Live and Let Live – Can It Be Achieved?
As a kid, before my family moved to the Moshav (small town) where we live today, I used to live on a rather religious street in the city of Netanya. Most of the neighbors in my building were ultra-Orthodox Jews, but as a kid it never bothered me. Although we went to different schools in the city and may have had different behavioral codes in our houses, I considered many of them my friends and I fondly remember the way we played together in the building courtyard. Hide and seek, catch, cops and robbers – fun times they were. Today I sometimes wonder if something like my childhood can still happen in Israel.
The general tension between fundamentalist religious Jews and non-religious Jews in Israel reached new heights in recent weeks, mainly over the matter of the exclusion of women in society, following a few highly publicized clashes, including observant soldiers who walked out of events featuring women singing, women’s images that have been removed from billboards in Jerusalem and a young girl refusing to give up her seat in the front of a gender-segregated bus. But perhaps the most shocking incident was when a group of adults yelled and spit at little girls on their way to school, calling them “prostitutes” for dressing less modestly than their own strict dress code.
Unfortunately, in most cases the groups that generate these conflicts come from the more Haredi (Hebrew for ultra-Orthodox) sector, who already suffer from a bad reputation among the secular Israeli public. The reason for that poor opinion is due to the Haredim’s disproportionate political power, narrow interests and a lifestyle that calls for long years of Torah study rather than army service or joining the work force, which places an additional financial burden on society.
The current conflict was heightened when thousands of Israelis staged a protest against fanaticism and the increasing imposition of religious standards on public spaces and services, like buses. A few days later, several hundred Haredim took to the streets of Jerusalem, claiming to be the targets and the real victims in this story. The fact that some wore yellow stars or concentration camp-like striped prison uniforms provoked a second wave of criticism for their profound insensitivity and for insulting the memory of Holocaust victims.
Amid this round of escalating tension I feel that somehow we let a small number of ultra-Orthodox militants set the tone for all of us. There were, there are and there will always be disputes around the right levels of observance in Judaism, but we can’t allow moderation to lose ground to extremism. Violence and incitement in the name of the Torah, or against it for that matter, won’t persuade any of the parties to give up on their lifestyles. Dialog and sensitivity to the needs of each other is the only way for Israelis, with their various levels of observance, to coexist as one society in this country.
After all, different groups in Israel may have different value systems, but we all share the common language and culture that gives us the framework to foster a universal commitment to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. There are those whose focus is the Jewish half of the equation, and those who focus only on the democracy. The unique and complex challenge in Israel is to synthesize these sometimes-competing values. As a society we have to understand that we all draw water from the same well of Jewish history, culture and tradition, and from there we can find better ways to agree or to disagree. If kids can put their differences aside and play together, I don’t see a reason why grownups can’t do the same.
Rega Shel Ivrit
Ish Be’emunato Yichyeh – איש באמונתו יחיה (man shall live by his faith)
This phrase is a linguistic innovation of recent years, and was created based on words of the prophet Habakkuk, eighth of the twelve Minor Prophets (Habakkuk 2:4). The contemporary saying expresses the ideas of pluralism and tolerance, the right of every person to believe what he or she chooses, and to allow to others to do the same.
About the Author
Roey Schiff is the NFTY Shaliach. Roey grew up in Ein Vered, Israel and has experience working with teens and leadership development. He also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Business Management from Ben Gurion University. In September 2010, Roey moved to NYC to act as the NFTY and Israel Programs Shaliach as part of the URJ Youth Division.