Maybe there is no future…

At least not the one Yair Lapid and his party, Yesh Atid (There is a future) envision for Israel.

You can’t vote if you don’t learn; if you don’t understand and though I have to admit I had preconceived notions against Yair Lapid’s party, I decided to go hear Rabbi Dov Lipman, appointed number 18 on the Yesh Atid list. Rabbi Lipman came to my religious community in Maale Adumim to tell me that his party can solve all of Israel’s problems – if we only vote for them.

Rabbi Lipman is many things – he is intelligent, he is charming. He is well-spoken and a very talented blogger and writer. Though he says otherwise, he clearly craves the political limelight. He’s been in Israel for 8 years and looks forward to his son serving in the Israeli army. That was one of the first things that bothered me a bit.
Having had two sons serve, I can tell you that no one
should look forward to their son going into the army.

It is weeks and months and years of sleepless nights, terror beyond anything you can imagine. Fear for where they are, what they are doing, what is happening. It is not knowing when they will come home and sometimes even where they are. It is accepting that your son knows war; that your son has killed. And even if the kill is justified by all our enemies have done to us and our need to protect our country, and it is, it is still death.

There is pride in having my sons serve and it is anticipation of that pride that I believe Rabbi Lipman feels. There is no sense of anticipation that in another few years, my youngest son will join his brothers in a brotherhood of fighters who know a reality I never wanted my sons to know. There is no glory in romanticizing the army and all I have written in the last six years has been about getting others to see our soldiers for what they are.

Rabbi Lipman began the evening’s presentation in Maale Adumim by detailing the social plan of Yair Lapid. While much sounded good, there were numerous contradictions and misguided assumptions there. Here are some examples:

Yair Lapid is, according to Rabbi Lipman, the first one to address and solve the issue of our youths’ commitment to our nation. His solution, which he feels is unique and unprecedented, is to have all sons and daughters serve the nation in some way – Sherut Leumi (national service), the army, etc.

Rabbi Lipman mentioned MADA, the national Magen David Adom ambulance service or ZAKA, an amazing Ultra-Orthodox (Charedi) organization. Maybe I should be in the Knesset – I’ve been saying that for years. I too believe all should serve – the Charedi, but also the many secular Jews who are choosing to avoid military service.

My first comment is that if you’re going to come up with a plan, it should be feasible. For example, no one can believe sending 18-year-olds to “serve” in ZAKA is a good idea. ZAKA correctly has very strict guidelines for who they accept as members. Their job, cleaning up the remains of the dead even under the most gruesome circumstances requires very careful scrutiny.

To be perfectly blunt, not everyone can handle looking through a bag of blood and flesh to find the severed hand that should be buried with the murdered person. This is an actual case after a terror attack, and this is NOT a job for an 18 year old.

At no time did Rabbi Lipman address the issue of the many secular Jews in Israel who avoid military service; he didn’t even mention them. While he specifically mentioned the Charedi, he allowed all others who fall into the same category to go unnamed. He didn’t mention that one statistic places the number of those who do not serve in the Tel Aviv area at over 34% (compared to just 22% in the south and 17% in the north).

While saying that a change was necessary but would not happen overnight, Rabbi Lipman didn’t mention that already 30% of the Charedim who have receive notices to report for the draft have answered the call. Thirty percent, in just a few months.

As an Orthodox Jew, it bothers me that Rabbi Lipman doesn’t at least credit the Charedi with spending their time learning Torah rather than getting out of the army for “psychological” or “pacifist” reasons.

Personally, short of major health issues (and sometimes even in these cases), I don’t think there should be ANY exemptions – not for the left or the right; not for the religious and not for the secular. But at least I recognize the evasion on both sides.

It also bothered me that Rabbi Lipman came to my community, often referred to as “Dati Leumi” – part of the national religious camp to tell us about the problem of others not serving. Our children serve in percentages that are above the national average. Most of the 25 people in the room have children who have served or are serving. The ratio of children in Maale Adumim going into combat units is among the highest in the country.

