In defense of the Haredim

It seems I am forever in the minority position – I am the lone settler in a swarm of leftists; the only woman at a hi-tech meeting. The only religious one among my Conservative friends; the only English speaker in a group of Israelis; the only one to make aliyah from the core group that is no more.

And today, I’ll do something that seems to be so unpopular – I’ll defend the Haredi world. No, not all of it – but enough, I hope. Before someone waves the “but they don’t serve in the army, so what right do they have…” flag, let me make it clear. As the very proud mother of two Miluimniks (those who serve in the reserves), adopted mother to two former Kraviniks (combat units), mother-in-law to another, aunt to two more and in a year or so, yet again mother to a soldier in the standing army, I am adamantly in favor of their serving in the army and, to be fair, many, many are – and more each month.

And I’ll add what I’ve thought often, even if you haven’t. No, I do not love my sons less; they are not of a lesser value; their prayers and their learning are every bit as important as those of the Haredim who do not serve.


I work very hard not to judge their world and hope they won’t judge mine. I am amazed how acceptable it is to write in the media about the evil Haredim, their backwards world, their perceived poverty, and so much more.

Yes, the news gleefully announces that a huge number of Haredim live below the poverty line. But what you fail to understand is that their poverty line is not ours because they don’t have the same standards and “requirements’ to life that we do. They don’t NEED a car; they don’t need the latest electronic device. Their phones are the simplest of phones not because they can’t afford the latest Smartphone but because they don’t want it.

For all that they supposedly don’t have – for the most part, they dress quite nicely, eat quite well. Like us, they struggle to find the finances to give their children weddings – and yet, they never skimp on who they invite and there is always room for one more at the table.

Do you have teenagers? I know – I’ve skipped subjects, but stick with me. I have five amazing children – two of whom are teenagers right now. Oh, are they teenagers. They don’t want to walk the dog; don’t want to feed the birds, do the dishes. There is nothing in the house to eat, as they glare at the full pantry. And so much more. For the record, they are also wonderful, giving, and kind. My 18-year-old son regularly volunteers for MADA (ambulance duty) and has given up two school holidays to be trained and to train others to give first aid.

And yet…they are typical, sometimes rebellious, free-thinking kids who want to do things and go places and it’s a constant struggle to draw a line of what they must do and what ends up falling back on me.

By contrast, my Haredi relatives have children who are bright (well, mine are too), always respectful, kind and giving. I have had only wonderful experiences in the Haredi world of my relatives. I am forever welcomed by them, asked to sit with them. By name, they ask about each of my children and it is to my great shame that I can’t name many of theirs. We are people to them, not some block of “others”.

They are the most amazing of people – amazing parents. They are not materialistic and they raise their children to value family, not things – and I give them credit for that. Their kids do not have the latest Smartphones and tablets. They know little or nothing of the world of the Internet. Do you think they are lacking? Trust me, they aren’t.

I own my own business, have employees and clients. I go home with half the business on my head. Always wondering what the next month will bring. My monthly expenses are astronomical, or so they seem to me at the beginning of each month.

By contrast, they are grounded in the here and now and perfectly healthy without Facebook. We who live in a house and own cars and computers and fly in the world of Internet and gadgets and hi-tech…we have nothing over them. They choose to live a simpler life – what right do we have to judge them and call them backwards? Yes, their children share rooms – can you imagine?

They don’t go out to hamburger joints and probably eat healthier diets for all the restrictions they place on themselves…on themselves, not on me or you.

Doing acts of kindness for neighbors and friends is a regular part of their lives – they donate their time to organizations that help us; they are teachers. One drives and works for Chevra Kaddisha – yes, that’s right, you need him in those saddest moments of your life and then, too often, go back to ridiculing them.

Have you or anyone in your family ever had to borrow some medical equipment? Crutches, a wheel chair, even a baby crib for an infant in those early three months. If you ask someone – without hesitation, they will tell you, “oh, go to Yad Sarah” where, for little more than a tiny deposit (refundable unless you choose to donate it), you get it all. All from Yad Sarah – a Haredi organization.

When my daughter had surgery on her shoulder, when my infant son was hospitalized with a urinary tract infection…and more recently, when I was hospitalized and needed surgery, someone came by and brought us food (for the non-patients who were not given anything by the hospital). this is Ezer Mizion – a Haredi organization. They asked for nothing – not in my time of need and not in the weeks and months that followed. I had to search them out to donate back something as a measure of my gratitude and appreciation.

There are two pictures burned into the memories of Israelis who were here during the second intifada (and even before). The first image is of the bus, the mall, or the restaurant – the devastation after the bomb went off and bodies lying on the ground. The second picture is of men with beards and yellow vests kneeling down and picking up pieces that we didn’t want to identify. This is ZAKA – a Haredi organization.

When they walk into our streets – you don’t think we judge them? We don’t look at them and think they are here to beg money or we stare at their clothes and ridicule what they wear in the heat of the summer (and we aren’t much nicer with our thoughts in the winter either).

And yet, how can you not be infinitely grateful when you see them gathering the remains of people they never met; when the put their arm around a woman who is clearly secular to guide her to medical assistance. They do not judge in those moments – how dare we judge them?

A marketing consultant wearing a long black coat, a black hat from which his long payot descend on both sides of his face entered a multinational, hi-tech company where he was invited to give a speech. He was told that he was not allowed to solicit donations before they ever asked who he was and why he had graced their doors. He told them he was the next speaker and smiled, but really, it isn’t funny. He thinks it funny; I am outraged on his behalf.

Because one thing bad happened to you in a Haredi environment, what right do you have to judge all Haredim? Because they don’t have Internet, you’ve decided THEIR life is lacking?

When I first moved to Israel, we lived in a small yishuv (settlement/village) – half secular and half modern dati (religious). I found the people to be, overall, selfish, arrogant, and nasty. Time and again, I was told to go back to New York. If I had judged all of Israel by these people, I would have left the country more than 15 years ago. All I wanted to be was Israeli and I was devastated that they didn’t seem to accept me. I feared they never would.

In the 12 years since I left that place, I have never encountered the same response; never once been told to go back to a place that had never been mine. You can’t judge an entire community of hundreds of thousands of people by one institution or a few obnoxious people who call out idiotic things.

If you are an Anglo and you bemoan the Haredi culture – you are as wrong and judgmental as the Israelis who don’t seem to recognize that you are one of them.

If you are Israeli and curse the backwards Haredim – you are as wrong and judgmental as those people who think, by virtue of your having been born here, that you are arrogant, pushy, obnoxious and more.

These are all stereotypes, instantly made worthless when you take the time to delve just a bit into the community you so readily malign. Israelis cannot be described in any three words, nor can Haredim. There are good and bad, simple and complex, kind and mean – among all communities, in all places.

Clothes do not make the man…or woman. Stop, the next time you think of “those Haredim” – there are no “those Haredim.” They are people, individuals, parents.

Mark Twain once said, “the Jews are members of the human race, worse I can say of no man.” Think twice before you criticize Haredim or their culture. And try to look at the amazing things they have given to our society.

About the Author
Paula R. Stern is CEO of WritePoint Ltd., a leading technical writing company in Israel. Her personal blog, A Soldier's Mother, has been running for more than 5 years. She lives in Maale Adumim with her husband and children, a dog, too many birds, and a desire to write her thoughts and dream of a trip to Italy, Scotland, and beyond.