Healing the Rift between Secular and Religious Israelis Through Love

Nurit Sirkis-Bank (left) and Bella Raboy (right) enjoyed each other's company at a May event in honor of the television airing of the docudrama in which they were featured, Od Nipagesh.
Courtesy of Nurit Sirkis-Bank
Nurit Sirkis-Bank (left) and Bella Raboy (right). Courtesy of Nurit Sirkis-Bank

This past June, my fellow Jewish historians at Yeshiva University created the interview series Crisis and Hope—YU Voices( https://www.yu.edu/crisisandhope) as a means to break the silence in the wake of the worst crises to grip our country and the world during our lifetimes.  They created this series as a way for us to use our historical training to illuminate contemporary crises from COVID to racism.  By interviewing those who have lived through other crises and dark moments and by creating a civil dialogue with experts from varying perspectives, we sought to find hope amidst the current darkness.

This summer, I watched the recent television docudrama Od Nipagesh, We Will Meet Again, which aired in Israel this spring.  Od Nipagesh, created by Ohad Gal Oz and Uri Grodner, records nine days in the lives of five secular Israelis, as they embark on a journey of reconciliation with their estranged close relatives (children, parents, and siblings) who now live a haredi lifestyle. The premise of the series is as follows: each secular participant is paired with a haredi mentor, who introduces them first to the haredi world and then helps them reestablish contact with their estranged relative.  Artfully filmed and edited, Od Nipagesh today is a finalist for the Rose d’Or, the European equivalent of the Emmys, in the category of Reality and Factual Entertainment.

The most powerful aspect of the documentary were the deep relationships, based on respect and love, that the participants forged with their haredi mentors.  Bella Raboy, a novelist, journalist, and public speaker and Dr. Nurit Sirkis-Bank, an art curator, lecturer, and expert in Hasidic visual culture, formed one of these relationships.  When Bella was only one year old, her Soviet-Jewish parents divorced in the wake of her father’s embrace of Orthodoxy.  Arriving in Israel at the age of two, Bella was raised by her secular mother and grandparents and felt abandoned by her now haredi father, who seemingly wanted little to do with her.

Throughout her life, Bella naturally found it impossible not to view Judaism and all Orthodox Jews through the prism of her father’s rejection of her.  Consequently, when she first met Nurit, Bella felt very skeptical that she could relate to this woman who represented the lifestyle and beliefs that had torn her father from her.  Yet from the first moment, Bella felt a soul connection to this Orthodox woman who offered her unconditional love and acceptance.  By the time the series came to an end, Nurit forever had altered Bella’s perception of Judaism, Orthodox Jews, and of the possibility of people with very different beliefs and lifestyles to unconditionally accept and love one another.

As soon as I finished watching the series, I knew that I had to interview Bella and Nurit for Crisis and Hope—YU Voices.  Their relationship epitomizes one of the central goals of our interview series: the exploration of the world of the “other” as a means to demolish negative stereotypes and to create relationships across seemingly unbridgeable racial, religious, and cultural divides.

I invite all of you to watch Crisis and Hope—YU Voices on Thursday December 3rd at 3 pm as I interview Bella and Nurit about their transformative friendship (yu.edu/yuvoices).  Titled “Healing the Rift: A Secular Israeli’s Journey to the Orthodox World”, this interview will demonstrate how, at a time when  all too many secular and Orthodox Jews view one another as the “other”, love can demolish even the seemingly most insurmountable barriers.

About the Author
Joshua M. Karlip is a cultural historian specializing in the relationship of East European secular Jewish movements to the Jewish religious tradition, Jewish intellectual responses to Nazism, and rabbinic culture and writing in the Soviet Union. His book, The Tragedy of a Generation: The Rise and Fall of Jewish Nationalism in Eastern Europe was published by Harvard University Press in 2013. His next book will be Oyfn Sheydveg: At the Crossroads: Jewish Intellectuals and the Crisis of 1939 (Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 2021). He is the Herbert S. and Naomi Denenberg Associate Professor of Jewish Studies at Yeshiva University and associate director of the YU Center for Israel Studies.
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