Dissension in the home; dissension in the homeland

Let there be no doubt that one day a majority of Palestinian Arabs will condemn the self-indulgent and corrupt Palestinian leadership for the crimes they are committing against their own people.

The author’s Zayde, Efraim Fishel Onrot, with son, Jacob, and grandson, Lee Atkins (photo credit: Courtesy)
The author’s Zayde, Efraim Fishel Onrot, with son, Jacob, and grandson, Lee Atkins
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Dissension is too strong a word; in fact it is really just a mild and loving disagreement. In our home, we began a custom of inviting guests of our choice to the sukkah, guests from our past or the past. Each of those at the table could invite whomever they wanted, gentile or Jew, from the recent past or days long gone, dimmed in the fading light of millennia.
What is the disagreement about? Henrietta, my wife, claims this was originally my idea. I claim it was hers. Yes, dear reader, I agree with you: it is, as they say in Yiddish “Nisht geferlikh” (not very dangerous).
This year, we sat, the two of us, alone in the sukkah below its window through which Mt. Zion stands clad in its Teutonic armor, giving on to the crenelated battlements built by the Turks 500 years ago. In the silence of the lockdown, I invited my old grandfather, Efraim Fishel Onrot, to our sukkah. He was already over 80 when I was born, shrunk by age, with a long white beard and a large black yarmulke. We spoke in Yiddish.
“Where am I?”
“In my sukkah in Yerushalayim, Zayde.”
“Yerushalayim?”
“Yes. Look out the window!””
“The Kotel!”
“Excuse me, Zayde, it’s not the Kotel. Those are the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem.”
“You have been merited... to be chosen.”
Our mental dialogue ended; the soup might get cold.
After the meal, I returned to our dialogue. Silent, only in my head.
“Is everyone religious here?” Zayde asked.
“The ‘medineh’ (Yiddish pronunciation of the Hebrew word for “state”) has a day of rest, and it is Shabbes.”
“Of course, “ Zayde said, “But the ‘mentshen’?”
“Like in the ‘old home’ many are not strict, more like in Toronto. But still everybody knows it’s Shabbes. Millions.”
“So many?”
”Well, we have many Christians and Muslims, almost two million.”
“And Jews? In Eretz Yisro-eil?”
“Over seven million, maybe more….”
Zayde murmured a blessing. Again, he said, “Such a merit you have! To be chosen.”
“Yes, Zayde it is a great thing, but I chose to be here, I left Toronto 10 years after you died.”
“Git getiyen,” he said in his Polish Yiddish accent, “You did well.”
“But Zayde,” and this continuation was between being awake and falling asleep, or even as sleep closed my eyes while my brain kept working. “But Zayde, we have some people who say they are frum (very observant) and they destroy olive groves in Eretz Yisro-eil because they belong to Arabs.” He replied in the most emphatic rearranged syntax possible in Yiddish. “Dus tur men nisht! (This one dares not do!)”
We both silently reviewed the relevant Torah prohibition which forbids destroying fruit trees even when besieging an enemy town. The dream faded, and in the wee hours I lay cloaked in disgust. I was brought up to disdain hypocrisy.
Here are youngsters whose piety leads them to wear long earlocks, and who destroy olive groves. Olives! One of the seven species that are described with love as attributes of the Land of Israel.
These sinister fanatics who love the Land of Israel so much are prepared to destroy its fruit trees, groves belonging to Arab farmers. Yes, they see these mostly harmless tillers of the soil as enemies, who should be dispossessed. The fierce ignorance of these willful destructive youngsters is encouraged by the religio-fascist rabbis – some of whose names are well known to the public and certainly to the security services – who hide behind a cloak of religiosity. It is they who incite and sanction their adolescent adherents.
Not one word have I heard from any Orthodox or national-religious or ultra-Orthodox voice condemning – excoriating – such behavior. If there are such voices and I have not heard them, please tell me, so I can apologize to each personally.
