(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
A social project hopes to spread the light of understanding, acceptance and tolerance among Israel’s patchwork of communities by bringing together religious and secular Jews over the Hanukka lights.
The project – spearheaded by the Hinam Center for Societal Tolerance – involves dozens of families hosting people from around the country in their homes for nightly Hanukka ceremonies and celebrations.
Yael Mizrahi, a haredi (ultra-Orthodox) mother of 11 in Jerusalem and her husband make up one of the families who will host approximately 10 secular visitors this week.
Together they will light the hanukkia, recite the traditional blessings, sing Maoz Tzur, eat homemade doughnuts and have open discussions about perspectives of their respective communities and issues that concern them.
Mizrahi, who has participated in previous Hinam projects, said that trying to bring the fractured parts of Israeli society together is one of the driving forces of her life, and that she delights in breaking down stereotypes of the haredi sector in her interactions with secular folk.
Noting the wide variety of groups in haredi society, she said a common secular mistake is to lump all haredim together, especially after a negative incident highlights that community.
She pointed to the murder by Yishai Schlissel – a violent extremist from the haredi community – of Shira Banki at the 2015 Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade. At the time, Mizrahi said, it seemed all haredim were seen as responsible, something for which she blames the media.
Mizrahi described her own family as “a mosaic” of different religious trends; some of her sons study in haredi yeshivas, while a daughter works in the State Attorney’s Office and other children have enlisted in the IDF.
“We are all brothers together, and at the end of the day we have more that unites us than divides us, in particular in this country of ours which we need to protect and preserve,” said Mizrahi.
She is very conscious of efforts to integrate haredim into general society, but said it is critical to avoid any attempts to change their essence.
Noah Dror, 21, is from Yokne’am and will be hosted by Mizrahi later this week.
She said many people seem to talk a great deal about a sector of society without knowing much about that community or spending any time in it.
“We are all here in this one country, and our influence over each other is strong,” said Dror. “We might not think so because we live so separately, but each sector directly impacts the other, so I want to really understand issues like IDF enlistment
, what’s going on with Amona, the muezzin controversy and other problems.”
As with Mizrahi, one way Dror does not want to find out about different communities is through the media.
“If you do that, you are allowing someone to serve as a medium between yourself and another world that is actually extremely close to you,” she said. And you can’t understand something without experiencing it yourself.”
Hinam’s founder, Yaron Kanner, observed that most people cordon themselves off in their own societal sectors and have little opportunity for contact with different communities.
“Hinam is trying to advance the goal of bringing together people with different identities through a number of different initiatives, including our Hanukka exchange program, in which we want to see people hosting others from outside of their own communities,” he said.
“Warm encounters at home with people from different walks of life, eating and meeting together with each other’s families, can really help promote the value of societal tolerance which we are aiming for.”