| Second Thoughts |

The Embarrassed Zionist

Are the real Zionists those who pray hamachazir shechinaso leTzion three times a day, or those who never give a thought to prayer, to G-d, or to Zion?


The demonization of Jews around the world shows no signs of abating, but, not to be outdone, the demonization of chareidim in Israel follows closely behind. Anti-Semites have historically accused Jews of taking and not contributing to society, of being too powerful, and in Israel the copycat view is that chareidim do not contribute to society, that they will soon control Israel, and that they are disloyal to Zionist ideals. (Very unoriginal: See Pharaoh’s similar complaint in Shemos 1:10.)

In light of this, a recent survey is illuminating. When asked if they would leave Israel and settle in another country if they could,  54 percent of secular youth in Israel answered yes, while 91 percent of chareidi youth answered no, even if the opportunities were great (survey of conducted by ERI Group, May, 2023).

What to make of these startling figures which turn on its head all the preconceptions and prejudgments about Israeli chareidim? The figures should not be startling. We have long known that the huge yeridah from Israel consists overwhelmingly of non-observant Jews — hundreds of thousands of secular Israelis live in California alone — while the aliyah into Israel consists overwhelmingly of observant Jews. (One is grateful that the survey did not ask about belief in G-d, Providence, or Creation. I would rather not think about what those responses might have been....)

The implications of leaving Israel for another country are instructive. It is not like moving from the US to Canada, or from France to Belgium, or from Germany to Austria. Leaving Israel does not merely involve a geographical change. It means saying farewell to a concept and an idea and all that Israel stands for: a 4,000-year-old heritage, a Divine promise, an inspiring history of triumph over tragedy. It means abandoning not just a country, but abandoning a way of life, the turning of one’s back on one’s own heritage.

That one in two of Israeli young people is willing to abandon Israel for a better life elsewhere points a finger at the pathetic bankruptcy of the secular Israeli educational system. In its anxiety to imitate the West and to denude the curricula of any connection with classical Judaism, it has thrown out the Jewish baby with the bathwater, and has utterly failed to instill in its youth a sense of pride in being a Jew and an Israeli, much less a sense of our majestic Jewish history.

It is complained that chareidi schools do not teach their students basic skills like mathematics or English, leaving them without the means with which to cope with the challenges of earning a basic livelihood. But no one mentions that secular schools have emptied their curricula of basic information about Torah, Sinai, our Forefathers, Mishnah, and Talmud, leaving students without the basic skills necessary to cope with the challenges of living as a secure Jew in a hostile world. Before decrying the lacunae in chareidi schools, secular leaders might look at their own schools.

One of the lessons of all this is that the shunting aside of Torah comes with a steep price, one that affects even the secular ideals of the Zionist founders. Loyalty to the Land is developed by exposure to our sacred origins, to concepts like the Creator giving this Land to His chosen people, and from an understanding of the concepts of holiness and kedushah. Trips to geographical Israeli landmarks are important, but they are no substitute for exposure to the sacred texts that underlie these sites.

In sum, if the goal is to be kchol haGoyim, people will always choose kchol haGoyim — to live wherever they can obtain maximum economic and political opportunity.

As of now, the survey poses a riveting question: If more than half of non-chareidi youth would opt, if they could, to leave Israel for better opportunities, while 91 percent of chareidi youth would not leave even when opportunity beckons, who, then, are the real Zionists? Those who are ready to abandon Israel for greener pastures, or those for whom there are no pastures greener than the Holy Land? Are the real Zionists those who pray hamachazir shechinaso leTzion three times a day, or those who never give a thought to prayer, to G-d, or to Zion?

If only a fraction of the energy and money being expended on the well-orchestrated anti-judicial reform protests were to be expended on retooling a bankrupt secular educational system into one that appreciates and venerates its own heritage, those survey numbers could be transformed.

Right now, sadly, if I were a secular leader I would be quite embarrassed, and would engage in some serious introspection.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 976)

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