Tidbits From Israel
By Ron Jager
Back in 1980, when I was a young medical officer newly inducted into the IDF, as part of the officers’ course we were taken on a walking tour of Meah Shearim on a beautiful spring day. Upon entering the neighborhood, as we were given background information on the history of the chareidi and chassidic dynasties that lived in the area, we were greeted with shouts of “Nazi! Nazi!” At first I didn’t realize that these words were aimed at us. I thought that maybe due to my limited Hebrew at the time, I misunderstood what was being shouted, so I asked my fellow officers innocently and naively, “Are they shouting at us?” This was my first encounter with the chareidi community in Israel.
Since that fateful day, I have had many additional encounters with members of the chareidi community. One memory that stands out was in 2001. As a member of a health ministry planning commission, I was sent with a medical team to meet with the mayor and city council of Bnei Brak, so as to assess the city’s preparedness for a possible repeat of a missile attack by Saddam Hussein. The level of ignorance coupled with the lack of interest by the city council in conveying basic information to the chareidi public in Bnei Barak left me bewildered. It dawned on me that not only on a personal level, but even on a collective and communal level, the chareidi community saw themselves as totally detached from the existential threats that hovered over our heads and felt no need to participate in efforts to defend the State of Israel.
It seemed to me then, and it does even more so today, that what is behind the chareidi struggle against being drafted and serving in the army is simply that they don’t want to endanger themselves by serving in an army whose mission is to protect the Zionist state. Even on Memorial Day, as the sirens wail, when the whole nation stands motionless for a moment of silence as if we are all angels, many in the chareidi community go about their business as if six wars, over 22,000 soldiers killed in duty, over 10,000 bereaved families of fallen soldiers have absolutely no meaning to them. That is Israel; the Zionist state is not their concern and not their problem. Is it because they feel superior to the rest of the nation and therefore it is appropriate in their minds that the non-religious and Zionist religious youth sacrifice themselves on their behalf?
How is it that a chareidi political party such as Degel HaTorah has not grown by leaps and bounds in terms of mandates, or that the Sephardic political party Shas has lost over five Knesset seats in recent years, even though the chareidi community multiplies with 8–10 children per family? Why have they maintained more or less the same number of seats in the Knesset in recent years? Is being left out of the new government that will be sworn in in the coming days indicative of a major upheaval in the chareidi’s relationship with the Zionist State of Israel? Has the chareidi community reached a point in which they can no longer sustain an isolationist, anti-Zionist culture? Is the chareidi community in Israel self-destructing?
Any chareidi that visits America usually undergoes severe culture shock. Not so much because of what he sees outside of shul, but because of what he observes in shul. An American chareidi can study many hours of Gemara in a yeshiva or kollel during a typical workweek, he can live a chareidi lifestyle, while at the same time he can also go to college to earn a degree and make a living and support his family. He thus can maintain a high standard of living and not be any less chareidi than his poor and ignorant counterpart in Meah Shearim.
In recent weeks it has became evident that the emerging political constellation that resulted from the recent election will most likely keep the chareidi parties out of the government, leading to an unprecedented expression of rage and hatred towards the dati-leumi public culminating in a call for a settlement boycott. Radio commentators on the chareidi Kol Berama radio station have said that it was time for the chareidi community to liberate itself from the settler movement, with which it has a “fake” relationship. “We need to think twice about supporting those who hate us. It’s about time we stop being suckers,” said Avi Bloom, a Kol Berama commentator. A senior columnist for the Hamodia newspaper, Yisrael Hershkowitz, wrote, “The settlements will pay the price for the costly arrogance” of Bennett. Hershkowitz said companies located in Jewish settlements in the West Bank or companies owned by settlers could go out of business if boycotted by chareidim.
It seems that as the ultra-Orthodox chareidi parties prepare for life in opposition, journalists who represent this community have launched all-out war against Religious Zionism and the dati-leumi public.
Let’s not be surprised if in the coming months the chareidi parties, having been partners to right-wing governments for the past 30 years, will jump ship and be in cahoots with left-wing political parties who want nothing more than to drive a wedge between Netanyahu and his former coalition partners, the chareidi parties. They also want to dismantle the Zionist Jewish State of Israel; let’s keep that in mind. v
Ron Jager is a 25-year veteran of the Israel Defense Forces, where he served as a field mental-health officer and as commander of the central psychiatric military clinic for reserve soldiers at Tel-Hashomer. Since retiring from active duty in 2005, he has been providing consultancy services to NGOs, implementing psychological trauma treatment programs in Israel. Ron currently serves as a strategic advisor to the director of the Shomron Liaison Office. To contact him, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.ronjager.com.