We nearly broke up. It came that close. Pam, Danit and I barely maintained a friendship, let alone civil discourse, when writing this column. What started out as a project to bring disparate women from across Israel’s religious spectrum to the table for healing dialogue turned into an exercise in branding one another. Painful!
Mainly, Danit and I found it exhausting to sidestep Pam’s verbal barrage against haredim (ultra-Orthodox), and often against National-Religious, and to concentrate on the goal of nation-building. I got sick of name-calling without any constructive input. I advocated in our book, Three Ladies Three Lattes: Percolating Discussions in the Holy Land, that we need to address our societal rifts by undergoing national marital therapy. I sought to apply the principles of marital counseling to bridge the divide between the secular, National-Religious and haredi sectors.
I proposed we treat our problems by building trust in one another, acknowledging each issue as a collective one, and even monitoring internal statements about the other.
Ha! What a joke. Writing together only seemed to escalate the tension among us. Well, aren’t we three a veritable microcosm of a macrocosm that desperately needs CPR?
Where to begin when Pam is quick to label haredim and their behaviors as cult-like?
Sigh. How to convince anyone that relationships can be enhanced via talking, identifying our strengths and – gulp – even learning to compliment the other?
“Are you bloody mad, Tzip?’ Pam constantly intoned. “They are a cult and will destroy our country! Are you blind?”
OK, but how does vilifying the other serve this column and the country? Seriously ladies, can’t we move the “problem” from the emotional to the problem-solving realm?
Well, apparently not because it was easier to keep bashing than working to solve.
So our incendiary discourse, finger-pointing, blaming and relentless hatred (coupled with the assurance that Pam speaks for much of the country) led Danit to throw in the towel. Well, almost. She had to ask her rav a shaila (question) about continuing.
The funny thing is that I’m much closer to Pam’s positions than to Danit’s on multiple issues. For example, I have a problem with the way COVID’s been addressed by many (obviously not all) haredim. A month ago, the rosh of a prominent Israeli yeshiva succumbed to COVID. Mourners attended his funeral in droves, many without masks. Ironic, or spitting on their own rav’s grave?
Lehavdil, to note the difference, my New York-based brother, very careful about corona, likely caught it from his own haredi community. He’s paid a heavy price health-wise. How dare some haredim approach their own and others with utter disregard for life? Intentional malice? No, just shameful ignorance and conduct.
How do we stop this? Education.
We three ladies can’t give up on one another any more than this nation can give up on any of its denizens. As Rabbi Soloveitchik noted, our people are wedded to one another, if not by faith, then by fate.
So let’s deal.
It’s never easy to “divorce.” How does one know when it is time? My rabbi taught me that if you don’t like the married version of yourself, if you don’t feel you have the strength to be yourself vis-à-vis your partner, then it’s time to think about making a change. Saying “enough is enough” is also a skill. All three of us, I think, do not like who we have become in this partnership.
I foolishly wanted our column to be a social experiment where my haredi world is interesting and compelling to others because it is so very different. Instead, the column became a sort of inquisition where I was on the stand, botching up any explanation or representation of haredi life in the face of minds that have become set in stone against us. I suppose my piece is dedicated only to those minds that still remain open.
We, as a nation, are stuck in our rigid thinking of the other. There is much ignorance, seemingly little curiosity, and rarely an open mind. Our media breed fear, and all of us remain vulnerable to news sources that include editorial bias. Naturally this contributes to a climate of hatred in our culture. We have outsourced our clarity and thinking to leaders who have not necessarily earned their position of trust and power. Our world has become unstable and, in turn, we are expected to comply with groupthink. I’m not speaking of secular or haredi leadership or media. I’m speaking of our”home’,” which has been hijacked, not by the haredim, but by this demoralized state of being. All of us, including the haredim, are to blame for allowing fear to trump common sense and compassion.
This mess is bigger than all of us. This is Divine intervention collapsing our world as we know it in order to create something new and improved. Until Moshiach comes we must get back to dialoguing, brainstorming, exploring options, learning from each other, asking good questions and insisting on real science. Rather than merely blaming, coercing and demonizing, we need to do something different: Do our own thinking, not let mob thinking hijack your mind.
