As the holy day of Yom Kippur brings 5772 to its official close and truly begins 5773, I have been thinking about the greatest lesson I have learned during the past year. There is no question that the most significant message I take with me into 5773 is not to judge people by their externals.

In 5772 I witnessed people in ultra-Orthodox garb committing the most despicable, anti-religious acts imaginable; I also came to know many individuals whose external appearance conveyed nothing spiritual or religious who are very spiritual and love Judaism. It was also enlightening to have gotten to know hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jews who, like me, want nothing more than to become part of Israeli society while maintaining their religious devotion.

During 5772 I become good friends with a man named Shmuel Pappenheim. He is a member of the Toldot Aharon hasidic sect — complete with the grey or gold striped long coat — which I always assumed represented a closed-minded, non-embracing Jew. While Shmuel is anti-Zionist and I fervently disagree with this perspective, he is certainly not hateful. He loves all Jews, wants the ultra-Orthodox to join the workforce and is open to the idea of army service, especially for those who cannot study day and night.

During 5772 I developed a relationship with Yair Lapid. I had always assumed that Lapid was a non-believer who was anti-Haredi and even anti-religious. Then I went to hear him speak. Not once, not twice, but numerous times. I also had the opportunity to sit with him alone. Through these encounters, all those pre-conceived notions and judgments came crumbling down, as I slowly got to know a soulful, spiritual, God-believing, Jew and a lover of the Land of Israel. He is a leader with great vision and passion to set our country and people back on the right path and a human being who I have come to respect and admire.

I am sure many readers are not convinced — not about Pappenheim and not about Lapid. Here is a quote from Pappenheim, as reported by Yair Ettinger of Haaretz on December 30, 2011:

Shmuel Pappenheim (photo credit: YouTube)

Shmuel Pappenheim (photo credit: YouTube)

This week I spoke before a Scout troop in Jerusalem, alongside a representative of Yisrael Hofshit [Be Free Israel, an organization that works to advance religious freedom and other democratic values], who denounced ultra-Orthodox extremism. I told her she was missing the entire point. Israel’s ultra-Orthodox public has begun to understand that it needs to take its fate into its hands. There are thousands of ultra-Orthodox in the army, in academia, in the free professions. Are they telling us we’re in a religious war? On the contrary. The religious public is heading toward something great, and the rabbis’ attempts to stop this are like the rooster running in circles after being beheaded.

This is just one example of hundreds, if not thousands of Pappenheim’s statements that don’t up match with what his externals would seem to indicate about him. He also puts his words into action. He runs an employment agency, volunteers as an ambulance driver for MDA and even joined me in a solidarity visit to the Latrun monastery after it was vandalized by Jews.

I know that people don’t believe Lapid is any different from all they may have heard about him. Most of them are unaware of his hundreds of columns and statements which counter all of these claims.

The following excerpts from his Yom Kippur column in Israel’s leading newspaper, Yediyoth Ahronoth, published just a few days ago, serve as a prime example:  

Yair Lapid (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Yair Lapid (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Haughtiness is the reason why we so desperately need Yom Kippur. It enables all those who think that they alone understand God to ask for forgiveness. Because the God of Israel decided, as is the norm with Him, to help save ourselves from our greatest and most negative weaknesses, and gave us this holiest day in Judaism to prevent us from falling into this abyss… The ability to ask for forgiveness is also the ability to accept others despite the fact that they are different…God sent us to synagogue on this day so we can provide answers to our souls regarding the question of “where have we strayed?”  I see this directive and am filled with awe and respect for this divine wisdom, because people who ask themselves, “Where have I strayed?” are inherently better than those who tell themselves, “I am right!”

Can the author of these words, which one could expect to hear on Yom Kippur night from the spiritual leaders of the most religious rabbinic seminaries, really be anti-God and -religion?  Can the person who has repeatedly explained that he is not anti-Haredi and whose plans show that he is not anti-Haredi be legitimately judged as being anti-Haredi?  Can the leader who has called for the Tanach to be taught in all Jewish schools with passion, in order to inculcate our children with a love for our heritage, really be labeled as anything other than one who loves Judaism?

I went into 5772 having had negative impressions of both Shmuel Pappenheim and Yair Lapid. I leave 5772 as a friend of both, and with deep respect for both.

Photo credit: Michael Lipkin

It is my hope and prayer that all of us use this Yom Kippur to ask God for forgiveness for judging and not respecting others, and that 5773 be a year in which we stop judging others by their externals, reach out beyond the external barriers, and break them down in order to enable us to build a stronger, more unified Jewish people and State of Israel.  

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