Where is the Wisdom?

Sunday, May 12th, 2013

A short while ago I wrote a post lamenting the fact that there are actually people in Israel who refuse to wear a kipa at their own wedding. They refuse to in any way identify with observant Jewry. After last Friday, I can’t really say I blame him. If I were a secular Jew seeing what took place last Friday at the Kotel, the last thing I would ever want to do is identify with observant Jewry.

This event is being published in all media including the New York Times. This morning when I skimmed through the pages of the Chicago Tribune a picture of the event hit me in the face along with an article describing it. The Jewish Press says it all:

Haredi men are cursing the praying women, and occasionally throw water bottles and garbage at them.

I wasn’t going to react to this in a post. It would seem like I was gloating after I had written a post just prior to the event predicting that this might happen. I had hoped it wouldn’t. I had hoped that there would be a major kiddush HaShem with thousands of young women showing up and praying at the Kotel with tremendous sincerity perhaps praying in some way for the welfare of family; or friends; or the entirety of Jewish people. But in my heart I knew it would not end well. And unfortunately I was right. I am not gloating. I am sad that this happened. Sad… and angry! When I saw that Tribune article it hit a raw nerve.

This event goes way beyond any contentiousness about the rights of the women of the wall. I am not one of their supporters. One can debate whether they have a right to do what they do there. But no matter how opposed one is to them, to create a hilul HaShem in that cause not only undermines their goal, it projects an image to the world that the most religious Jews among us… those who claim to be the most authentic representatives of the Chosen People are primitive savages!

As I said in last Thursday’s post, these kinds of protests attract trouble makers. It doesn’t take that many… 5 or 6 people can do things that will make us all look bad. And when I say all.. I mean all of Jewry, Haredim, Modern Orthdodox, and even secular Jews.

I’m sure that there are some people out there who read these articles and said this is how Jews act. And even those who didn’t are certainly saying the this is what Ultra-Orthodox Judaism is all about. If one wears a kipa the world looking at him will increasingly think of images like the one above.

I have to ask. With all the good intention of Israel’s rabbinic leaders, how could they not see that this was going to happen? It isn’t as though protests in the past never had things like this happen. The fact is that this almost always happens.

How many times were reporters spat upon by extremists in Meah Shearim protesting hilul Shabbos? How many dumpsters have been set on fire in protests like these? How many windshields have been broken by rocks being thrown at them during one of these protests in Meah Shearim? Meah Shearim is pretty close to the Kotel… literally a stone’s throw! This is not the first time that rabbis have called for a peaceful protest and violence broke out.

How can they know the potential of violence is real and yet still think that a simple instruction to not be violent will work? “Eizehu hacham? Haroeh es hanolad”—Who is the wise man? The one who foresees the consequences of their actions.

Where is the wisdom?

We have many learned Rabbis who are looked to for guidance by observant Jews. Many of them asked seminaries to empty out and go to the Kotel to protest the Women of the Wall. That is exactly what they did. And look what happened.

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Some of My Best Friends Are…

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

I am not one to follow beauty pageants. Least of all those held in Israel. I am not going to get into the Halachic issues here – which do exist. As it pertains to this post it is a side issue. I am, however, going to get into another troubling issue – that of racism.

An article in the Forward cites an Israeli journalist that actually asks the question about whether Yityish Aynaw deserved to win the title Miss Israel. I don’t think that question has ever been asked before about any other winner of that title. No matter what she looked like. Why did he ask it here? Can anyone guess? Well, just in case you hadn’t noticed, the color of her skin is black. Here is what he said:

“I think it is really great that an Ethiopian-born woman won our national beauty pageant, I really do. If she were also beautiful it would have been even better.” Right! He thinks it’s great! And some of his best friends are…

What a disgusting comment! It is truly sickening when skin color becomes an issue in any circumstance. To say that someone who won a contest is not really all that beautiful but was chosen for political reasons in only this case is an insult to both the winner and to an entire race of people.

It is also an insult to me and to anyone with any sense of human dignity. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That this journalist doesn’t think she is beautiful may in fact be true. Maybe he doesn’t. I will even grant that beauty pageants are political and winners are chosen for reasons other than physical beauty.

But this has always been true. And yet I don’t ever recall anyone saying that a beauty contest winner in Israel was not beautiful enough to have won. To do so now seems to show a certain degree of racism that is deeply buried in the unconscious mind of that journalist. He probably isn’t even aware of his own racial bias. Or… maybe he is and is disguising it by putting it in political terms.

Israel has recently been accused of racist tactics with respect to its Ethiopian immigrants. I don’t know how true that is. Although there is racism among some of its citizens as was pointed out last month by an op-ed in Ynet. But when journalist post messages like this on his Facebook page I think it exposes a certain degree of it. Even if it is only in the unconscious mind.