We who have lived here for decades well understand the need for all to serve and contrary to what was said, this is not a new issue.

Rabbi Lipman came in the name of “achdut” (unity) to plant seeds (or at best to water them) of discontent. He knows our sons serve – I’m sure he does. So, all I could get out of this part of the discussion was that he wanted us to join him in being annoyed that other sons do not – particularly, if not exclusively, the Charedim.

And how can Yair Lapid solve this problem? Apparently with a slogan about everyone serving and by citing already-existing programs as his model. There ARE more Charedi soldiers today than ever before – even without Yair Lapid’s egotistical bragging that he can solve Israel’s social woes.

If Yair Lapid’s plan was to solve the issue of non-serving youth overnight (a bad idea according to everyone involved), there might have been something novel in the approach presented last night. But even Lapid recognizes it can’t be done overnight so what’s wrong with the army’s 30% figure?

The next great message of Yesh Atid is that they want to do away with the Bagrut system and return education to the teachers. Teachers should teach what they know and love to teach not be forced by outsiders or national exams. It too is a great slogan until you hear the next part. They want to force the secular community to teach their children religious studies (here defined as Torah, Mishna, perhaps, etc.) and force the religious community to teach their children secular studies.

So, it seems to me this is a contradiction. Either you force religious studies on secular schools and secular studies on religious schools, or you “let the teachers teach.” You can’t have both.

And again, Rabbi Lipman didn’t really seem to be addressing the right audience. Does he have any idea about what is being taught in the Jerusalem and Maale Adumim schools? My children attend religious schools, but they are learning math and English, Physics, medical studies, Hebrew language studies, Computers, Biology, and much more.

My daughter’s school had a special course of study for young girls as they reach the age of bat mitzvah and that included explaining both the laws and traditions they are now expected to keep, but also enough biology for her to understand what changes are taking place in her body.

In my youngest son’s school, a teacher took the boys to a room and told them to line up in front of the door to the hallway. He chose two boys, my son included, and told them to get themselves out of the room. They tried pushing their way through – not violent, but with force. They didn’t get very far. The teacher stopped them and offered them additional help in the form of one more student. Three boys were now pushing through 20 and not getting anywhere.

Again the teacher stopped them. “Let me try,” he said to the boys. He went to one young man and asked him to move. The boy did. He asked another and another and then stepped into the hallway. “Force doesn’t solve everything,” he told the boys, “sometimes all you have to do is talk.” This is education, if you ask me.

This is Derech Eretz – the way we should behave towards others. Who needs Yesh Atid to come and change what my children are learning, and more, to have the arrogance to think we’ll vote for them to do this?

The truth is that Yesh Atid wants to “return education to the educators” where it is not needed and force it on the one or two segments of the population where it is – the Charedi schools. I don’t disagree that there should be more math, history, science etc. in these schools. I merely object to claiming to give freedom while taking it away. It is hypocrisy to claim you want to force secular (or religious) studies on a community that does not want it while claiming to be doing the opposite. At least be honest, you are campaigning against the Charedi way of life and hiding it by general campaign slogans.

Rabbi Lipman says Yesh Atid wants to “break bureaucracy except for basic rules of curriculum; cut a lot of money and pay teachers more money.” It seems to me, if you are in favor of cutting the education budget, teachers won’t be paid more. We all agree that teachers are underpaid, as are the nurses, and so many others. It seems to me, one of the main groups of people who are being overpaid in this country are the politicians.

Next up was a subject all of Israel knows about. Yair Lapid wants to create affordable housing. Again, who doesn’t? Rabbi Lipman explained that young people today can’t afford to buy homes. I have three young married couples. Honestly, I didn’t need Rabbi Lipman telling me they can’t afford housing. In Sweden, said Rabbi Lipman, a young couple needs to save an average of 30 monthly salaries to purchase a home. In England it is 71 months and in Israel, an unbelievable 127 months – almost 11 years to purchase a home.

