As part of my work at the Max Barney Foundation, which is focused on supporting Global Jewish employment, I’ve just had the immense privilege of spending eight days in Israel traversing the entire country, meeting the most inspiring people.
This visit was an effort to gain a better understanding of the various populations, their strengths and some of the challenges they face particularly around employment and making a sustainable living.
Before my trip, I had my biases and predispositions towards the various groups. What I learned was that while every group has its own challenges, I had it all wrong.
From the 30-year-old Charedi lady in Mea Shearim who started her own small furniture business to support her family of seven as well as young boy she had adopted, to the Israeli Arab in Nazareth who ran a small delicatessen working 12 hours a day to make an honest living supporting herself and her family, to the young Ethiopian man who against all odds managed to obtain a university education and is now a manager of a large retail branch of one of the banks in Tel Aviv, all of whom have a set of shared values; devotion to their families, dedication to their culture and religion, as well a strong commitment to work hard and support themselves with dignity and pride.
There was one more characteristic they all shared. None of them knew anything about the others’ values, morals and ideals, which created a vacuum filled by biases and prejudgments.
Israel is a country comprised of all kinds of people, much like an orchestra is comprised of different instruments. They all sound very different, but when they play together with every note perfectly timed in synchronised harmony, the result is outstanding.
For this to happen there needs to be shared knowledge – it’s important everyone knows the repertoire and understands the other instruments, resilience (what happens if someone skips a beat? Do others help carry the music, or does blame culture mean individuals are pilloried rather than supported?), and finally commitment; months of rehearsal and planning go into a performance. To make sure all the preparation pays off, every member must stay focused and committed to the last note.
If we understood each other better, ensured we were there to back up each other when needed and were fully committed to each other’s success, just imagine what we could achieve.
As diaspora Jews, we, too, have a role to play. I recently read an article in a Jewish newspaper headlined: World Jews ‘more worried about Charedim than Arabs’. As Jews we are fighting for our survival on many fronts and the pejorative overtones of this article are very disturbing.
Across so many groups, Arabs, Charedim, etc… it is almost always the vocal minority who are the rabble-rousers and the silent majority of really good people who suffer the consequences.
Charedi society in Israel isn’t perfect, but the fundamentals by which they aspire to live their daily lives are based on kindness to one another (gemilut chesed) and a dedication to their religion and families, which can’t be a bad thing.
The modern world has to a large degree lost its moral compass, abandoned family values and developed into a very self-centred society. Perhaps this is what Charedim wants to protect themselves against? I don’t understand how pitting one group against another benefits us all.
Surely it would be more interesting to read about the good being done and how globally we are a true light unto the nations?
If we all focused on what unites rather than what divides us, the world would be a better place, and the Jewish people as well as the state of Israel would flourish and grow.