You could hear the sounds of the Yerushalayim gathering of the 200,000 plus protesters who assembled Sunday afternoon March 2 clear across Jerusalem. It was a most impressive sight and sound. I was and still am stunned by the organization of the rally and the overall tenor. Not necessarily by the number of people who attended, though that was impressive, not by the alleged calm of the large crowd, not even by the desire for their position to be heard in so public a manner. I am stunned by the poorly masked vitriol, deliberate in its tenor, along with the very public and full of anger attitude that was evident.
I was in Geulah and Meah Shearim on the days prior and saw the pashkvelim, the posters claiming to have the complete “Beyrur Devarim” – explanation to clarify the reasons for the protest. I am frankly disturbed by much of what was on them. Implying that IDF participation leads to a shunning of religion when it is patently untrue for the vast majority of Dati men and women who are in the service presently and those who have gone through is a major disservice for the cause, both of those who serve and those who chose not to. To imply that the Hesder Yeshiva bochrim who learn and serve are not religious or that the Hareidi brigade causes people to become kofrim is an overstated falsehood. Labeling them as Chardak – a pun for germ or a thin Hareidi does nothing but harm those who hear it along with those who say it.
For those who wish to check out the reality of service, it is simple to do. Every army base I have been to has a Beit Midrash and a regular schedule of shiuurim. Nevertheless, the politics of the Hareidi, dati leumi and chiloni in Israel is something that will be worked out in the Knesset over time and my guess is that within a few years this will be a non-issue. Mostly because the Hareidi world does recognize that men may have to start getting jobs and the best way to do so is through army service or civil service training. It is no coincidence that many of the good jobs that can go to young men who are Israeli citizens are now going to outsiders. This can and will change when Hareidi men take a few months and invest in joining with the rest of their countrymen.
My real concern is the education that this section of our world is giving their children in the issue of simple midos bein adam l’chavaero. Psychologist know that morals and ethics are formed at a young age and reinforced across the life span. I fear we are failing in this. When you are in the Machane Yehuda shook who is most likely to bump into you and not say sleycha – excuse me? Who is the most likely to not be makabel another with seder ponim yafot – offer a simple smile to another individual, perhaps even offer to lift a heavy bag? I am not saying this is a universal problem I am just asking if this is not just a greater likelihood? In my experiences it has been, and not just in Israel.
The follow up rally in New York’s Wall Street is however, even more puzzling for me and to my mind displays an even deeper lack of bein adam l’chavero. It is one thing to rally in Israel where the citizens of the country have a right to congregate and deal with their own government. What positive purpose does a rally have in New York except to increase the ire of the world against Israel? You can rest assured that there are those in the BDS (Boycotts, Divestments, and Sanctions) movement seeking to find a way to capitalize on this event. Worse still is the attention that the media placed on the event; and not just in the New York Times. Regardless of how it was portrayed by the media it was viewed, at best, as foolish, misdirected and inappropriate.
Even right wing radio talk show hosts, usually extremely supportive of religious issues, made hay of the rally. I have never listened to any of those shows but I was sent a link to the Michael Savage show and told that I really should take a few minutes to hear the conversation. I did. Mr. Savage, an apparently smart man with a background in Judaism, he is Jewish, was having a hard time understanding the benefit of the rally and was clearly against it. Most striking though was when a caller attempted to explain to him and his audience just why Hareidi men cannot work. The caller cited the posuk “Vehegiso bo yomom volayala” – you must engage in it day and night. Mr. Savage would have none of it, and neither do I. When I attended a Hareidi yeshiva we listened to many mussar talks about that sentence – being engaged in Torah day and night. However, our Rabbis taught us that the definition meant something vastly different. Engaging in Torah full time, we were told, included not just sitting in the Beit Midrash, it meant when we were shopping, when we worked, when we had discussions with neighbors, when we met people in the street, it was our duty to engage the world with the Torah values that we were taught – politeness, kindness, gentle nature and sensitivity to all.
It is Purim and Amaalek still surrounds us. Do we need any more proof of that than to see the number of rockets being shot into Israel? Our only true power is when we come together as a nation with true Torah values, values that include learning and study but values that also go beyond just sitting in the Beit Midrash.