Remaining apolitical is like dancing at Orthodox wedding - opinion

Mostly that’s a good thing. We didn’t always enjoy freedom of speech as a people and perhaps now we’re making up for lost time.

Ultra orthodox Jews wear shtreimels to a traditional religious wedding ceremony in Jerusalem. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Ultra orthodox Jews wear shtreimels to a traditional religious wedding ceremony in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
It’s common in Israel for deeply personal questions to be asked by a complete stranger. Salary, life choices, even the number of children you may have (“Why don’t you have more?”) are fair game, no matter the location, occasion or who else is within earshot.
The expression “too much information” was coined after a 10-day trip to Israel by a still in-shock gentile (that’s probably not true, but it could be).
But no, our people aren’t known for being shy.
Mostly that’s a good thing. We didn’t always enjoy freedom of speech as a people and perhaps now we’re making up for lost time.
This past year we’ve had an awful lot of chatter, and with a tumultuous presidential election and a record fourth Israeli election there’s ample fodder for discussion on both sides of the Atlantic.
It does get heated awfully fast. At my Shabbat table, the political spectrum includes a borderline fascist (that’s a son-in-law, but he redeems himself by shoveling my driveway and it’s been a horrid winter), Trumpers, Bidenites, a future kibbutznik (yes, I’ve explained it doesn’t really work that way) and one who believes fervently in socialism albeit peppered with pragmatic self-interest, i.e., she doesn’t mind taking money from a capitalist (her father) for all sorts of bourgeois items, especially shoes.
After all, there’s no reason a revolutionary can’t be well-dressed.
That’s OK. We don’t march in step as a people and we’re allowed to disagree. A Jewish family without conflict simply wouldn’t be Jewish.
We’d have to develop new jokes and the epic moment of Naaseh v’nishmah (“We will do and we will hear”) 2,000 years ago at Sinai was miraculous because we all actually agreed with each other for a brief moment in time.
The culture of AMIT, like that of the Jewish family, is that we can (and do) disagree passionately. The thousands of members of the AMIT family (inclusive of supporters, leaders, teachers and students) represent the full gamut of political opinion all living together under a big tent.
But no matter the passion, belief, dress, background or level of observance, the culture is such that we simply and ALWAYS do what’s best for the children of Israel, and give every well-intended opinion thought.
Sounds simple, right? After all, if we all share common purpose, the rest should be a piece of cake. It isn’t.
There are those who don’t (or won’t) get it. They’ll drag politics (usually via an elected official or an agenda cloaked in a cause) into the organization, and get quite angry when it’s quickly rejected.
Sometimes, feeling righteous in their anger, they do nasty things. A few months ago, AMIT’s president was viciously attacked on social media for some such issue – it was hurtful and frankly disgusting – but nothing new for anyone in a public leadership role today. For those folks, well, we try explaining the culture, and if that doesn’t work we politely show them the door.
But dealing with a few knuckleheads isn’t the real challenge. AMITs has political roots and vestiges remain (especially in our policy role with world Zionist organizations).
AMIT was founded pre-state and constantly evolves to stay not only relevant but vibrant. There are many organizational carcasses on the side of the historical highway that stubbornly didn’t.
We’ve morphed over time into something somewhat different but altogether quite wonderful. We are today, undeniably, an educational powerhouse and more and more a national social-change agent. That comes with huge responsibility and we answer to, well, pretty much every stakeholder among the Jewish people.
We’re organizationally apolitical because we recognize that anything less would seriously jeopardize the greater good. Is it complicated? Remaining apolitical in the politically charged atmosphere of today is like dancing at an Orthodox wedding – it’s virtually impossible not to get your toes stepped on.
But with that said, it certainly won’t keep us from dancing and, quite marvelously, there’s always room in the AMIT family circle for one more to join in.
Chag sameach!
The writer is the executive vice president of AMIT Children. He can be reached at [email protected]