“My sins I mention today.” (Genesis 41:9)
This week, for the first time since I moved to Israel, I went to a bar right off Dizengoff Square to have a discussion with a group of young, secular college aged students. They had never met with anyone representing the yeshiva/ultra-Orthodox world before. In the discussion, I explained my strong belief in God, commitment to Torah and mitzvot, and the significance of Torah study. I also told them that I don’t want to force my way of life on them. I explained the importance of free choice within our tradition, that I respect all people regardless of their level of mitzvah observance, and that I believe most ultra-Orthodox Jews share that approach.
I began with the words “my sins” because these students told me that this was the first time they heard that message from anyone who looked like me. Throughout their lives, the only “Haredim” who they heard anything from were the political leaders and the extremists who are not representative of mainstream ultra-Orthodox Jews. Because of the lack of communication between the populations, it has become clear to me as well that Haredim don’t truly know the secular population. They have no desire to see the ultra-Orthodox be less religious – something which these students expressed clearly and a lesson I have learned from my colleagues in Yesh Atid.
To be clear, I understand why the ultra-Orthodox population feared losing its identity when the State was first founded. But today the situation is completely different, thank God. How can it be that the Jewish people who were scattered for generations and with thanks to God, the IDF, and the merit of Torah study have returned to live in Israel and we remain scattered here as well? How did this happen to us?
Together with MK Erel Margalit (Labor) I founded a Knesset task force to help the ultra-Orthodox enter the work force. We are working hard to build a framework which will make this transition and actually finding jobs easier for young ultra-Orthodox men. The goal is for them to continue studying Torah and not sacrifice in terms of their level of religious observance while having the peace of mind that they are sustaining their families with dignity. The students I met in the bar asked for more opportunities to get to know Haredim. Therefore, I have decided to form a second Knesset task force – this one for “dialogue between ultra-Orthodox and secular populations.” We must break down the walls and get to know more about one another.
Now, as we end the mourning period for the students of Rabi Akiva who died “for not respecting one another,” I call on my fellow Jews from both sides to join with me in this task force so we can understand one another and begin to act towards one another with respect.