Two anecdotes. One: My husband started up a conversation in front of someone’s house in Ra’anana when this man’s wife stuck her head out the window and yelled at him “Put your mask on! Can’t you see that he is haredi?”
Another: My brother was in the Jerusalem shuk enjoying one of his favorite Israeli pastimes. Around the vegetable stall were gathered a hassid, a young secular man in a suit, a helmeted biker, a soldier in a knitted kippah, a Sephardi granny, and himself, an American psychiatrist.
Mazliach, the shopkeeper, called out to my brother, “Nu, doctor, what will be?” My brother looked up from the eggplants and smiled.
The knitted-kippah soldier yelled out “It will be good!” The secular-suit laughed and repeated the sentiment, ‘Yes! it will be good!”
The entire store, populated by very different Jews, laughed and said in unison, “Yehiyeh beseder ba’seger” (“everything will be alright if we stay isolated”).
Our column reflects Israeli society. Are we ready to call it quits? Will we not be able to expand ourselves beyond this version of us?
I’ve found it impossible to have a coherent conversation about anything – COVID, dress codes, conversion, conscription – when one side has God on their side. There’s no arguing with God.
I’m not anti-Jewish, or anti-religious. I get the beauty, the belonging, the being part of something bigger. Here’s a factoid: Each day I study Daf Yomi, a page of Talmud. I’m fascinated by the issues and the intricacies: If you eat on Shabbos and walk into a public domain without an eruv (boundary demarcation), are you carrying (the undigested food?) How should one handle passing wind while at prayer?
I’ll be seriously unpopular for what I say next: While I’m compelled by the daily Daf itself, the accompanying 40+ daily WhatsApps are even more illuminating. Women bond on Zoom over the trigonometry of balconies and sourdough starters; it’s not only the essence of the learning that’s so gorgeous, it’s that we’re learning together. The process. The ponderings. The forming of friendships.
Getting up early each day to study Talmud creates a fabulous feeling of community. Even virtually. A recipe club has emerged, people share tractate-centered skits, and inspirational stories.
Most enviable to me is the easy appropriateness: the “Baruch Dayan Ha’Emets” (“Blessed is the Judge of truth,” said when someone dies) and “Baruch Hashems” (“Thank God”). This is religion at its very best: warm, embracing, supportive and fun. I sincerely feel that I’d be happier, and maybe even healthier, and probably even married, if I could immerse myself in that level of belief and devotion.
But here’s the rub: In Israel, all this admirable, safe, bagel-breakfast-siyum celebratory magic comes with a price. Religion is so rock-solidly intertwined with politics that it very soon segues into cynicism and the sinister. When men in big black hats and scraggly beards dictate who is a Jew and who can marry and divorce and be buried in the Jewish state; who is exempt from the army, and who can study in yeshivot when the rest of the country is stuck at home, that’s when religion is not so warm and fuzzy anymore. And there is no way to discuss this rationally.
When Tzippi harangues me about whether I “believe in God,” I want to laugh, incredulously. What kind of a question? It’s not so funny though when religion means believing you have the plot, and your plot is God’s plot. So whether it’s settling the West Bank, or behaving like a hilltop hooligan, or no buses on Shabbat, or that Russian sons of Jewish fathers can fight for Israel but not marry in her borders, there’s no arguing with God. Especially if the coalition depends on your vote, and your party controls the purse strings.
It’s lonely to stand outside the congregation; to abrogate the kiddushim, the communal hair-covering, and the “Shanti Shabbat” vibe. Somehow, in the Diaspora, it feels easier to have that community; no one demands, “Do you believe in God?”
Religion in Israel has been hijacked by cultists who are having multiple kids. It’s impacting everyone’s lives. So we, the secular, are losing our connection to our culture and our rituals and our learning, which belong to all of us, whether we carry across an eruv or not.
I think I’m a good Jew. I think I’ve contributed to the Jewish state. I also think that religion, the way it’s often practiced here, is dangerous to our survival.
It’s hard to reach consensus on much when one side believes that God is on their side. It’s hard to even have a civil discussion.
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