This five-minute video went viral last week:
Within 24 hours, hundreds of thousands saw this story about Haredi boys — ultra-Orthodox, 13- to 17-year-old yeshiva students at the Torah Academy in Beitar — commemorating Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers of Israel and Victims of Terrorism, and paying tribute to soldiers killed in the line of duty. Jews and non-Jews, religious and secular, shared the video because they were so touched by it.
Truth is, this is not the only such memorial service in the ultra-Orthodox community. Last year, an official community event was held for the broader Haredi public, and 30 Haredim attended. This year, 150 showed up.
At this year’s event, members of the community spoke about relatives who died fighting for Israel, including a woman who spoke about her grandfather, a Gerrer Hasid, who lost his life while fighting in the War of Independence. Because of the negativity toward the IDF in the Haredi community, she was never allowed to visit her grandfather’s grave in a military cemetery. She broke that rule two years ago, mustering the courage to go to the cemetery and pay tribute to her grandfather. She now visits his grave regularly.
One young ultra-Orthodox man stood up and said, “I don’t have any relatives to pay tribute to, but I felt the need to stand here and say I was a coward who chose to sit in the comfort of a study hall and not risk my life in the army. I chose the easy way out and feel so guilty about it. So I stand here today to pay tribute to an Israeli soldier whose story has inspired me.” He then talked about the late Ro’i Klein, an IDF commander who jumped on a hand grenade during the Second Lebanon War, sacrificing his life to protect his soldiers.
Something is happening throughout Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community: an awakening desire among the younger generation to balance the holy value of being fervently religious and studying Torah on the highest of levels, while at the same time integrating into Israeli society and being able to support their families with dignity.
That is the explanation behind the remarkable yeshiva high school that held the Memorial Day ceremony in the above video. Learn more about this trailblazing institution, in which Hasidic boys study Torah on a high level, while also receiving full general studies along with extra-curricular activities:
Here is the video from the first Haredi Hesder yeshiva (which combines Torah study and army service) showing the yeshiva’s first class entering the army:
And this video features a group of ultra-Orthodox young men who founded their own employment and training service, to help the tens of thousands of Haredi young men seeking to learn a trade and enter the workforce to take care of their families:
There is no doubt that we are experiencing the “Haredi Spring”: today there are more ultra-Orthodox soldiers serving in the IDF than ever before, including more than 100 officers; there are more ultra-Orthodox young men in the work force than ever before; and there are more ultra-Orthodox in higher education than ever before.
It will take time for this to become mainstream in the Haredi community, but the process has begun.
Every single one of the institutions and organizations mentioned above are in need of significant financial assistance. Both the Hasidic high school and the army yeshiva would be able to accommodate hundreds of more students if only they had the financial means and physical space to accept them.
Thousands more would be able to receive training and go to work if “Avodot La-chareidim” had the economic means to reach out and help them. I urge those who are supportive of this trend and who would like to assist in this process to please email me at email@example.com.
Thanks to the Ultra-Orthodox Spring, we are only a generation or two away from seeing an Israel filled with Haredi doctors, lawyers, accountants, hi-tech entrepreneurs — and even army generals. The impact of this quiet revolution will be felt economically across Israeli society, helping the country’s significant and fastest-growing population move from living below the poverty line to supporting itself, instead of relying on state funds for its survival.
The impact will also be felt across the oceans leading to a healing of the wounds felt by Diaspora Jewry, as a more moderate Israeli religious society will be more welcoming and accommodating to Diaspora Jews.
But most importantly, this revolution will strengthen the unity of Israel, and help tear down the current polarization which pervades and destroys Israeli society from within. Ultra-Orthodox and secular Israelis are beginning to interface in a serious manner for the first time — at work, in the army and in university — and are coming to recognize that despite the differences in the ways they live, they can get along with one another and even be friends.
Aside from actual contact between the different segments of society, just seeing “the other” in a more positive light can already tear down the walls that we have erected between populations. Rabbi Menachem Bombach, the remarkable educator in the Memorial Day video above, was walking down the street in Beitar earlier this week. A Hasidic fellow looked at him and said, “Are you the rabbi from that Yom Hazikaron video?”
Rabbi Bombach acknowledged that he was indeed that rabbi, and the man then told him this remarkable story: “I grew up in a secular home,” he said. “I became Haredi, as did my sister, but my mother was vehemently anti-religious and was so furious that we became Haredi that she cut off contact with us for over 20 years. Rabbi, my mother saw the video of you and your yeshiva on Yom Hazikaron, and it made her realize that there can be positive in the Haredi world. She called me and my sister a few days ago, and asked for a family get together this weekend.”
Given the magnitude of the current — and potential — influence of the fast-moving developments in the Haredi world toward unifying the people of Israel, we could go even farther and call the “Haredi Spring” by a different name: the “Israeli Spring.”