The unconscious mind dictates a lot of how humankind behaves. Decisions are often made that are racially biased and yet not realized as such by the decision makers.

I do not mean to impugn Israel. It is not a racist state. Far from it – despite accusations to the contrary. No one has done more for the plight of Ethiopian Jewry than the State of Israel. They have attempted mightily to mainstream these new immigrants and have achieved a measure of success in doing so. The fact that Miss Israel was an officer in the IDF at age 21 demonstrates that.

But the fact that there still exists this kind of subliminal thinking seems to be true as well. When journalists question why a black woman won a beauty contest – even if it is disguised as referring only to this particular black woman – it impacts on public opinion. I think that is sad. That he said it only on his Facebook page – perhaps thinking only his “Friends” would see it – makes it even sadder. That would mean he knew his comment wasn’t all that Kosher.

I’m sure that there are many (hopefully most) Israelis that do not have a prejudice bone in their bodies. But obviously there are some who do have a bone or two in their bodies that is prejudiced

Those who do, like this journalist – need to work on their attitudes and root out any and all prejudice whether conscious or not. It is the right thing to do.

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A Solution to the Draft Controversy

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

My proposal regarding the contentious issue of Israel’s universal draft represents a unique approach that cannot only solve the problem but will also provide leverage to strengthen the IDF and Israeli society.

To begin, I object to the premise that army service is a unifying factor, i.e. the melting pot, of Israeli society. Today, a large part of Israeli society – not necessarily the Haredi – finds a way to evade mandatory service. Also, only a small percentage of the entire society serves in the reserves.

Mandatory military service is one of the factors dividing and fragmenting Israeli society. The discussion being conducted now is one of the proofs of that. Additionally, the obligation to draft everyone is actually a burden on the army and economy, as it cultivates hidden unemployment and lack of professionalism.

Proposal’s Main Points

● Create a process that will transform the army into a professional, volunteer force. ● On the other side of the coin, we must exchange our exclusive reliance on the army as an apparently unifying factor in Israeli society with a true investment in the strengthening of our shared national and cultural identity. This entails authentic dialogue between all the main sectors in Israeli society.

Army Service Proposal

● The Mandatory Draft Law will remain on the books, but the IDF will draft only those it is interested in drafting, according to the tracks to be specified below. ● Most of the recruits will serve in a shortened training track (not more than two months) that will prepare them for various roles in times of emergency – and will then be discharged.

● Recruits who volunteer for military units will be drafted for at least three years. They will receive minimum wage during their training and standing army wages during their military service.

● Recruits who volunteer for special units will be drafted for a longer term (5-6 years), in accordance with the training invested in them. They will also receive minimum wage during training and standing army wages during their military service.

● The National Service and Civil Service frameworks will continue to play their roles in society, in accordance with the civil needs.

● Reserve units will receive high pay and high national classification as detailed in the following point.

● A classification on a point system will be set in place. Points will be allotted relative to reserve time served. These points will afford the reservists preference for anything that society honors (academia, housing, employment, etc.) in order to encourage those who give of themselves for the good of the whole.

Proposal Application

● This proposal does not require a change in legislation but rather a change in perspective. The army must be allowed to draft those individuals who it can professionally train and from whom it will truly benefit. Those not needed by the army could give to society in National Service or Civil Service, as well as in their preparedness for active duty during emergencies. Those not wishing to do their part in any way will remain at “the end of the line” in any domain in which society encourages those who give to it.
● This proposal will make the army more effective while freeing those currently forced to perform mandatory conscription (be it in the army or in yeshiva) to enter the work market. Instead of funding unemployed soldiers and yeshiva students who do not want to enlist, a wave of young workers will enter the workforce and create a more just distribution of the economic burden on the shoulders of Israel’s citizens.

MILITARY SERVICE is a privilege – not a burden. Mandatory conscription is not really needed. It weakens our security and economy, creates unnecessary conflicts and fragments society.

I call upon Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his cabinet to adopt this new, fresh approach on the draft issue. I call on them to channel their efforts to truly unite Israeli society – by investing in our national identity and its meaning.

Another One Rides the Bus

Sunday, January 20th, 2013

Here we go again. Last week there was yet another ‘Mehadrin (sex segregated) bus story’ in the news.

Ynet reported that a young 22-year-old woman by the name of Miri Bleicher got onto a Mehadrin (sex segregated) bus. (It is not clear whether this was known to her – although from the description, it seems she was not at first aware of it.) She was promptly verbally abused by some of the passengers. Among the names they called her was “Shkisa” which is a pejorative often used to describe an irreligious and immodest Jewish woman. She was even spat upon by one passenger.