Yair Lapid’s plan is to build 150,000 new homes. Where? How? At what cost? Never mind. The point is the numbers, not the plan. Why not 300,000? Doesn’t that sound impressive? And then, some reality dribbles in, a touch on what I came to hear. It is strands of Tommy Lapid and his hatred of the Ultra-Orthodox.

To hear it come from an Orthodox Jew is disquieting, upsetting, disappointing. It is couched in terms that seem logical, but it is inequality and the opposite of why Rabbi Lipman claimed to come to Maale Adumim. He says he has worked all his life for “achdut” – unity. But unity apparently doesn’t include the Charedim.

Special preference for affordable housing should go to veterans of the Israel Defense Forces. My sons have given years of their lives to serving this country. Shouldn’t they have the right to affordable housing? Absolutely – but again, nothing new there. Whole cities have been built in Israel with this concept in mind. The neighborhood of Tsahala, where I lived when I was a very young child; cities that are being planned for the Negev and up north.

Soldiers are given, correctly, many benefits – discounts in education, discounts on car insurance, mortgages, etc.

There is nothing new in Yair Lapid’s plan other than his claiming he thought of it, that he alone can make it happen, that only Yesh Atid cares about these issues. What nonsense!

And he wants university graduates to benefit too – this is also a nice idea. They’ve spent tens of thousands of shekels and years of their lives learning things that will help them later. They should be able to get assistance with purchasing their first homes. So what’s the problem?
It’s that concept of achdut and that “pink elephant” in the room – that “hidden” agenda that remains just below the surface and yet if you look, you’ll see it.

The truth behind the reality. Tommy Lapid built a party, Shinui, whose most prominent characteristic was its anti-religious platform. His son, Yair Lapid is more sophisticated, more of a politician than his outspoken father ever was.
You can’t paint the religious with one brush, the Junior Lapid learned. It doesn’t work. The Dati Leumi serve in the army, and serve well. Our children already have a full range of secular and religious studies and many go to university. My daughter is learning psychology; my oldest son is learning engineering.

What this is, once again, is an anti-Charedi agenda couched behind words such as a quest for achdut. Where Senior Lapid accused all religious Jews of damaging the country, Yesh Atid focuses on obliterating the current reality in the Charedi world without having the decency to say this is their goal. There should be affordable housing for young couples, we were told – who serve in the army, who go to university. Translate it – not for the Charedim.

It is hypocrisy to claim you want achdut and then separate between communities. It is absurd, in a nation that has struggled with the issue of how to integrate the Charedi community more into serving the nation to ignore a rise to 30% participation for the first time ever and it’s wrong to solve the problem of housing for some but not for others.

But they aren’t done. Yesh Atid also wants to reform the electoral system in Israel by offering to join the government, if it meets their conditions. Of course, they will accept an appropriate offer of a ministry to run and let’s make it clear, they don’t want a “Minister without Portfolio.” Is there anyone in Israel who thinks the size of Netanyahu’s government isn’t absurd (35 ministers compared to Germany’s 15 and Switzerland’s 7 according to Rabbi Lipman)?

Again, it’s that preaching to the choir concept; stating the obvious. If Yair Lapid wants to be novel and revolutionary – join the government and REFUSE a ministry. Now that would be something! If he wants to really serve the cause of achdut – don’t single out the Charedim to get yourself votes.

If you want your party to be part of the future of Israel, don’t ignore all that has come before. Israel is making amazing strides in the area of education, getting all our youth to serve, and yes housing. It’s slow – as we all knew it would be and it is sometimes hopelessly bogged down by politics. But starting from a position that is counter to achdut is a non-starter. Charedim need to serve, absolutely, but so do a heck of a lot of Tel Aviv’s youth. Post-army and university graduates need housing, but so do Charedi young couple.

I walked out of the meeting feeling that achdut, true achdut, was no closer with Yesh Atid than with any other political party. We all have a lot to learn, including, and perhaps especially, Yair Lapid.

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.