The recent massive Charedi demonstration had all my MO and RZ friends abuzz. Here was the ultimate confirmation of how detached the Charedim are from the rest of Israeli society. “They” seemed a stark contrast to “us” – who serve in the army, are integrated in Israeli society and take a view that encompasses of all of Am Israel (TM).
Except that this is far from accurate. As my secular boss pointed out, in many ways the RZ community is just as segregated as the Charedim: we go to separate schools, go to separate youth movements and often live in segregated neighbourhoods or towns. We have a sectorial party which places the interests of the group above others – especially in the fight for budgets for RZ institutions and towns. Our social contacts with the non-observant are often limited.
The result is that we are excessively focused on issues within the community; when we discuss matters regarding others, it is often based on a very superficial and ideologically biased world view and not on reality.
To be sure, there is logic in this self-segregation. As people who are dedicated to living a religious life and passing it down to our children, we want to do everything possible to ensure this happens. It is easier to do so in a semi-cocoon than in an integrated atmosphere with its many temptations and challenges.
Furthermore, many of us saw those who lived in a mixed environment make religious compromise after religious compromise until there wasn’t much left. This was particularly true of the self-styled religious academic elite, who promised that “the water was fine” but many of whom who gave the impression of being “secularists with a kipa.”
But we need to be honest with ourselves: self-segregation carries a heavy price. It means far less people know religious people or religion on a regular basis outside of the media or ideology. Political cooperation or “conciliation meetings” cannot come close to replacing regular, constant human contact between normal people of all stripes.
I am not a wide-eyed idealist: I know that integration carries very serious religious risks. I hold no truck with liberal Orthodox Jews who think that it doesn’t matter whether children stay religious or not, since Judaism is all about subjective “identity” and not truth or commitment. But with the continued shrinking of liberal alternatives to Orthodoxy, we need to seriously consider taking calculated risks to keep those on the fence within the fold or at least prevent them from leaving it, and outreach organizations aren’t going to cut it.
Any suggestions and comments on the matter are welcome.