As I look at the charedi community today, my mind wonders back to 2005. The Disengagement. The pictures coming out the charedi community, the shock, the anger, the hopelessness remind me of my own community just eight short years ago.
Just like the charedim of today, back then we felt disenfranchised, trampled upon, and irrelevant. Like them, we found ourselves on the brink of despair. Like them, we wondered if there is hope after the catastrophe, if there is a way out, if there is a possibility of a better future. If that was not enough, then came Amona, turning the picture from bleak to black.
Our Sages teach us not to placate a mourner before the dead have been buried. What holds true for an individual, holds true for a community. Much of current charedi rhetoric is just that, an attempt to process a trauma.
Although in past 30 years the charedim enjoyed considerable political clout, this influence came from a narrow base of political parties. Once the politicians were removed from power in the recent elections, the entire community went into shock. It feels utterly powerless to affect policy, and so the only two options are fight or flight.
At the Rosh Chodesh WoW/W4W event at the Kotel two weeks ago, I saw the anger in some of the charedi boys’ eyes. It was not the anger of evil, but a knee-jerk reaction of people, who when lacking constructive options, take out their frustration in inappropriate and violent ways.
Eight years after the Disengagement, the National Religious community has bounced back with more energy than ever before. It was able to do so, because once it worked through its mourning, it realized that the only way to get back on its feet was to set objectives and proactively pursue them.
Given the choice between negative reaction and positive creativity, it chose the latter.
This mindset is embodied in the work of numerous social action non-profits. During the Disengagement, Nachi Eyal founded the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel, a small NGO tasked with combating the plan through legal channels.
When the mission failed, the Forum regrouped and set its sights on transforming political reality through legislation. Guided by its vision, it started supplying relevant research, drafting laws, educating officials and the public, and encouraging its people to strive for influential positions.
Young, ambitious social activists soon followed suit. Seeking to impact the public agenda, they set up their own organizations to further the goals of interest to them. Thus, today there are right-wing groups dealing with the environment and immigration, economy and land distribution, human rights and media coverage. The common denominator that each one contributes its own narrative instead of reacting to the voices coming out of the left camp.
The time will come soon enough when the charedi community will get up from its shiva and will need to look ahead. Then, it would do well to adopt a path similar to that of the National Religious community.
The solution lies in the charedi community’s ability to empower its members to pursue policy issues through grassroots efforts. The charedim are highly skilled in such projects in areas of social welfare, medical aid, and education. Every neighborhood has dozens of tiny non-profits offering every manner of assistance.
Unfortunately, there has not been a similar trend on social and political issues. The time has come for just that.
Ironically, charedi social policy entrepreneurship is also the best path for bringing the community into the Israeli mainstream – the overarching goal of the current Lapid-Bennet coalition. The bigger the popular charedi stake in the shaping of the Israeli society, the deeper their investment in the country and the stronger the emotional connection to it.
This is not a fast solution. It’s the long short road that will take years to travel. Hopefully, at the end, the charedi society will find itself with a broad base of influence, deep inside the Israeli consensus.
All of us will enjoy the fruits of the journey.