Over the last year or so, a huge amount of attention has been given to the “absorption” or adaption of the Ultra-Orthodox into Israeli society. Suddenly, it seems, everyone is waking up to the importance of the Ultra-Orthodox getting a proper education, going out to work, and yes — even serving in the army. Some of the frenzied efforts put into this matter have overshadowed what seems to me to be an even more important development: the beginning of what may soon become a wave of “hazera besheala”, the mass exit of formerly Ultra-Orthodox citizens from the confines of their communities and their eager embracing of free, open Israel. I see them as the new Zionists.
These brave souls have a difficult time. Most leave with only the very narrow and limited education available today in Ultra-Orthodox communities. The men among them know a lot of oral law but barely know the times tables. They know what blessings to say over what foods but aren’t sure about what continent they’re on, or who our neighbors are. English is a truly foreign language and a dream of the university will require completing bagrut (exams) in all subjects, since in all their years of school they have studied for and passed none. If, as many do, they chose to go into the army they undergo a total immersion exercise in a new culture. If they are lucky they have some minimal contact with their families; if they’re unlucky they have none.
Ironically, many of the programs designed to help Ultra-Orthodox integrate into the economy or the society oversee this large and growing group. Recently, thanks to the work and determination of a new NGO called “Yotzim leshinui” (Going Out for Change), the army now has a contact person who deals with the problems of newly non-Ultra-Orthodox — but they don’t yet have any of the special frameworks that have been designed for those who haven’t left yet. MK Zehava Galon proposed offering people leaving the closed Ultra-Orthodox communities a “sal klita“, that is a basket of rights and benefits available to new immigrants. Sadly, it did not pass the Knesset on the first try, but perhaps it will yet.
This group of people is to be admired for the bravery and their drive; their determination to become fully educated and active citizens should be recognized and encouraged by the state. Rather than putting so many resources into trying to adapt and ease things for the more stubborn and insulated population that is really only beginning to change because of the sticks recently introduced (such as cuts in child supports and welfare payments), the government would do well to provide more carrots –assistance and backing — to the people who express their enthusiasm for a new life and incorporation into what is for them a new society. In other words, we should be welcoming and paving the way for more of these new Zionists waiting right here in our midst.