The need for societal vaccinations to cure societal division - opinion

It is up to each of us to develop and administer ‘societal vaccinations’ to cure escalating divisions between different sectors

Haredim are seen protesting on Jaffa Street in Jerusalem, holding signs that read "Israeli antisemitism = hatred for haredi scholars." (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Haredim are seen protesting on Jaffa Street in Jerusalem, holding signs that read "Israeli antisemitism = hatred for haredi scholars."
We’re all thrilled that vaccines are here to begin to defuse the health crisis. Notwithstanding some uneasiness and understandable fears of an injection, there is some light breaking through from the end of the tunnel.
But the health crisis doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It triggered a dramatic escalation in Israel’s societal crisis, as divisions in society have become even more visible and extreme.
Who hasn’t seen pictures of a crowded haredi (ultra-Orthodox) wedding and then generalized negatively about their entire sector? Whose Facebook feed didn’t feature the stuffed walkway at Ben-Gurion Airport and then asked themselves why there were no two-meter restrictions for those who can afford to take a vacation to Dubai?
Who hasn’t seen the shuk in Mahaneh Yehuda on a Friday morning and thought that maybe if I ran a business serving the ruling party’s base, I too could open my shop? And why, when the newspapers report on the latest lockdown, they invariably illustrate it with a picture of a particular sector, even though it has nothing to do with the article?
These divisions existed before, but their manifestation in today’s headlines are increasing the vitriol and ease with which we label and then distance ourselves from “the other.” Especially now, as we spiral into another election season, we need to continue developing – and administering – the “societal vaccinations” that provide the antibodies for mistrust and antagonism. And let’s be honest – we know the politicians are not the ones to produce the secret sauce for this particular vaccine. It’s up to us.
Yes, that means working even harder to strengthen the connections between us. We must tighten the connections between the secular and religious; between Ashkenazim and Mizrahim; between the minority communities like the haredim or the Ethiopian community and general Israeli society.
As we begin the fourth round of politicians aligning with either the “Rak Lo Bibi (Just Not Bibi)” or “Bibi Melech Yisrael (Bibi King of Israel)” camps, they are perhaps the most guilty of crowding and polluting the airwaves with unhelpful noise. They do not make space for the voices of togetherness and connection that exist and need to be heard and amplified.
And then there’s the Zoom issue. Creating the solutions to stereotyping and ignorance about the “other” becomes even harder to accomplish when in-person meetings are restricted. But we must dare to try. We must find ways to innovate. Our future depends on it.
At a time like this, an organization like Gesher bears the responsibility to harness this unprecedented and unquestionably challenging opportunity to heal and treat our number one sickness: the division and hatred between the various sectors. We believe that familiarity leads to brotherhood, and when there is brotherhood, the walls crumble and we can focus on issues that really matter.
So as we enter our fourth election cycle in two years and as we go back into our third lockdown since March, let’s all recognize that nobody is going to do this for us. When we stand behind that all-too-recognizable blue box and pick up the white paper with the two or three letters on it, we need to understand that stuffing that envelope into the box alone will have little impact on the social cohesion of our society.
It’s up to each and every one of us to reach out to someone different from ourselves. Together we can, and we must work hard to vaccinate ourselves from the senseless prejudice and stereotyping of which we are all guilty and build a better, more united and more cohesive society. That is a shot I am willing to take.
The writer is the international director at Gesher, an organization focused on building bridges to strengthen the connections between the different sectors of the Jewish people.