“Yes, Zayde, they break the laws of the Torah itself, and their rabbis egg them on.” I spoke that in my heart, because it would be too complicated to explain to Zayde the complexities of creating and living in a Jewish state.
There is a mirror image of these incited youngsters in the Palestinian world as well. Adolescents who throw stones, and adults who set fires, All for their love of what they see as their land. The Arab nationalists here have an unofficial anthem, “Baladi ya, baladi” (my country, my country).
I understand their narrative, also a mirror image of our Zionism. I understand that many Palestinians would like to turn the clock back. But does this love of “their” country permit these men, adolescents and perhaps women to set fire to fields and forests? If they believe this is their land, why burn its trees? Where is their love of the land itself?
Let there be no doubt that one day a majority of Palestinian Arabs will condemn the self-indulgent and corrupt Palestinian leadership for the crimes they are committing against their own people. Even the stupid incitement against Jews and Judaism that they instigate will have to die out.
Now since many of the Jewish and Arab potential or actual terrorists may be in their early teens, I must criticize our media reports. Often, I read that we have arrested, or even shot a “youth” or a “teenager.” I recall clearly what I would have done when I was 15, had the command come from a leader I respected. Even a 13-year-old pushing a building block over a rooftop can kill. To me – perhaps incorrectly – I see the use of the word “youth” or “teenager” as criticizing our use of force against a young, hence innocent person. Well they aren’t always that innocent.
All this is the part of the tragedy of the Palestinian-Israeli clash, which will wind down slowly as more Arab states create open relations with us. But it will never totally fade away among the Palestinians, just as our love of Zion never was forsaken across the millennia. Even the myriad Jewish exiles from Sefarad – Spain and Portugal – for centuries carried keys to their Iberian homes.
On the theme of constant strife, I must here, gentle reader, stick a pin into another populist balloon: the myth of Jewish unity. The majority of the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Ashkenazi leadership has never really made peace with the idea of a Jewish state that is not rabbinocratic. The Agudah was founded to oppose political Zionism. As I am tired of reminding those who blindly refuse to think badly of rabbis and rebbes: before 1939 most of them warned against leaving Eastern Europe for secularist America or to free-thinking Yishuv, the proto-Zionist state.
Since then, its successor parties in Israel are always ready to join coalitions, if the price is right. If a loyalty oath were required in Israel today, I dare say that as many haredim as Arab-Israelis would rape their conscience and take it, and as many would abjure. If you think this is slandering the ultra-Orthodox, just check how many pay taxes and how many serve in the IDF or even in national service.
There are, of course, exceptions and particularly the Sephardi rabbinate and the head of the Shas Council of Torah Sages did call for adherence to the government guidelines. However, note that only two leading ultra-Orthodox rabbis have – to the best of my knowledge – condemned the rejection of the government’s anti-virus rules contumely and the dangerous behavior of many hassidic rabbis/rebbes.
Is it any wonder then that rabbis and rebbes who do not sing “Hatikvah” or celebrate Independence Day order their followers to disobey national health regulations? President Reuven Rivlin’s honest and decent attempt to cement the rift in Israel is desirable, but, with great respect, useless.
As long as the president goes to the rabbis, and not they to him, clearly they choose to be separatists.
The solution? Honest politicians who will not buy power for themselves by buying off entire groups. Will that day ever come?
Would that it will. But if wishes were horses, I’d be powering my transport with oats and not with gasoline.
William Shakespeare had it right; one of his King Henrys said,
“Civil dissension is a viperous worm that gnaws the bowels of the commonwealth.”
Those who lead such dissension – overburdening Israel’s health system, ruining our economy, endangering the lives of their followers and of all of us – are criminals. Sadly, Zayde, they break the basic law of Torah: respect for life. They break the laws of our land. With such “leaders,” there can be no unity.
The writer is a product of Orthodox Zionist upbringing. That idealism led him to serve Israel in the offices of David Ben-Gurion and Levi Eshkol, and in a number of academic and world Jewish leadership roles. He has lived in Jerusalem for close to seven decades. [email protected]