I have read with tears in my eyes the amazing blog posts by Levi Margolin “Don’t call me Haredi” and Mordecai Holtz, “People of the Cloth” and I so completely identify with the sentiments both of them expressed.
In my line of work (Jewish Inspirational Speaking and Kiruv), I am usually judged by how I dress and people often try to size me up and put me in a box as soon as they see me. More often than not they will put me in the box labeled “Haredi”. This is because my dress is modest, neat and somewhat more formal. But at some point I began to say, “I’m claustrophobic, don’t put me in a box”.
Before making aliyah, I would have considered being labeled Haredi as a badge of honor – a label that means people see me as someone who takes my relationship with G-d very seriously and is attempting to live a good and holy life. My Hassidic background (reclaimed from 2 generations of non-observance) and my innate ability to connect spiritually made the Haredi way of life very attractive. At least on the outside. At least initially.
After making aliyah, we learned that the term Haredi could have an entirely different connotation. Not because of the odd way of dress or the eschewing of the internet as much as because of the stereotype of intolerance and hatred that dominated the news. My sons abandoned their velvet kippot for knitted ones because they didn’t want people to think of them “that way” and not because they changed anything about their observance. I made a huge effort to make sure that people didn’t think of me as Haredi. But I was wrong.
I was wrong because the word Charedi refers to one who trembles before G-d as in the verse: Da Lifnei Mi Atah Omed — Know before whom you stand (from the Gemara). It is supposed to have the connotation of one who loves G-d with everything s/he is, someone who lives by the words of the Torah sages, lives by kindness and loves all other Jews, even those s/he regards as misguided or lost. A Haredi person is supposed to be a positive role model of how to live a meaningful and holy life even in this modern and often messed-up world.
So I’ve decided to take a different path. I am going to reclaim the term and I invite others to join me. Let’s start a revolution — to show the world that Orthodox Jews can actually live the way our sages have taught us to live. This has nothing to do with whether or not we have a TV or secular books in our home, whether or not we have internet or other modernisms.
This has to do with how we behave and how we treat other Jews — that we are working to perfect the world in a way that truly reflects the love that G-d has for all people (including the non-Jews). That we behave like the dignified, refined children of the King that we are, who are truly a light to the nations. That we know before whom we stand and we tremble.
So go ahead and call me Haredi. Just don’t put me in a box!