| Second Thoughts |

A Sign of the Times

 I do not believe that this poster represents the views of most nonobservant Israelis

“Choose what you want for your city: To Be American or Catholic.”

If such a pre-election poster were to appear anywhere in the Western world, its sponsors would face immediate arrest and prosecution on charges of racism. Newspaper editorials would denounce it, politicians would condemn it, and masses of citizens would be outraged.

And yet such a billboard did appear in a country that is dear to all of us, that prides itself on being open-minded and tolerant, and constantly emphasizes its democratic values: Israel. The billboard, on highways and on buses, is sponsored by secularist parties and referred to Jerusalem’s forthcoming municipal elections. It reads: “Jerusalem, Israeli or Chareidi?”

I was stunned when I saw this poster in a public place. The implications were clear.

1) Chareidim — one million citizens — are not Israelis.

2) Chareidim are to be feared for many reasons, such as religious coercion.

3) If chareidim were in charge, Jerusalem would be ruined.

That this incitement to internecine hatred could appear in the midst of a difficult war that has engendered the ubiquitous poster that yachad nenatzeiach — “united we will triumph” made the shock even more painful. Apparently, “united” does not include those whose views are different. Especially distressing is the absence of denunciations or protests in the liberal, so-called open-minded media. One can only imagine the righteous indignation and the hand-wringing of opinion leaders if an election poster had suggested that we must choose between a Jerusalem of Israelis or a Jerusalem of Arabs.

Can we honestly decry the recrudescence of anti-Semitism around the world when Israelis themselves engage in the most flagrant form of anti-Semitism, which is to incite Jew against Jew? The moral blindness and callousness of the billboard’s sponsors are mind-boggling.

Nevertheless, I do not believe that this poster represents the views of most nonobservant Israelis. My impression is that such Israelis, though they may not live the chareidi life, are not anti-chareidi per se. They themselves maintain certain Torah traditions and harbor a respect for the religious authenticity represented by chareidim. They understand instinctively that it is the chareidim who are the last line of defense against the incursions of an outside world that is increasingly materialistic, immoral, and self-indulgent, and that were it not for chareidi religious stubbornness, Judaism as a way of living would have long ago vanished without a trace. Although they are not yet ready to live a full Torah life themselves, they definitely do not want their children to be influenced by the coarseness and brutishness of that outside world.

Rather, this poster very likely reflects the thinking of a small minority of die-hard secularist ideologues whose antipathy to any kind of piety is — if they will pardon the term — traditional.

From their point of view, the future is quite bleak. Because — given a) the low secular birthrate; b) their inability to retain their young people; c) the huge secular yeridah to more comfortable Western countries — it is quite likely that in a generation or two, the chareidim – who embody the living opposite of a, b, and c — will be the dominant force not only in Jerusalem but throughout Israel. The specter of shtreimlach, kapotehs, and long white beards cavorting in the hallowed realms of government is enough to cause sleepless nights to any devout secularist. Hence, this billboard.

Upon reflection, however, it is really not offensive. Instead, it is a pathetic cry of desperation, for they realize that, other than being anti-chareidi, they have no ideology of their own and that without Torah values or truths or guidelines for life, they have lost the future.

People who in the midst of a painful war and universal anti-Semitism, are so ideologically bankrupt and so fearful of Torah living that they can resort to inciting Jew against Jew are not to be condemned but pitied.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 1000)

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