If there were any doubt as to who holds the reins of power in Israel’s political system, then the Knesset vote earlier this week rolling back the legislation of the previous government conditioning the funding of charedi educational institutions upon their adopting a core curriculum reminded us of the weaknesses of our political process.
When our nation’s leaders cannot insist that everyone receive a basic education that includes such elementary subjects as mathematics, English, literature, Bible, Hebrew, history and citizenship, then they have in effect ceded power to those who have a different agenda.
The Ministry of Education’s website tells us that the purpose of the core curriculum is to ensure that Israel’s children share a common culture and system of values. Quite understandably, a charedi world, whose very survival is dependent upon cultural and social isolation, insists that its educational institutions continue to be funded without imposing such conditions.
And so a further generation of charedim will live in abject poverty having not acquired the basic skills that are a pre-requisite for entering into the job market in the 21st century.
The Ministry for Social Security reported last year that no less than two-thirds of charedi children live in poverty and that 54.3% of charedi families live below the poverty line.
In many ways the situation is depressing. The charedi political parties hold Israeli government coalitions in a stranglehold. Their avoidance by and large of undertaking compulsory military service helps to distance them from the rest of Israeli society, much of which holds them in contempt. The inability of most of them to earn a decent living is a burden upon Israeli taxpayers, who resent having to subsidize an ever growing percentage of the population.
However, the future does not have to be bleak. When I was a child I was taught that Jews left the heim in Eastern Europe at the end of the 19th century because of the pogroms. The musical “Fiddler on the Roof” reinforced that narrative. Only later was I to learn that the major driving force that led our ancestors to pack their bags and seek a new life was hunger. The goldene medina (America) offered an opportunity to break the shackles of poverty.
In an age of internet and smartphones there are no secrets any longer. It is only a matter of time until many charedim will come to recognize that the grass is indeed greener on the other side of the fence. They will not necessarily relinquish their religious values, but they will realize that a broadly based education is an asset rather than a threat. Only then will they understand how much today’s politicians betrayed them.