One of the most divisive issues in Israel is the idea of shoving religion down everyone’s throat. This phenomenon manifests itself in many ways. From requiring separate seating on public transportation, to closing off streets in Jerusalem on Shabbos.

Much as I would like to see the Jewish nation fully observant, the last way to accomplish this is to force people into it. That ‘vinegar’ approach does not work. It instead makes enemies of your own people. The way to win over secular Jews is to treat them with respect, and understand where they are coming from.

In the vast majority of cases, Israelis are not anti religious. Most are in fact respectful of Jewish traditions and observe many of them. The hard core anti religious Jews in Israel are a small minority. And even they are not to be fully abandoned in the attempt to at least remove their hatred and enmity and allow a live and let live attitude. And it wouldn’t be the first time a hater of Torah became observant. The great Tannaic sage R’ Akiva was at one time someone who originally hated Torah. But at age 40 he saw the light and became one of our greatest sages.

Those of us who care about Judaism, believe that Halachic observance is our mandate and wish to see more of our people become a part of that would do well to have a ‘honey’ approach. And by that I mean to first back off from any type of forced observance. Let non observant people be who they are without fear of being stoned in Meah Shearim.

Instead of stoning them, embrace them and shower them with love. There should be no protests about a street in Jerusalem that borders a religious neighborhood which is open to traffic on Shabbos. Just because religious Jews would prefer their neighborhoods to have all their streets closed on Shabbos, does not give them the right to create impositions on those that are not observant.

What about the desire and hope that our non religious brethren will themselves someday ‘see the light’? Should we do anything to promote that ideal? For me the answer is clearly yes. There are those that would disagree with me and say that we should just let people live without influencing them in any way.

That may be true for those who do not believe that Halachic observance is not the only right way for a Jew to live. But for those of us who believe in the Torah, it would be irresponsible to fellow Jews to ignore them. That’s why there are so many Kiruv organizations. Some are better than others. Some ought to be banned. And some ought to be emulated.

What about the rest of us? Is there anything we can do to influence our non observant brethren? I think there is. And it is definitely not about using force. It is about showing just how much better one’s life can be if one is observant. There are many ways to do this. But the driving force should be honey, not vinegar. You will not convince people of anything if you throw stones at them – whether physical or verbal.

Which leads me to an ad I just saw in the Jerusalem Post. It is an ad that displays some negative societal habits – and how observance can change those habits into something very positive for at least one day a week. It  shows the difference between a Friday night spent in two households, one non observant and the other observant.

The non observant Friday night is just another night where everyone is in to their electronic devices paying little attention to each other – even as they sit in the same room. This is not meant to disparage anyone. This is how many of us live these days… in virtual symbiotic connection to our smart-phones or laptops.

For observant Jews, there is one day where this is not possible – Shabbos. Instead on Friday night when Shabbos begins – candles are lit, we sit together as a family, we make Kiddush, and we enjoy a leisurely multi-course meal in a well lit house. No smart-phones. No laptops. No TV. Nothing electronic. Just a family sitting together, eating, and talking to each other.

This is in essence the story of this ad. And yet it is being protested. From the Jerusalem Post:

Secular Israelis expressed outrage over a new ad campaign that has cropped up on billboards and television throughout the country urging families to spend “an Israeli Friday” by making Kiddush – the traditional prayer blessing recited during Shabbat meal on Friday evenings. A television ad, which was reportedly financed by a group of wealthy Orthodox Jews, juxtaposes two Israeli families experiencing a typical Friday evening.

 

One family is depicted as having rowdy children who eat cereal for dinner and then spend “quality time” on the couch by yelling at one another while being preoccupied with their smartphones.

 

The other family, conversely, is seen around the dinner table, calmly and serenely observing the Sabbath dinner ritual of reciting the Kiddush. The father is conspicuously wearing a yarmulke.

 

“What kind of Friday night would you like your kids to remember?” the narrator asks. “Kiddush… A tradition of an Israeli Friday.”

 

The implication of the ad is that “real” Israelis are religiously observant, a notion that many secularists find insulting.

I really don’t understand what the problem is. My guess is that those that are so upset are from the above mentioned ‘hard core’ minority that sees no value in any observance. As I said, most Israelis do practice varying degrees of observance.

But… for those who are so upset… Why? No one is forcing anyone to do anything. It is an ad. You don’t have to agree with it. It implies that real Israelis are religiously observant?! So what?! Here is what I would say to them: ‘You have a right to disagree with it.’ ‘What is it exactly that upsets you so much?’ ‘Is there just a teeny little bit of guilt involved?’ I’m sure they will deny it. But I have to wonder, why the strident reaction?

I don’t think what that ad depicts is a lie. Nor does it disparage anyone’s lifestyle. All it shows is what 6 days of the week are like for all of us who use these gadgets and points out the one day where observance can make a difference and have a positive impact on the family.

If they are so bothered by it, they have the right to make their own ads – as long as they don’t disparage religious Jews. They can compare their values with religious values. Those ads can promote the joys of non observance. Like eating a cheeseburger at MacDonalds – or taking a drive on Shabbos to a favorite vacation spot… and imply that this is what a real Israeli is like. No one will stop them.

Our counter to that should be ads like the one they protest. Ads like these can be the battlefield of ideas and values. People have a right to say and promote any value they wish in a democracy, as long as they do not impose it on anyone.  Let us each share our ideas of right and wrong and let people decide for themselves the ones in which they see greater value.

For those of us that are observant and wish to see more of it, we should have the right to sell it in any way we choose. Again – as long as no one is disparaged. Honey, not vinegar. It is up to us to make those ads show the superior appeal of a religious lifestyle. And this ad did exactly that.