Haredim (ultra-Orthodox) are the center of attention of so many discussions
concerning Israel these days. However, the focus and concern in the media and
Jewish public life about the haredi role in Israeli society is usually short on
awareness of what is really occurring within haredi society itself. The
discussions are often inaccurate and sometimes sound like the anthropological
observations of outsiders looking into a society they don’t understand. This is
a shame because the developments within the haredi community are significant,
worthy of attention and will have a serious impact on Israeli society.
example of the misreading of haredi society is how observers often report and
bemoan the power or behavior of haredi political parties while never asking an
important question: Do haredi political parties even represent the interests of
haredi citizens? I grew up in the world of Poalei Agudath Yisrael, a haredi
political movement which considered the building up of all aspects of Jewish
life in Eretz Yisrael as vital – Torah learning, the economy, the education
system and much more. While these values have remained important for countless
people, for years there has been no organization or party giving a public voice
to these ideas. This lack of a voice has become more critical as growing numbers
of haredim engage with Israeli society.
Large segments of Israel’s haredi
population have concerns which are not addressed by the current haredi political
establishment. So while thousands of young haredim begin their studies in
academic and job training programs this week they do so without assistance or
recognition from haredi political leaders. Thousands of other haredim are
serving in unique IDF tracks while ignored or condemned by the haredi political
Government ministries and non-profit organizations are
working overtime to plan and implement education, army and job programs
impacting haredim. Yet, there is no official haredi response or input, as if
ignoring them will make them disappear.
Many haredi citizens are
concerned about crowding and discriminatory acceptance policies in their
They want better parks, playgrounds and cleaner
neighborhoods but these issues are not priorities of haredi political
Thus a significant disconnect exists between the reality of the
life and concerns that many haredim have and the public positions taken by the
political parties claiming to speak for them. As increasing numbers of haredim
find themselves active in the Israeli economy, army and academic institutions,
this gap is widening, leading many to wonder: who do these parties actually
speak for? A significant cause of this dissonance is the political parties
seeing haredim as having the right to vote, but not the right to choose. But
that is changing as many haredim look around and see that their lives do not
match the rhetoric of haredi politics. The more they listen to certain
self-appointed haredi spokesmen and political “activists,” many haredim realize
that their well-being is not on their agenda.
The TOV movement was
founded as a successor to Poalei Agudath Yisrael to provide a clear voice for
large segments of haredi society whose concerns are not being addressed by the
haredi political establishment. It is an authentic address for the growing
numbers of haredi Israelis who are involved in society while not compromising
their haredi identity. TOV was created from the bottom up. The need existed
before the organization was founded.
TOV entered Israel’s political world
because experience shows that a political voice is the only method to ensure
that the concerns of thousands of Israeli haredim are taken seriously; whether
they be about job training or discrimination in the workplace, army service or
quality of life issues. It is time that the real needs of haredi citizens be
considered as worthy of being addressed. It is an exhilarating experience being
a catalyst encouraging many haredi citizens to express their authentic needs and
to have faith that real change and improvement is possible.
When we are
successful, all of Israel will benefit.
The author lives in Har Nof,
Jerusalem. He is a veteran educator, secretary-general of Poalei Agudath Yisrael
and is the founder of the TOV party which is running in five Israeli municipal
elections, including Jerusalem.