Together with President Reuven Rivlin, Dr. Michal Shaul presents her book ‘Pe’er Tahat Efer’ at the Shazar Center Prize ceremony.
(photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
There were two events in one on Sunday, December 11, at the President’s Residence: a meeting between President Reuven Rivlin and the deans of Israel’s humanities schools in the country, to think together about what should be done to elevate the prestige of such studies in the eyes of the young generation of students; followed by a moving ceremony awarding the annual Shazar Center Prize.
Dr. Michal Shaul, the awardee, discussed the focus of her research: the issues that haredi society faced at the end of World War II and their response during the first decade following the country’s establishment. Currently doing post-doctoral work in Australia, Shaul described how haredim who moved to Israel at the end of the war reacted and found a way to rebuild from the ashes of their communities.
When haredim realized the extent of the catastrophe, they felt a sense of emergency – an urgent need to rise from the rubble and prevent the complete destruction of what was left of the Jewish world in any way possible.
“In a way, the haredi response was similar to that of the general Zionist population, but there was a profound difference. While prime minister David Ben-Gurion was driven to create something new from the ashes of the destruction, the haredi sector sought to keep the old way of life alive – to revive the haredi communities that were destroyed.”
Shaul said the attitude of the ultra-Orthodox who arrived here in those first years of the state differs from what we see now. In the Holocaust’s aftermath, they felt the need to be part of the newly born state and to share in building it. They enlisted in the IDF and fought while reconstructing their communities and way of life.
The profound change in the attitude toward the state and army service came much later.
The primary aims were to rebuild a society, create new families and have children. Otherwise the little that was left would be lost, too.
“I found an interesting situation on the ground,” continued Shaul. “Extensive scholarly research has been done on the Shoah, its aftermath and impact on several parts of the Israeli society.
Much research has also been done on haredi society; what was lacking was research on the link between the two, and this is exactly what this book explores.”
Shaul’s book, titled Pe’er Tahat Efer (“Splendor Beneath the Ashes”) and published this past week by the Shazar Center, also probes the outlook of ordinary people in that period.
“We hear much about the actions of rabbis and leaders during and right after the war, but I wanted to shed light on the laypersons: the simple men and women who rose literally from the ashes and rebuilt a destroyed world, creating an astonishing and flourishing society just a few years later.”