When she first boarded the bus she did not get off and re-enter the bus at the rear – as is required by Mehadrin buses. I say ‘required’ although if I recall correctly Israel passed a law against Mehadrin buses. But in the real world Mehadrin buses are going to happen whether anyone likes it or not. When the majority of a community desires it – that is the way it is going to be. Most people have learned to live with it when in those neighborhoods. But I digress.

While not bending to custom and re-entering the bus in the rear, Ms. Bleicher did quickly pass by the men sitting in the front and went to the rear.

This was not a short ride across town but an hour and a half trip to the city of Arad. Long story short – Ms. Bleicher said she was insulted the entire time and was brought to tears.

I can just hear all the “defenders of the faith” reactions. “She asked for it.” “She absolutely was confrontational.” All she had to do was re-enter the bus and sit in the back.” She was trying to make a statement – a feminist statement.” “She was a provocateur.” “She had an agenda.”

The truth is I don’t know what her agenda was or if she had one at all. My own feeling is that she did not know what kind of bus she was getting on to. She simply wanted to go from ‘here to there’. Once she realized what the situation was she refused to play along. I doubt that she got on the bus to make a point about ‘The big bad Haredim”. There were no cameras or microphones.

But even if she did have an agenda, what right did they have to harass her? One can see from the picture that she was as Tzanua (modestly dressed) as could be. There was no need to yell at her except for them to make their own point. Which is apparently that they are not going to let anyone interfere in their way of life on any level – no matter how innocuous such ‘interference’ may be. Accordingly – insulting a young woman to tears for the duration of an hour and a half bus trip is a perfectly legitimate way to make their point – as is spitting on her.

Unfortunately this is not a new story. Just a recurrence of similar ones. Only with a new victim. I realize that the majority of even extreme Haredim do not act this way. But there are far too many incidents like this for it to be an aberration.

I have no clue how to teach those who spit on others how to act in a civilized society. I’m not sure it is even possible. In my view the best way to handle a situation like this is to just give in to it. It is not worth the fight. They are not going to give up their way of life. The only thing I would fight is if they tried to extend their influence beyond their own borders and inflict their standards upon everyone else in Israel.

I bring this up to dismiss any thought that would blame Ms. Bleicher for her own troubles. There are always people who in cases like this will cast the victim as a provocateur. Even if they concede that the passengers were wrong. But even if I were to grant that she provoked these Haredi passengers (which I do not) the greater sin is not that she was a provocateur but in the way a fellow human being – not to mention a fellow Jew – was treated.

Lest anyone say that the passengers were exercising their natural right to freedom of speech just as she was exercising her right to enter the bus from the front – free speech does not include harassing or spitting on people.

Nor do I accept blaming the so called biased messenger as is so often the case. There are always those who will say the secular media is biased against Haredim and they therefore doubt the veracity of the story. I do not believe that Ynet made up the story. I believe it happened.

Then there are those who say that the reverse story of Haredim being mistreated by Hilonim (secular Jews) never gets reported. And they will give ample examples of it.

Perhaps that’s true, but it is irrelevant. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

Let us examine that side of the coin for a moment. Are Hilonim naturally pre-disposed to bashing Haredim for no reason at all? As outrageous and wrong as their behavior toward Haredim sometimes is, it is not happening in a vacuum – out of the blue. They react to their prejudices the same way Haredim do.

The fact is that Hilonim and Haredim live segregated lives. So that each segment has no other frame of reference other than what they have been indoctrinated to believe (in he case of Haredim) or what they see reported in the news media (in the case of Hilonim). Unfortunately it is human nature to paint an entire group with the broad brush of prejudice in such circumstances. I think that’s true for both communities.

For Haredim – their views are skewed by their teachers who constantly bash the Hiloni community as “out to get them.”

For Hilonim – they take their cues from the constant news reports about Haredi misdeeds that seem to be a staple of daily life. Like the one in this post. Need I mention the many others that they are infamous for? To mention just one of the more egregious ones that come to mind is when a few of extremist Haredim in Ramat Bet Shemesh B screamed “whore” an assorted other indignities at 8 an year old girl on her way to school last year. There are so many incidents like this one – and worse – that it would take up far too much space in a relative short blog-post to mention them all. On top of that, there is resentment at how Haredim view the army and seem to extort the government for funding in exchange for their vote.

When a Hiloni sees someone who looks Haredi – these thoughts could very well be on his mind. And the more aggressive ones might be moved to attack him at least verbally. Not because he did anything wrong. But because he sees a Haredi as a member of a group that represents all that. That of course is does not justify it at all.It is painting them all with a broad brush. But it does explain it.

I believe all this could change if the two communities would integrate rather than isolate. Sadly that is highly unlikely on both sides. There is too much water under the bridge.

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Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/haemtza/another-one-rides-the-bus/2013/01/20/

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