I’m listening to the radio talk show discussion of the new proposal that nursery
school will be free from age three. You’d think this might be a rare moment of
national unity. Any parent who has been paying steep preschool fees, and any
grandparent who remembers that nursery school used to cost as much as
university, should be happy about this decision. It is a substantive
response to the summer protests’ demand for improved conditions for working
couples. But every Knesset speaker who gets on the airwaves in the morning is
griping. Each glorifies his or her sector and complains about the
others. Listening in traffic, I had the fantasy that each speaker would
say something positive about those in a different sector. Are we so busy
defending our lifestyles for secular grandparents to admit that they would love
to have 50 grandchildren like their haredi counterparts? Would haredi parents
really mind if their gifted sons and daughters had the educational tools to
become oncologists like their secular counterparts?
Instead of making lists of
what’s wrong with each other, here are a few examples of what we might
appreciate. Please excuse the generalizations. My apologies in advance for
stereotyping and for not including the Arab sector in this column.What
we can learn from haredim
1. Devotion to bringing up many
children. Remember when David Ben-Gurion asked all families to have one
additional child? No matter how others might want to explain away the reasons
that haredi Jews have large families, there is no way to undercut the devotion
it takes to bring up 10 children. Each one starts with nine months of pregnancy
and a painful delivery. They get ear infections and cry at
night. They need comfort when they come home from school after quarreling
with friends or failing a test. They need Purim costumes and birthday cakes.
Imagine going to all those parent-teacher meetings. Yet haredi families are
willing to take this on despite limited financial resources.
consumer pressure. Way before the cottage cheese boycott, haredi supermarkets
were offering cheaper brands and lower prices on many goods. They used consumer
power to convince manufacturers to change their kashrut supervision to suit
their needs. They are energetic at networking and gathering consumer and health
information. Even secular Jews often consult rabbi specialists in finding expert
3. Long school days. Those school buses bring home little
boys in the late afternoon when secular peers have been home for hours. School
vacations are also shorter than in the secular sector.
4. Learning by
heart and argument. Students used to memorize poetry and were able to quote
historic statements by rote. In the haredi sector, children are encouraged to
mentally own key passages of Torah and Oral Law. Talmudic study encourages
comprehension of complex issues and dialectic.
5. Commitment to following
Jewish tradition is reinforced at school and at home. This includes
values like honoring your father and mother.
6. Even the poor dedicate a
portion of their funds for the needier. Copious numbers of lending societies
(gemahs) provide loans for everything from party dresses to chickpeas. Volunteer
organizations run soup kitchens and food distribution.
proactive role in helping their children find appropriate marriage partners is
accepted and encouraged. Choices may be less romantic but better geared for
What we can learn from secular Jews
1. Patriotism is
expressed through readiness for self-sacrifice in low salary, enduring extreme
discomfort and risking your life by military service.
2. Men and women
take pride in their working life and careers, understanding that personal
development and the gross national product are linked and are
3. Schools stress math, science and English, providing the
tools for those who choose to enter professions of the future. Creativity
is encouraged through a wide variety of after-school programs that yield
original achievements in visual arts, music and theater. Even Israeli TV shows
are copied by Hollywood.
4. Innovators in hi-tech, science, medicine and
economics aim at making the world a better place. These opportunities are open
to men and women who can lead political parties, play pro basketball or head the
Supreme Court without any concern that this is an insult to the public
sensibility. Quite the opposite.
5. Zionist pioneers were willing
to withstand extreme privation to build this country. They have passed on
a love of country, Israeli history and Hebrew culture. Beloved Israeli music is
a vehicle for celebration as well as for mourning.
6. The act of walking
the historic byways and nature trails is reverential. From this love of the Land
of Israel comes a concern for the environment – from preserving wildflowers to
7. A wide range of behavior is accepted in children. leaving
ample space for individuality.
What we can learn from modern Orthodox
1. An attitude of “we can do it all” translates into the belief that Jewish
observance can be combined with large families and involvement in the general
community. You can be an Torah-observant computer whiz, pilot or real-estate
developer and work in any setting whether you are a man or woman.
Creative endeavors combining tradition and modern ideas are flourishing. Take
for instance the Tzohar rabbis, the Ma’aleh Film School and Kehillat Shira
Hadasha. Modern Orthodox filmmaker Joseph Cedar earned an Academy Award
, a TV series based on modern Orthodox life made by
modern Orthodox film makers, has an international following.
Willingness to live in difficult and dangerous places. Groups of modern Orthodox
Jews have created communities not only as part of the settlement movement in
places like Gush Katif but also in troubled towns and cities like Yeroham and
Lod. Does anyone think that living in a caravan is fun for more than a week?
Outreach and hospitality. Modern Orthodox Jews routinely invite non-observant
guests, visiting students and immigrants into their large and busy households
for elaborate Shabbat meals even though most are two-career families.
Religious Zionist youth movements reinforce family values of leadership and a
strong ethic of contributing to society. Many modern Orthodox soldiers volunteer
for combat and officer positions, with moralebuilding enthusiasm. National
Service volunteers spend two years contributing badly needed human resources to
help the needy in schools, hospitals and youth villages.
6. According to
studies, modern Orthodox couples have the most parity of married couples: men
and women are likely to have the same educational and occupational status,
modeling greater equality in family life. This makes it possible for them
to successfully balance careers and large families.
7. Schools offer high
levels of general and Torah studies, giving young men and women a wide choice of
What an impressive plethora of ideas and choices. Now
there’s a subject for a talk show!
The author is a Jerusalem writer who focuses
on the wondrous stories of modern Israel. She serves as the Israel
director of public relations for Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of
America. The views in her columns are her own.