Reflections on the haredi anti-draft rally

To see a large-scale show of idealism at the rally was a relative rarity to admire, irrespective of one's views on the topic. A combination of unity and idealism would take us a long way.

Haredi demonstration against IDF enlistment legislation 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Haredi demonstration against IDF enlistment legislation 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
I assume that most people have seen footage and pictures from the mass haredi-organised rally in Jerusalem on Sunday. Regardless of one's personal views on the current legislation, one cannot but be amazed and even awed by a gathering of this size; estimates of over 600,000 people (men, women and children) - over ten percent of the Jewish population of Israel and around 10% of the entire population. Upon reflection, here are five things we can learn from the rally:
1) Efficient organization. The organization by the protest organizers, the police and medical services (Magen David Adom and United Hatzala) was superbly efficient. The speedy attention given to those who required treatment due to heat, the provision of water to the masses, and the careful planning of the event was commendable and extremely impressive.
2) The unity in the haredi world. It is well-known that the haredi world is not as homogeneous as people think. There are differences in ideology between haredim and hassidim, as well as nuances and differing views within the haredi and Hassidic streams. But the unity on display on Sunday was again impressive and demonstrative of the cross-sect haredi/religious communal feeling of alienation and disappointment over the government's legislation. That MKs were quoted as saying that the haredi population were merely 'dressing up' and pretending to align during the rally was itself a tribute to the MKs desperate failure to recognize reality. Indeed, other streams of Judaism and parts of Israel's population would do well to emulate the unity on display. It also showed the deference that the haredi and religious world have for their Torah leaders who called for the gathering to take place: underlining the need for MKs to conduct such laws via speaking to haredi leadership instead of undermining, insulting and cutting them out first.
3) The non-violent nature of the rally. Dubbed 'a hate march' or 'demonstration' (with violent connotations) by some dubious media sources the rally proved the misconception of widespread haredi violence unfounded. The rally was organized in advance with permission and close collaboration with the police and there was no incident of violence or vandalism of note. Women attended, parents brought their children - the atmosphere was one of camaraderie, unity and intense prayer.
4) Media Bias. Within the Religious Zionist world there was a split regarding whether to attend the rally or not. Throughout the day there were articles on websites such as Arutz Sheva discouraging people from attending the rally -- an article entitled Prayer Rally or Demonstration of Hate? was even posted --, claiming that every Religious Zionist rabbi was shunning the event. This was incorrect: there was clearly a media agenda here. There was a sizeable Religious Zionist contingent at the event - the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Hakotel and Merkaz Harav as well as Rabbi Shlomo Aviner publicly declared their intention to attend the rally. The continued misquoting of percentages of haredi men who are not in the workforce again underlined the media ignorance, willing to "overlook" that the percentages of haredi wives in full-time employment are extremely high.
5) The sheer size of the gathering was a spectacle for people to see. What it did show us was that the legislation regarding national service will not be simple to implement. Labor Leader Isaac Herzog already came out saying that people need to think again about the legislation, and there was a sense of realization that -- much like the cuts to child welfare-- Finance Minister Yair Lapid had bullied and pushed through this legislation out of ideological convictions against haredim, only later to cheaply dub haredim his 'brothers' on his Facebook page. One poster captured on photograph got the sentiments spot on, with a picture of Lapid reading 'please save me from my brothers'.
National history has taught us to learn lessons. On Sunday we were taught some very real cultural lessons. We were treated to a fuller understanding of the haredi world and the media bias and some misconceptions regarding haredim. But perhaps more importantly we were taught the value of unity. It is very easy to cast off the impressive nature of a gathering of approximately 600,000 people – and equally I'm sure there were many spectators who might not have agreed with the message being conveyed. But in true Jewish spirit one cannot help but marvel at the profound simplicity of unity and sheer power in numbers. Not just physical unity, but a unity of purpose too. In a country so fragmented by different groups and ideologies, to see a semblance of unity was strangely humbling. Lastly, we learned what a sense of real idealism is. It is a sad known reality that modern-day Israel is not the same idealistic country as yesteryear. The thousands of Israeli youth who look forward to their months touring round Asia and South America are living testimony to this, as are the increasing numbers of Israelis moving abroad. Indeed, the entire move to push haredim into the army for 'equal service' is predicated on a notion that serving in the army is not the 'privilege' that people used to see it as – why force something you regard as your special privielege on others? Why move to 'share the burden' if service is not a burden? To see a large-scale show of idealism at Sunday's rally was again a relative rarity to admire, irrespective of one's views on the topic. A combination of unity and idealism would take us a long way.  
Janine is originally from England and lives in Jerusalem. She has studied law and management and is currently a photographer and a dedicated mother of three.