The opportunity to speak at the massive rally in Tel Aviv last Saturday night demanding equal service for all citizens was a true honor. It was important for me to share my strong feeling that the Torah demands that all citizens serve in one way or another and the opportunity certainly opened up many new doors for me to share my anti-extremism and pro-unity message.
The positive results of the protest, primarily the Prime Minister and the Likud accepting the Plesner report as the basis of new legislation to replace the Tal Law, reinforced my firm belief in the power that we have as a people when we set aside our differences and work towards a common goal. I learned this lesson,firsthand in Bet Shemesh, and now see that this works on a national level, as well.
I would like to share three other important insights which I learned through my involvement in the rally.
The first of these lessons hit me when I first arrived back stage. I have been to numerous rallies in the past and, while everything usually looks so smooth from the audience, there is almost always pandemonium backstage. There are usually ongoing fights over where speakers were scheduled to appear. People are almost always fighting to force their way onto the list of speakers. Presenters generally stand around complaining about the length of other people’s speeches. While a display of unity always finds its way on stage, more often than not this does not display the behind the scenes reality.
This was not the case on Saturday night. The leaders of this struggle against the Prime Minister are the most well meaning and sincere, upstanding citizens who are involved in this for zero personal gain. They simply want to bring into fruition what they believe is right and, therefore, everyone involved has checked their ego at the door. I have no doubt that this is a large reason for their success and taught me a huge lesson about the role which purity of cause and mission has in achieving goals.
The other two lessons came after I finished speaking. A Haredi woman who identified herself as a social worker in Bnei Brak approached me. She told me how happy she was to see me speaking and then said, “You know who the real winners will be if Netanyahu actually takes action on this issue? The Haredim, themselves.” She went on to give some details regarding the “prison” of Haredi life which I referenced in my speech. This woman explained the high percentages of Haredi men who are desperate because they cannot learn all day and don’t want to fake learning all day, but they also cannot handle the stigma of being second or third class which is what they are labeled if they don’t learn all day. Many Haredim have told me this in the past but hearing it from a Haredi woman at the protest which the Haredi leadership labeled as “anti-Haredi” really drove this point home.
What an amazing concept. The organizers of the protest have been pushing for these changes in policy for years because they believe it is right. While many view them as “anti-Haredi,” in actuality they are doing the Haredim the biggest favor. They will actually save the Haredi community.
As I tried to leave the plaza to head to the car, a young, externally very secular looking young man approached me and said: “You are now my rabbi. When can we begin to learn together.” Sure enough, this was a young Jew who had no vehicle to find someone he could relate to, to teach him Torah. He heard my message of all Jews working together and of the need to break down the barriers between different populations and felt that he could trust me.
This made me think about how many more Israelis there must be who would love to study more Torah and connect to their Judaism but are not presented with the opportunities to do so or the appropriate teachers to do so. The issue here is not hoping that people become more observant but, rather, becoming more knowledgeable and embracing of their Jewish identity. I learned that Israel would be a much different country if everyone with Torah knowledge found ways to share that knowledge with other Israelis in a non-threatening and respectful manner. The first step towards that is demonstrating the respect you have for them regardless of their background or limited knowledge base as I expressed in my speech.
It looks like the Prime Minister is serious about real reform. The protest effort seems to have done its job. As we see how the new legislation takes form, let’s make sure to remember these important ideas – that the Haredim are the ones who truly need these reforms, the success which comes when we have a purity of mission without self-interest, the need for those with Torah knowledge to break down barriers and open the door to developing relationships with those who don’t, and, most importantly, how much we can achieve as a people when we put aside our differences of opinion and rally around those issues to which we agree.