My children and I are addicted to good bread, pastries, rugelach. Especially rugelach from Angel. But for more than a month we did without. Every morning the kids asked: “Did he apologize?” And I knew they didn’t like the sandwiches they got for their mid-morning snack; the bread wasn’t from Angel Bakeries. Even the pita didn’t make the grade.
In early May, Omer Barlev, Chairman of the Board of Angel Bakery, one of the largest bakeries in Israel, attended a demonstration against the ultra-Orthodox (haredi) community in Israel who generally refuse to serve in the IDF. It was held in front of the Ponevezh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak, which was also very near the home of Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, the revered rosh yeshiva (head) of Ponevezh who died a few weeks later. Ponevezh is a place of great symbolic significance, and the demonstration was perceived by the community, as an affront, an insult to the yeshiva world, to Torah study, and to Rabbi Edelstein.
Reports that Haredi leadership instigated the boycott were not true: There was no official call or directive from a particular rabbi. No boycott was announced in any newspaper; no secret headquarters or organizations were behind the boycott. On the contrary. A notice appeared in the Yated Ne’eman daily the day after the incident that said: “On the Rosh Yeshiva’s instruction, we make no reference to the events that took place last night on Yeshiva Hill.”
Despite this, and without the sponsorship of any official organization, Haredi opinion spread by word of mouth: We won’t be trampled again. Our most important rabbi has been insulted, in the most important place to us – the Yeshiva – and at the core of our existence, the place of Torah study.
Indeed, no one is telling Omer Barlev what to believe. He can protest whatever he wants, whenever it suits him. The heads of major companies and banks have taken part in demonstrations and have been protesting all along. The Haredi world has not chastised any of them.
But to come to the foot of the Ponevezh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak to demand compulsory Haredi national service – that’s not a demonstration. That’s not just “expressing one’s opinion.” That is an insult. That is defiance of the value most important to the Haredi public – the value of Torah study. It was a shameful and ugly provocation, for the sake of provocation.
How would secular members of Kibbutz Ginosar feel if ultra-Orthodox protesters from Mea Shearim came to the main square of the kibbutz to demonstrate against their way of life? Against the things that are important to them?
This was the biggest spontaneous boycott I can remember. Piles of bread and baked goods of all kinds stood completely untouched in our neighborhood grocery store every day. There weren’t always suitable substitutes, yet no one touched them. Because the Haredi public decided to stand up for themselves. Not to let others walk all over them; not to turn the other cheek.
Omer Barlev now claims he didn’t actually apologize; perhaps he’ll keep trying to wiggle his way out of it. But it doesn’t matter what Barlev calls it; it’s clear he fully realized that his behavior required him to go to Bnei Brak and deliver a letter of apology. Above all, it required him to atone for the disgrace of having violated the honor of the Torah.
Because even if Barlev tries to deny it, the message came through: The Haredi community will not stay still when our most cherished symbols are trampled.