A Therapist for Israel
More than a balanced budget and a genius governor of the central bank, more than a state-of-the-art army and maverick foreign diplomacy, more than reduced prices and abundant housing, the Israeli society needs a therapist.
In the worst tradition of dysfunctional families, the segments of the Israeli society are locked in a battle over control. Beyond the present charedi-secular dispute, every public discourse in Israel swiftly dissolves into a victimhood grab, with each side pointing its finger at the “bully” in the opposite corner of the ring.
Discussions of national economics boil down to the middle class vs. the tycoons fight. The national security debate is all about who is protecting whom. Yet the current political constellation has brought the victimhood mentality to new highs. Under Yair Lapid’s masterful directing, the secular society has assumed the role of a disgruntled working bee, sick and tired of providing for the whole hive. Secular Israelis point to the charedi control of the Rabbinate and by extension of Jewish milestone events and claim their lives are being controlled.
Feeling attacked, the charedi community in turn exhibits the knee-jerk fight or flight instinct, recoiling inwards and threatening an all-out confrontation. The charedim hear the talks of one-sided army induction and enforced core curriculum and envision their entire lifestyle being forcibly changed, complete with images of Nicholas I and the cantonists .
As hard as it is to pull a Jew out of the galut, it’s harder to pull the galut out of the Jew. After 65 years of statehood, we still cling to victimhood for dear life. If we believe in it hard enough, if we play the poor thing well enough, maybe we won’t need to grow up and change. It makes little sense in our dealings with the world and it makes even less sense when trying to hammer out societal issues.
With both sides assuming emotional rhetoric that they know is unsustainable, and with nobody to provide a proverbial ladder, there is no end in sight. But there is a way out.
As with dysfunctional families, so too dysfunctional societies need to abandon the emotional responses and assume responsibility. It doesn’t matter who started it; it matters who made the first move towards a solution. And as one side changes the dynamic, the other side is bound to follow. The way out is through talking with each other, not at each other.
The secular community needs to be honest with itself about the issues and its tactics. It is not about the draft, workforce participation, and not even taxpayer shekels. It is about pulling the charedi community out of the galut-induced bunker mentality.
For the past 2,000 years, the Jews survived by building a moat around themselves and drawing up the bridge. Perceiving a déjà vu in Ben Gurion’s philosophy of creating a “new Israeli” devoid of religious tradition, the charedi community went into self-preservation mode and replicated the ghettos of Europe in Israel. It decided to go with, but to feel without, as Israelis are wont to say. While participating in the life of the State only to the extent necessary for maintenance, the community cut off all other contact.
As the anti-charedi rhetoric has heated up over the past few months, the charedim can’t understand what everybody wants from them. “What happened? Israel has no other problems except to draft the charedim?” wondered former Bnei Brak mayor, now-MK Yaakov Asher. “Just leave us alone!” echoed a religious radio host.
And that’s exactly what the Israeli mainstream is unwilling to do. While much of the secular population is not even aware of what’s bothering it, it senses that the present situation of distinct camps cannot continue. For Israel to survive, to thrive, and to meet its challenges, it needs to transform itself into a cohesive (though not homogeneous) society. The alternative to an emotional connection is a “house divided against itself” in the next generation.
At first it seemed that Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett formed their partnership, because both shared this clarity of purpose. The problem is that you can’t create emotional identification by force. Direct attacks and demands are sending the charedi community into a panic attack. Instead of warming the inter-community relations and concentrating on a long-term solution, Yair Lapid (whose name literally means a torch will enlighten) has chosen to torch the scene by demanding swift changes, thus single-handedly undoing 10 years of gradual self-propelled charedi advancement towards the Israeli mainstream.
The charedi community in turn has to understand that the time for complacency has ended. Whether it likes it or not, today’s ghetto walls are transparent. The secular Israelis of Tel Aviv are not the Poles of Cracow, nor the Hungarians of Munkács. We are all Jews and we are responsible for each other.
A Jewish State cannot tolerate a ghetto within itself. It cannot exist with a subculture of separation. Every lifestyle change (mehadrin buses are a prime example) affects the society at large. No longer can the charedi community afford to make decisions based solely on internal needs.
While it is natural to shrink under an attack, the charedi community needs to transcend the instincts and display cool-headed reason. The current line of defense, which boils down to “we would have changed had you not pushed so hard,” does not belong in a serious discussion of societal issues.
As the Jewish Nation walked off into the sunset of galut, our Sages taught us that a Jewish Commonwealth cannot exist in a climate of baseless hatred. They were not just referring to interpersonal dealings. Rather, they foresaw a time, much similar to their own, where amorphous emotions would rule public discourse instead of well-grounded rationality.
Instead of looking at each other and seeing only the ideal image of what we want the other to look like, let’s recognize each other’s contributions, common ground, and common vision. Leveraging the commonality will create enough trust to go forward with respectful, meaningful, and goal-oriented discussion to solve real problems.
I am a big believer in growth through challenges. If we have brought the problem upon ourselves, we have the means to create the solution. In the process, we can break out of the victimhood mold and learn to solve our problems through sensible social negotiations. Our country has passed its infancy and childhood. We have seen enough of adolescence too. The time has come to learn adult communication skills.
Know of a good therapist for the job?