Remembrance Day and the haredim – opinion

We hear stories of haredim walking around as usual during the minute silence and haredi schools continuing as if nothing is going on

Border Police go about coronavirus inspections in Mea Shearim, a haredi neighborhood in Jerusalem. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Border Police go about coronavirus inspections in Mea Shearim, a haredi neighborhood in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
A few days ago I got a call from a good friend who is spearheading an incredible initiative to get haredim (ultra-Orthodox) to commemorate Yom Hazikaron, our Remembrance Day for Fallen Soldiers. They will be doing this by publicly reading Tehilim (psalms) on the day, and for those who have a social media presence, by adding a candle on their social media frame saying: "one people, we love and remember"
For most Israelis, the behavior of the ultra-Orthodox community is a sore point in general, and on Remembrance Day it is perceived as particularly contentious. As the country mourns its sons and daughters that have lost their lives for the privilege of Jewish self-determination in our ancestral homeland, we hear stories of haredim walking around as usual during the minute silence and haredi schools continuing as if nothing is going on. This apparent indifference, compounded by the already harsh feelings people have about the haredim not serving in the army, creates a real sense of division. Most of us see the rejection of the Remembrance Day for fallen soldiers as insensitive and a deliberate way for this community to separate itself from the rest of us.
This welcome initiative that is finding a way to unite the "tribes" reminds me of research I carried out over a decade ago as part of my masters degree in Conflict Research Management and Resolution at the Hebrew University.  I was taking some fascinating classes on identity and I decided to write my thesis on the ultra-Orthodox community. I had always been particularly fascinated by haredim. I have some in my own family and over the years have worked with and had many deep friendships with many talented and kind people in the haredi community, doing good for their communities and beyond. I was determined to prove that there was a Zionist identity among the haredim – they may not have called it that, but it was there, and I was going to dig it out.
I made my research qualitative, and to that end, interviewed in-depth five "mainstream" ultra-Orthodox people – I say mainstream because if they were willing to sit and talk to me, a modern orthodox woman who doesn't cover her hair and wears pants, they couldn’t be among the radicals of their society.  The interviews were an eye opening experience for me into the haredi psyche as a threatened minority in Israel and how these feelings of threat play a significant role in their hostility towards the secular nationalist majority. 
However, the most fascinating answers I got from all the interviews I carried out were on subject of the symbols of state. In the course of my research, I asked my interviewees how they felt about the various milestones in the Israeli national calendar, such as Remembrance Day for fallen soldiers and Independence Day, as well as how they felt about the flag and feelings of national pride. I was primarily looking for a gut reaction that showed national pride through symbols, like the majority of Israelis have.
The most interesting and telling answers for me came from the reactions that I received when I asked my subjects about Remembrance Day and the minute silence to commemorate fallen soldiers. I of course went into that question with the pent up hostility you would expect from a staunch Zionist and mother whose children will too serve in our army.
The answers took me aback. The overwhelming response I received was that they would never consider disrespecting the minute silence the way some extreme ultra-Orthodox do in order to make a point. But their perspective was much more thoughtful and logical than I expected.  The majority of my interviewees believed that standing in silence to remember the fallen is simply not the Jewish way to commemorate. In fact, many used that minute silence to do something Jewish instead such as Talmud study or Psalm reading in memory of those lost souls. The minute silence, as far as they were concerned, was a non-Jewish concept that was adopted by the secular State of Israel. Judaism had a different and better way to mark such a solemn occasion. I have to admit I began to empathize.
There were many moments like this during the course of my research but the most surprising conclusion from the entire experience was the feeling I got throughout the interviews that haredim care deeply about the rest of the Jewish people and not just about their “threatened” group. If they did not, they would not be concerned with the lack of Jewishness in the country, but would merely focus on building their walls higher. They are disturbed by this because they still see the secular as part of the Jewish people; they have not detached themselves from klal Israel or feel like a completely distinct group.
I am certainly making no excuses for their reluctant role in the State building of Israel, or the way their leaders keep them dependent on the State and themselves in order to subsist, or their views on women and political leadership.  However, I do believe that the ultimate purpose uniting the haredim to the rest of the State of Israel comes from the fact that we are indeed part of the same tribe for thousands of years, with the same struggles, regardless of what has happened in the last century.  Their ultimate overarching goal is the survival of the Jewish people as a civilization. That bond they feel with the rest of the Jews in Israel and across the world has not been eliminated by their decision to be a part of a smaller group of like-minded people.
This initiative from Am Echad is significant because it has found an entry point for the haredi community to mourn with the rest of us for our modern Jewish heroes on our Remembrance Day, and thereby have found a way to unite us as a people.
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