The Mayor of Rishon LeZion was late. I anxiously stared at my watch as I had a return flight to catch back to the States. Dov Tsur finally arrived. He apologized and explained the reason for his delay. He met with a group of residents who vigorously protested the plans for constructing a school in their neighborhood. The school was under Modern Orthodox auspices. The same kind of school that was blasted by the fanatical fringe of Haredi in Beit Shemesh. The same kind of students who were humiliated by those extremists down south in the “House of the Sun” (Beit Shemesh).
And yet these residents tarred this school with the same brush as the ultra-fanatical fringe. The Mayor correctly condemned their opposition to the establishment of the school because it was nothing but prejudice and incivility. Amir Shacham, who was with me, and I both applauded the Mayor for his stand.
The issue of building a better civil society in Israel is now reaching a boiling point with Israel’s “silent majority” fed up by what they see as the “tyranny” of the minority. The Haredi parties are the wedge between what the majority of Israelis believe and how the Israeli government sometimes acts.
It is not only a “civil” issue. The Haredi population, which is about nine percent of Israel’s population and growing rapidly, generally do not serve in the Israel Defense Forces, and Haredi males do not significantly contribute to the labor force. This will offset the qualitative edge that Israel has in the military, science, technology, and the economy.
At the present time, only 39 percent of Haredi males work. Those who don’t consign their families to another cycle of poverty, with the Israeli taxpayer picking up the tab for child allowances and other welfare programs. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee is working with this population in employment training programs so that they can become part of Israel’s mainstream. Israeli society needs to do a lot more.
In a prior blog, I noted that David Ben-Gurion made the decision he made in accommodating the needs of the Haredi in order to build support for the State of Israel. But he expected future generations to confront the more fundamental issues about what type of civil society Israel should be, with all elements contributing to its success.
Well, the future is now. The good news is that there will be a bipartisan Knesset caucus dealing with issues of civil society and relations with the Diaspora. We need to bring more MKs to MetroWest to learn about our concerns and how we maintain pluralistic communities.
Rabbi Haim Amsalem
Rabbi Amsalem will be speaking at the Aidekman Campus in Whippany at 6 p.m. on Thursday, February 2. (He will speak in Hebrew; a translator will be present.) I encourage you to learn more about this timely topic from a courageous man, who hopefully, will be a powerful voice for promoting a better civil society fin Israel.
At the end of the day, uncivil behavior comes from prejudiced viewpoints on both the left and the right of the religious and political spectrum. It’s a double-edged sword.