Dr. Ran Baratz is Editor-in-Chief of Mida, an Israeli conservative website providing commentary on Israel, the Middle East and the world. The following is adapted from a blog post originally written in Hebrew at Mida. Agree or disagree, it represents an important point of view. – A.W.
As a secular Jew I learned in a general (secular) high school. However, since I moved to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem for my MA studies, I’ve been surrounded by Jews of all stripes – religious, secular and everything in between. What can I say? 14 years is a long time; you learn to like it and take this plethora for granted.
I usually don’t lecture in high schools. I prefer an older audience, one which comes on its own initiative and has more patience and experience. Nevertheless, when over 400 students of the Haifa Reali High school came to Jerusalem, I agreed – in the name of variety and reconnecting with the younger generation – to speak to the about “Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.” Thus I found myself standing before the best of Israel’s youth and their teachers, who enthusiastically absorbed pearls of classical liberal thought (well, sort of).
At this point, in the middle of the lecture, I found myself spontaneously asking: “How many here define themselves as secular?” On an intellectual level, if I was asked if I knew what would happen, I would know. But I didn’t ask myself ahead of time, and my expectations were aimed at an older audience in which many usually don’t respond to such questions, and those that do usually vary. Thus, I must admit, I was somewhat stunned when a great wave of secular hands rose up in the auditorium. “How many are traditional?” 10-20%. Religious? Zero. Not one.
As I already said, I was once like these kids – I also was educated in purely secular schools my whole life. Yet still, ever since the army I am almost always in places with plenty of religious Jews, and as a lecturer I’ve certainly never faced such a large audience where not a single religious Jew was to be found. What can I say? With the distance of time, and after much experience, thought and engagement with the affairs of religious Jews, secular Jews and the state – it was eye-opening.
Destructive Educational Streams
The educational “streams” are very convenient for parents: they provide a feeling of calm and peace when it comes to passing on their “identity” and they allow them not to compromise their values. But in fact, this is a recipe for the self-destruction of the Jewish people in Israel. This security is in fact an illusion, a fata morgana. The streams are not an oasis nourishing our children in an identity desert, but quite the opposite: they sow desolation and destruction, suspicion, hostility and conflict among us. These streams are the desert preventing the flowers from growing.
If there is a source for the difficulties in our national revival, it’s the educational streams. They are the foundation of segregation, contrariness and politicization of life in Israel; they make every attempt at asking for common courtesy into an uncompromising fight against “coercion”. They are the institutions which shape citizens who know how to say “pluralism” and spout platitudes about the “Other”, but in the moment of truth hate difference and have no idea how to handle people who don’t look or think like them.
Only because of these streams can so many religious Jews think that they represent the consensus and are in tune with the rest of the Jewish people, when they are in fact entirely sectorial and meetings with secular Jews are for them an anthropological experience. Only because of these streams secular Jews don’t see that behind the kippa and the beard is a human being just like them who has a lot to teach him. Only because of them, we are stuck in endless shallow and pathetic discussions about “identity”, instead of working together and creating a common tapestry of life and a modern, independent Jewish identity which develops naturally. Only because of these streams we keep having to have “meetings” between religious and secular Jews, as though they were two different peoples, as though each were the “Other”, or to be more precise – the “Alien from outer space.”
It’s just sad – really, really sad. Israel is imprisoning its children behind walls of ignorance and sectarianism. The situation may already be irreversible: we’re too used to it and it protects us from hard compromises and challenges. Of course, there will be those who will say that there are real needs involved here, that unique values are so important to the sectarian parents, that the price of giving those up is too great and so on and so forth. It’s a discussion that’s difficult to have, because the veterans of the educational streams are already hardwired to think that they must live separately. This is the raison d’etre of the isolationist education they receive; most can’t see how harmful it is or how things can even be otherwise.
So do me a favor, when we do start things over, say the third Return of Zion, when the Prime Minister comes and suggests splitting up our kids into streams, please, chuck the idea into the dustbin of history.