A TOLDOT AHARON Hassid (right) and another haredi man escort the son of former MK Dov Lipman, who is a soldier, away from an anti-Zionist mob in the capital’s Mea She’arim neighborhood on Friday..
(photo credit: HAREDI EXTREMISTS PROTESTS GROUP)
I have a new hero.
I never heard of him before this week, but he did something utterly heroic.
Last Friday my son, an IDF soldier, was being pursued by a mob of Jewish extremists in Mea She’arim, where he had gone to buy a sefer from a particular bookstore. As the hoard trailed him, my son had no idea where to run to escape. This hero – a Toldot Aharon hassid in full “zebra” garb – approached my son and said, “walk quickly with me.” He then directed him through unfamiliar streets and alleyways until the police came to provide protection. Despite living in the same neighborhood as the rioters, he had the courage to help an IDF soldier with a kippa on his head.
Many people have asked what I propose to do after seeing my son come under such an attack. For one, I plan to explore legislation making verbal attacks against IDF soldiers a violation of the law. While such a bill is tricky – touching as it does on the issue of freedom of speech – I still believe that it is in the national interest to outlaw this behavior, as such speech leads to violence, and must be prohibited.
Yet my focus right now is not on the radicals who attacked my son but on the hassid who saved my son. I was so touched, so overwhelmed by what he did, that I had to reach out to find him. I did, and we met so I could thank him in person. On the phone he asked for one thing: “Please do not tell anyone who I am, and there should be no pictures of our meeting.”
This request did not come from humility. It came from fear. This wonderful man – who went against the grain to help an innocent IDF soldier in distress – lives in dread over ramifications from the extremist community.
We cannot allow such a situation to continue.
We have to raise the voices of the moderate ultra-Orthodox community, and squelch the noise and influence of the extremists.
How do we do that?
There is one way, which touches on why these attacks are taking place in the first place: these fanatics are flexing their muscles because they are losing the war.
Here are some facts: there are more ultra-Orthodox males in the workforce than ever before; more ultra-Orthodox IDF soldiers than ever before including over 100 officers; and more ultra-Orthodox university students than ever before.
The train has left the station, and the ultra-Orthodox are integrating into Israeli society. And that’s the war these zealots are fighting against – and losing.
Make no mistake: this will be a long process, which will take another two or three generations. But it is already happening. And the radicals are acting out in a last, desperate attempt to stop the trend.
To defeat them, or at least help raise the voice and influence of the moderate haredim, we must do everything in our power to help continue their integration. We must invest in ultra-Orthodox employment including professional training, and provide them with the tools such as English and math so they can support their families with dignity; we must ensure that the IDF creates more programs catered to the needs of the ultra-Orthodox community; and we must work with universities to make them even more attractive and user-friendly for haredi students. Serious investment in these areas will help raise the stature and power of the majority ultra-Orthodox community, and help quiet the fanatical side.
All this with complete respect for their religious way of life, and their dedication to the primacy of Torah study.
The fact that my hero cannot reveal his name is our fault. We have not done enough to empower the mainstream, and so they continue to live in fear. Our goal must be to create a society in which my new hero can walk with pride on the streets of his neighborhood – and we must take the necessary steps to create that reality.
And to my Toldot Aharon superhero I say: thank you. Thank you for being brave and courageous and for doing what was right. I will repay you not only with words, and flowers for Shabbat, but by dedicating myself to creating an Israel in which an act of heroism of this kind won’t be necessary in the first place.