Within a week after making aliyah way back in 1985, I took care of four essential items of personal business: I immediately signed up for the ulpan that was held in the Ra’anana absorption center (merkaz klita) where my family and I were staying; I enrolled with one of the health funds based on recommendations given by friends who were already in Israel; I opened an account with the bank that was closest to my residence; and finally, I became a member of the National Religious Party (NRP), which at the time represented the driving force behind our aliyah, religious Zionism.
Well, the ulpan gave me the basic language skills needed to kick-start my new life in Israel. The health fund I joined is, of course, still around but no longer includes me in their register. I must’ve changed banks a half a dozen times before settling on the one I’ve been affiliated with for the last 30-odd years. And as for the NRP, well, you can’t win them all, can you?
I’m more than a little troubled that there is no longer a party that truly represents the interests or well-being of someone who embraces a commitment to both the State of Israel and the Torah. Until the NRP dissolved in 2008 and merged into something called The Jewish Home, I had a political anchor. My allegiance to the party, if truth be told, was not always without misgivings, particularly when they became part of a Center-Left coalition. Nonetheless, I was confident that my priorities, which were included in the NRP’s platform, were being looked after.
The party ensured respect for those who wore both kippot and military uniforms, was invested in the urban planning to establish modern religious neighborhoods in any number of cities, and drove the design of two parallel education systems. In short, they made no demands of those who did not live observant lifestyles, and provisioned the required services and resources for those who did. The pride of being an Israeli that I found lacking in the haredi parties was abundantly prevalent in the NRP, not least of which was acknowledging the miracle of our existence, and the celebration, with appropriate gratitude to God, of Independence Day.
It would be an unfair exaggeration to say that I’ve been adrift politically for the last 13 years. Thanks to its perpetual alliance with the haredim, the Likud has kept the adamantly secular Left from encroaching too far into my comfort zone. And although the anti-Zionist DNA of the haredim can certainly be a troublesome and embarrassing quality, they are certainly less threatening to my way of life than Meretz or Labor.
I was, to be honest, hoping to find The Jewish Home a suitable replacement, but was unable to sort out the priorities and principles of the other three parties – National Union, Tkuma and Moledet – with which the NRP went into partnership. With each subsequent election, confusion over alliances and agreements increased exponentially, and my NRP membership card became more and more frayed. Likud, in the end, earned my support if not complete confidence, but I longed for the day when leaders committed to both strong statehood and respect for the traditions that have sustained the Jewish people for some 1,900 years would be back at the helm.
Now, however, we have something called the “change” government, a cobbled-together group of parties with little in common and certainly no focused commitment to protect the rights and interests of those dedicated to religious Zionism. And while the pandemic and international events have taken much of the prime minister’s time and energy, it is imperative that the current coalition give attention to matters that Netanyahu shied away from or left largely ignored. These include but are by no means limited to the shameful violence that goes on at the Kotel, the need to embrace the energy of Conservative and Reform Judaism into this country’s religious paradigm, and to find a way to alleviate the plight of agunot (wives whose husbands refuse to sign divorce agreements).
These are urgent matters that must be taken care of within the boundaries that Jewish law finds acceptable. And while it’s true that the government is still relatively young and is, understandably, entering into the water one toe at a time, I’m concerned that the platform that has been chiseled together seems uninterested in a program dedicated to strengthening the alliance between Torah observance and civic responsibility.
Yamina, the party headed by Prime Minister Bennett, promised its supporters that the party would work to strengthen Jewish identity and that a greater connection will be forged between Israeli students and Torah, the Land of Israel and our religious heritage. Alas, the coalition, headed by Mr. Bennett, has veered off course and seems more concerned with finding ways to enable civil marriage and is intent on loosening the belt with regard to kashrut certification and supervision. The more secular of the coalition’s partners will likely push aggressively for public transportation on Shabbat and less intensive requirements for conversion.
I’ve no doubt that the membership of Meretz and Yesh Atid see themselves as proud Jews, but their definitions and parameters of what constitutes Judaism are different from mine. There is, to be sure, a middle ground between the uncompromising rigidity of the haredim and the “to each his own” attitude of the coalition’s secular contingent. What’s not clear, though, is who will carve out that critical space.
I do not share the hope that many others have that the government will fail and the Netanyahu/haredim faction will again control the fate of this country. I’d like nothing better than to see it succeed and raise the stature of Israel as an example of how respect for the past is essential for a bright, flourishing future. The National Religious Party, which for many years provided the bridge between the two, has not been replaced. And without that bridge, the effort to reach that stature will be considerably more difficult.
The writer is a retired technical communicator currently assisting non-profit organizations in the preparation of grant submissions and struggling to master the ins and outs of social media.