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What’s at Stake

As shocking and astonishing as the present street warfare is to all of us in Israel, no one actually believes its root cause is a change in the appointment of high court judges, and will disappear when that problem is solved – or not. 

As the last five elections have proven, the citizens of Israel are deeply divided, with no side having enough support to form a government that truly represents all its citizens. The hurt and pain on both sides goes deep.

I speak of the decades we have spent bringing our children to IDF induction centers, only to see our haredi neighbors get an exemption. I am speaking of people who pay their taxes and municipality bills, only to see their haredi neighbors get a free ride. I am speaking of law abiding citizens who watch haredi criminals like MK Arie Deri get a free pass because his electorate expect him and his party to siphon off our taxes to fund their institutions. 

On the other side, there is the heartbreak of the Oslo years, Leftist madness which saw guns handed over to terrorists; brave settlers from Gush Katif uprooted from their homes and businesses and synagogues by the IDF according to some wrong-headed Leftist agenda that promised peace and delivered death and destruction, thousands of rockets and wars. 

The hurt is real. The pain is real. The division is real and goes deep.

When I came to Israel in 1971, I was fully convinced I was going to be haredi. I had come to religious belief in my teens, the result of a Hebrew Day School education granted to me as a scholarship student from a poor family. I took my time deciding if I was there to tolerate religious studies in order to get a better education in English and math, or if I was going to take it seriously. About sixth grade, I decided that the Torah was actually the word of God, and that it was my choice to be faithful to it and receive its blessings. 

Aliyah came naturally in 1971, two years after getting married. With my wig, and my bearded husband and new baby, I moved into a new neighborhood of religious Olim in Northern Jerusalem. It was there that my plans began to go awry. Or perhaps not. I realized that the desire to be close to G-d, to do His bidding, was not the same as joining the haredi community. This wake-up call came when I met an Ultra-Orthodox young mother of seven from Williamsburg who described to me the vicious domestic abuse she and her children were suffering, and begged me to help her get a new passport so she could go home to her parents.

All was not what it seemed.

There were other reasons as well. I wanted to get a Master’s degree. I wanted to write, my imagination full of stories even as I baked my Shabbat cakes and cut up potatoes for cholent.

I washed the sand of Sinai out of my husband’s Army uniform, and then did the same for my sons. The Torah, as far as I could see from my own studies, gave no exemptions to army service for those who learned Torah, which seemed to me to be a cynical use of religious belief to avoid the heartbreaking necessity to put our sons and daughters at risk. It cut deeply into the social contract Israelis signed on to when honoring their citizenship. The fury against those who behaved this way, and then refused to stand silently in remembrance of our fallen sons and daughters was like acid penetrating our souls.

There was a time when secular Israel outnumbered religious Israel, and then the elections were quick and easy, the Left ruling as it pleased. And then the demographics changed. Now we are at a point went the scales are balanced by a hair’s breadth, pushed this way or that by clever political maneuvering of the lowest kind. But achieving victory that way, is no victory at all, as we now see. 

As Abraham Lincoln once said: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” 

Recently, I read an article in Makor Rishon in which someone was quoted saying that he thought we were all headed back to galut. In fact, he pointed out, villages filled with Israeli Jews are already set up all over Greece and Thailand.

I thought about that as I watched the streets filling up with Israelis determined to impose their wills on our deeply divided nation, held in check by only flimsy police barricades; people dancing in circles so that they avoid facing anyone who doesn’t join in with them. 

It is my belief that the only solution is to finally take the results of elections seriously. We disagree in fundamental ways about what kind of country we want to live in. The days when minority governments can impose their will are over. If we can’t find some way to form a unity government, to compromise, to live together, each of us listening to the other and being willing to give up things that we treasure for the sake of living in our own country, than no matter what side of the barricades you decide to wave your flag, the next bus to Auschwitz will be coming along shortly as we recklessly and moronically forget what the lack of a Jewish country means.

There are people still living today who saw Hitler take over Europe, who smelled the fires in Auschwitz, who saw the ashes. It didn’t happen a thousand years ago. Not even a hundred. This is why we tried to so hard to have our own country. Remember?

This is the only country in the world where Jewish young people are taught how to drive tanks, use machine guns, fly planes. It is the only country in the world that cares if Jews are murdered by anti-Semites and is willing to track them down and stop them. It is the only country in the world where Jewish holidays are national holidays, and public schools provide a Jewish education. It is imperative that we put our legitimate grievances aside and grasp with both hands and all of our hearts and minds what a precious gift our generation has been given. How many have died, both secular and religious? How many have suffered unbearable losses to make this country a reality?

