Janne L. Punski-Hoogervorst
Dutch MD passionate about Mental Health, Public Health & Human Rights

Together as One Nation: Am Yisrael Chai

A response to
‘Israeli society needs to disengage from ultra-Orthodox’
by Dr. Ram Fruman, head of the Secular Forum, as published on Ynetnews. 


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There are often headlines in the news, especially of opinion pieces, that right away grab the attention. Sometimes in a good way, sometimes.. a bit less positive. The above mentioned article, published yesterday on Israeli new platform Ynetnews, is an example of one that grabbed my attention right away: just one day after having binge watched the Israeli TV-series ”Autonomies” (אוטונומיות), by Yehonatan Indursky, maker of the more well-known ”Shtisel”.

”Autonomies” shows a complete dystopian alternate reality of Israel, one torn apart by wars between religious and non-religious, up to the point of splitting the nation into a secular ”State of Israel” and a ”Haredi Autonomy”. Not ending all too well for either side. Reading the title of Dr. Fruman’s article, it felt like being flashed right into the alternative reality scripted by Indursky. One characterized by hatred, misunderstanding, and above all a completely divided Jewish people.

I have to admit. I had to read the article a few times, unable to actually fully accept the meaning of Dr. Fruman’s words. So much hatred, so much ”them” versus ”us”. And unfortunately this is not just one individual talking: based on the Secular Forum’s website, Dr. Fruman is the head of an organization whose main goal is to promote the Hiloni agenda and spread hatred and misinformation about Judaism as a religion.

Israel is officially the Nation-state of the Jewish people, according to the 2018 Nation-State Bill. Meaning: Israel is the only country in the world that is truly ours, a home for Jews, no matter where from, or what level of religious devotion. And if this state bill is in accordance with the ”values” of the Forum too recent and too controversial, fine: but the state of Israel, within its Declaration of Independence from 1948, defines itself as a Jewish state. The Jewish State.

One of the beauties of Israel, our Jewish Nation, is our multidimensional society. In Israel, you’ll find Jews from every little corner of the world, from every sect or domination: from ultra-orthodox to ultra-secular. Within every nation there will always be people that you don’t agree with, people that have different opinions, values, or lifestyles. That’s the struggle, and there is beauty within being able to be together as a whole. The Nation Israel is not only for religious Jews, but neither is it only for the secular. Together, previous generations have built up the State which we can call our home this day, and together we share the responsibility to stay together in health and with tolerance.

Moreover, the alternative Dr. Fruman is offering, does not only resemble with the dystopia in Autonomies, but relates directly back to our Jewish history. And as the saying goes: history does tend to repeat itself. Right after the death of King Solomon – the wisest man that ever lived – the Hebrew Kingdom in Jerusalem spilt into the Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Judah: a division driven by economic hardship and idolatry. And what good did this bring? Almost immediately the Kingdoms deteriorated, ultimately leading to first the exile of the 10 Northern tribes and later full exile of all the Jews from the land. The prosperity of the Kingdom has never again appeared back to the Jewish people, until one could argue: the founding of the State of Israel. However, according to the principles of the Secular Movement, such history does not have a place in ”secular” history and Israeli heritage classes should be banned from Israeli school systems. 

Religion is not only for extremists: religion is just as much a value system as it is about believing in a Creator. Judaism is a practical religion, with moral codes and rules to create an ideal society. One may forget that most of the considered ”secular” countries largely have based their core values on the Judeo-Christian morals. Hate speech like the Secular Forum promotes might not be considered racist – as Dr. Fruman proudly describes in his own article. However, it most definitely does not fit within the Jewish moral codes of ”thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”.

Charedim are often pictured by the secular as a group that is completely out of touch with ”the rest of Israeli society”, living off charity and providing nothing back to the country. However, just as there are many Hilonim that do not necessarily contribute, there are many Charedim that DO contribute. Think about medical service providers such as United Hatzalah, Yad Sarah, or Ezer Mizion. But also within the IDF, thank G-d, there are initiatives promoting and allowing army service to religious (wo)men. There is even the IDF’s Netzah Yehuda Battalion or maybe better known as the Nahal Haredi.

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Dr. Fruman calls upon the ultra-orthodox. The Secular Forum aims against religious organizations in general. For these ultra-secular individuals it’s all just the same. Describing that ”the secular communities will happily accept religious Jews that wish to adopt a secular lifestyle” does not make one tolerant. It just means that anyone that fits in with the ultimate ideal of the community may be there. However, where would there be space for the Reform Jew, the Conservative, the Modern-Orthodox? The secular Jews that keep Kosher and holidays out of respect for their family traditions? The Dati Leumi making it their life goal to sustain and improve the Nation? Is this in the Secular Forum’s eyes all just religious hocus-pocus directly intervening with the ability to adequately think and function in day-to-day life?

We have to protect our society from becoming one that is too much about the individual, and not about the collective. There will always be extremist within a society, but they exist on many levels and on both sides of the spectrum. Based on Dr. Fruman’s article, the other articles on the Secular Forum’s website, and their general points of action, I do believe that this organization falls into the other side of the extremist spectrum: the ultra-secular. And like Dr. Fruman himself beautifully describes in his opinion piece: ”hate and hostility are not the solution”. Absolutely not. So please also don’t promote hatred against specific groups within our society. It does not help, it does so much damage, maybe more than the writers even realize. There are big differences, but let’s focus on our shared values, our shared goals, and our shared nation. Especially in these extremely difficult times, we have to stay together and be united as a people.

Am Yisrael Chai.

This article has been published with a delay to honour the Shabbat and first day of Sukkot.

About the Author
Dr Janne L. Punski-Hoogervorst is a Dutch-trained medical doctor with clinical experience working in mental health care, both in clinical and outreaching settings. She made Aliyah in April 2019, and currently conducts academic research in post-traumatic stress disorder. Her publications are aimed to spread awareness about public and mental health, as well as promote psychological health in a daily life context.
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