Have we learned nothing about how our enemies do not make the distinction between Jews we are investing all our time and effort to proclaim, thus destroying our country?

As Iran prepares its annihilation bomb, can we really afford to stop traffic and call out messages of hatred towards each other because we do not agree politically? Really?

And as if God Himself is reaching down to voice His opinion, I refer you to this week’s haftorah from Malachi 3,4: “I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord. And He will return the hearts of the parents back to their children and the hearts of children back to their parents, lest I come and lay the earth waste.”

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18 comments on “What’s at Stake”

  1. Ezra G.

    Those that are leaving Israel and going to Greece, Thailand, Costa Rica, etc., are most likely left wing voters, which means that the percentage of the right wing vote will increase even more.

  2. Stan Goldman

    Despite my admiration and respect for Naomi Regan, I noticed a critical omission in her plea for social harmony. The same supreme court in which she defended successfully the rights of women must be kept independent of political and religious bias or interference from the Knesset. This crucial point about the future of democracy in Israel was made so often by so many leading and respected voices in Israel that most every citizen would’ve been aware of it and willing to demonstrate in its defence.

    • Eliezer Kaufman

      Perhaps you would like to name who you call ” leading and respected voices in Israel” and tell us what of their previous actions merit them being given such kavod. Certainly no previous presidents, Prime Ministers or even ministers let alone “rabbonim” warrant such respect.

  3. Susan Bennett

    You and your readers seem to use the words “left” and ” right” a lot, as it everyone knows their meaning. I do however believe that there must be an honest effort by members of the Knesset to come together, and soon.

  4. Stephen Stein

    As usual, Jews only need to look in the mirror to find their worst enemies. I turn 75 tomorrow – just a few weeks older than the State of Israel. I used to firmly believe (and hope) that Israel would outlive me by many, many years. I thinks the odds, regrettably, may be turning in my favour.

  5. Charlotte Wallace

    I am grateful for Naomi’s truthful and clear explanation of the turmoil occurring in Israel. The US has become so far left that information presented today can be far from the reality of the situation.
    The ultra religious in New York and upstate have taken so many liberties for their groups, welfare and educational services.There is no balance.

  6. philp mann

    I live in a strong chassidish area, and I have met only one person who sees the necessity of having a strong set of checks and balances in a democracy. The rest talk about making Israel into a really frum place, and have no problem with a Jewish theocracy. That includes one man who served in the Yom Kippur war.
    I also fear for the future of the beautiful country created in such harsh conditions. When one part will not take part in military duty, and even looks down at those who do, the problem is dire.

  7. Eliezer Kaufman

    Jerry Klinger’s response is spot on and should not be ignored.
    That the Haridim have their own agenda should not be ignored, nor should we ignore how they and we have waxed fat – what is the source of their funding ? It is a most relevant question given how opulent many of them have become.
    Perhaps in the final analysis as Naomi has so well described it is that in the early days the secular had RESPECT for the observant and respected the basic traditional observance of both Shabbat and Kashrut – today this is no longer the case!
    A case in question is that whilst there is a law that King George Street in Jerusalem should be closed to traffic on Shabbat and Haggim during times of prayer in the adjacent shuls, since Olmert was mayor over 20 years ago this law was ignored, not only by the authorities but also by the State Chief Rabbonim and the Chief Rabbis of Jerusalem – so now we have public desecration of Shabbat in the Holy Sacred City – where will it end?

  8. P

    All Knesset meetings should occur in the Holocaust’ Museum for the next 120 days…..

    All opposition leaders should be required to visit museum within 30 days.

    Leadership is full of brash, greedy, historically ignorant and narcissistic people. Get down to basics and make
    Israel safe again.

  9. Cecilia Kleiman

    As always, great article.
    Thanks for your input regarding the actual situation. Indeed, I hurt when I hear that hundreds of Israeli families are abandoning Israel and settling in peaceful countries like Costa Rica where they already established a secular community in a beautiful setting. When asked, many of them said they got tired of the constant stress, crisis, etc and of course, all of them mentioned the difference between seculars and haredis when serving in the IDF as well as other privileges the haredis seem to get. Am Israel should be united, it’s the only way we can always say Am Israel Chai!

  10. Jerry Klinger

    When I served in the Sinai as a Lone Soldier, I was given two choices for religious observance, Dati or Lo-Dati. In other words, religious or not religious. There was no option for a secular believer, an American with a Conservative bent. I was sent to a Lo-Dati unit.
    When I sought a pair of tefillin, I was ridiculed, and discriminated against with extra unpleasant duties and worse.
    The anti-democratic mob rioting in the streets today against Judicial reform is really quite simple to understand. For decades the left has ruled. They lost the electoral control so they, as in the U.S., rely upon fiats from the unelected, and unresponsive Judiciary.
    A Tel Aviv ugly incident put it in black white, and blood. An innocent Hardi couple mistakenly were caught in the anti-Judiciary demonstration. The man was severely beaten because he was viewed as the enemy.
    Judicial reforms are a must. Perhaps not what has been defined so far, but a most needed curtailment of the dictatorship of the left over the popular will of the people.

    And yes, Naomi is right. The Hardim must serve without excuses. They must pay their taxes; sitting in the Yeshivahs and making new voters at night is not their special privilege.

  11. Jerry Klinger

    When I served in the Sinai as Lone Soldier, I was given two choices for religious observance, Dati or Lo-Dati. In other words, religious or not religious. There was no option for a secular believer, an American with a Conservative bent. I was sent to a Lo-Dati unit.
    When I sought a pair of tefillin, I was ridiculed, and discriminated against with extra unpleasant duties and worse.
    The anti-democratic mob rioting in the streets today against Judicial reform are really quite simple to understand. For decades the left have ruled. They lost the electoral control so they, as in the U.S. rely upon fiats from the unelected, and unresponsive Judiciary.
    A Tel Aviv ugly incident put it in black white and blood. An innocent Hardi couple mistakenly were caught in the anti-Judiciary demonstration. The man was severely beaten because he was viewed as the enemy.
    The Judicial reforms are a must. Perhaps not what has been defined so far, but a most needed curtailment of the dictatorship of the left over the popular will of the people.

    And yes, Naomi is right, the Hardim must serve without excuses. They must pay their taxes, sitting in the Yeshivahs and making new voters at night is not their special privilege.

  12. Sue

    A very good article. However, a few things I would like to add. Yes, there are other places where Jewish boys and girls are taught to fly planes, use guns etc. in the military. Here in the USA, my younger son served in the army years ago He volunteered. And he is not the only Jewish boy who did that. There is no draft here anymore, as you know.

    But boys and girls of all religions, and none , join and are trained. Yes, there are leaders here who do care about antisemitic attacks and do everything they can to find the perpetrators’. And I am not just talking about Jewish leaders.

    No, America is not a perfect place. But as Winston Churchill once said, (paraphrase) –Democracy is the worst form of government, except for any other. We must not give up hope for this country yet. As for Israel, there just are too many parties!

    We complain here sometimes that there are basically only two parties(although there are some smaller ones to choose from)–Yes, most Western European countries do have a number of parties. But for the most part there isn’t the difficulty in putting a government together as there is now in Israel.

    What is the solution? I certainly don’t know. And I am seeing young people here, some in my own family, changing their opinion about Israel. Once strong supporters they are now very critical.

    Anyway, Naomi, always a joy to read your opinions on issues. And to read(and reread) your great books!

  13. Linda Biderman

    I applaud you as always for your clear vision and insight into the horrible situation in Israel. I think we should all concentrate on what we have alike instead of focusing on our differences. I live in New York and I am frightened and concerned for the antisemitism here in the U.S. I have to feel afraid to wear my Jewish star or chai so no one knows I am a Jew. How did that happen? Many of the colleges will not accept students if they are white, or Jewish. I wanted to give my children and grandchildren a better world to live in. I am not so certain that will be the case. I love reading whatever you have to say so please keep writing. This is your way that you are making a difference in many people’s lives. Thank you! Linda Biderman – llbiderman@gmail.com

  14. Rene

    Thank you for your explanation. HILI was my synagogue a long time ago.

  15. Jack Arbiser

    I agree with you, but what do you recommend? Jewish life in the US is no picnic either. A Jewish child today in the US has a greater chance of dying of a fentanyl overdose than an Israeli child has of beling killed in the IDF.

  16. Gerald Shulman

    Naomi Ragen is to be congratulated on her clear vision of the current crisis in Israel..She lived through many changes and experienced ups and downs. We can only pray that the safe future be saved for our nation

Comments are closed.