Thursday, March 28, 2013

Am Yisrael Chai??

Am Yisrael Chai.

It's one of my mantras, the nation of Israel will live on. The nation of Israel. It's you, it's me, it's all of us. It's the secular, and it's the Charedim.

I believe in unity. I am a big advocator of Jewish pride, Jewish unity, Jewish love, and when other people bash other sectors of our religion I do my best to defend. We're a small nation and at the end of the day, all we have is each other.

I've heard people say they hate the Charedim in Israel. The biggest conversation in the country is why they can sit and learn in yeshiva while our sons and brothers need to go to war. And though I agree that they should be fighting, I can still understand them. They're just good people who want to learn Torah, who want to be closer to Hashem, who think they're doing the right thing. How can you look down on that?

I was at the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem tonight, waiting for my bus. It goes through my city but ends up in B'nei Brak, a very Charedi area, and the whole line was mostly made up of Charedi families. I've never seen so many people waiting for a bus before - there were probably over 100 people standing there. We waited for around an hour for all the buses to fill up and leave, and the mood was mostly good natured. Everyone shared their water and cookies, assuring each other that it was kosher for Pesach with no kitniyot and wondering how long it would be until the next bus came. We all complained together, taking pictures of the ridiculous line that stretched all the way into the back of the room and doubled back again.

And then it was my turn to get on the bus. As the bus pulled up, some Charedi yeshiva guys who had been standing by the door for five or ten minutes rushed up to get on. They were stopped by an older Charedi man who yelled at them. "What are you doing?? Have some respect!"

One of the guys, about 20 years old, yelled back "What do you care? Get on the bus and shut up." They started pushing everyone who had been waiting to get on, fighting to get to the front of the line. There were elderly men and women, a few pregnant women, fathers with little kids, a girl with Down Syndrome who was standing behind me. Everyone was yelling at each other, and I was just praying I would get to the bus alive and be able to find a seat. One older woman very calmly told the guys to calm down and wait because other people had been waiting longer. "Do you work for Egged?" one of them spat at her. "Get out of my face and shut your mouth".

At that point I finally reached the stairs and turned around to see one of the guys, my age, pushing forward to get to the door. An old man was in front of him, and he lifted his arm to tell the guy to stop. The yeshiva student grabbed his arm and forcefully PUSHED him backwards. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Until then, I'd been a spectator in this scene, but when I saw that my hands started shaking. "What is wrong with you??" I screamed at him. "What would your Rabbi say about the way you're acting right now? Would your father be proud of your yeshiva education? Have you not learned Derech Eretz yet??" My words came out in a mixture of English and Hebrew, my dikduk completely lost. He looked at me, said "Chatzufah, why are you speaking to me?" and turned away. It was all I could do not to slap him across the face. I had a ridiculous urge to grab his kippah and throw it as far as I could - I've never in my LIFE been so full of rage at a person.

One Charedi father was trying to get on the bus - his wife was already on, and he had been putting their stroller on the bottom. One of the students straight out punched him in the stomach. A fight started, cameras were everywhere, and I somehow paid and sat down, watching out the window. I can't describe the feeling I felt right then. It's NOT the Charedim. It's these students, these guys who spend their lives in yeshiva and never learn manners or how to treat a person with respect.

A part of me wants to forget it happened, not write this blog post, go back to my naïve ideas of love and unity and am yisrael chai - that idea that if we want it enough, we can all just get along. But I know that these guys will marry girls who will have sons who will learn from their fathers and there has to be a way to end this.

I've never really encountered anti-semitism. And although I've have a few altercations, the Arabs and arsim in the country have never brought me to tears on a public bus. But this made me cry, and not only because I feel sad for the Jewish nation, but because I was terrified. Because everything that I believe in, Am Yisrael, the land of Israel, everything that I think is worth having pride in, took a shot to the heart when that "bochur" wearing a black kippah who probably had just davened maariv pushed an old man so he could get onto a bus.

So I ask you - where do we go from here?

What am I supposed to think now?

I don't hate charedim. There are good and bad people in every sect of Judaism - every sect of the world. But something needs to change in the way they educate their sons. I don't want to start a Charedi bashing wave because of this story - I want to make a change. This is not okay. This is not what we survived thousands of years of persecution for. The Jewish people have come a long and painful way to get to the place we are today, and if after all that we can't respect each other, how can we ever imagine that anyone else will? How can we imagine that we're deserving of any kind of geula?

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Possibilities of Unity

It is human nature to make generalizations as we grow up and learn about the world. We view reality through the shades of our memories and experiences. Sometimes that protects us from repeating mistakes, but most of the time it just prevents us from seeing things clearly.

I spent Shabbat in a community that I have judged quietly for years. It is a community full of people who, in my mind, were just like the close-minded "yeshivish" people I had tried to get away from throughout high school. I went there for Shabbat, reluctantly, and was pleasantly surprised. The families I met were kind and genuine, opening their homes to us and offering us anything they could. They were down to earth, regular people and I found myself enjoying their company and realizing that maybe, possibly, the Jewish people are not split into normal and charedi, that maybe there's a middle ground, and maybe it's not a bad place to be.

It was during Friday night davening though, that I felt like Hashem figuratively hit me over the head.

We were davening Kabbalat Shabbat. All the men were singing and dancing, and a woman walked up from the front of the shul to come speak to me. I thought maybe she was about to tell me that the girls I was with were being too loud, or maybe that they were not dressed modestly enough. She put her hand on my shoulder and leaned over. "Darling", she said quietly in my ear, "your hair is astounding." I looked at her, a little confused. Then she said, "I hope you have the zchus (merit) to cover it very soon, and that you find an incredible husband who will admire it every day."

"Amen", I whispered, taken aback.

And then she smiled at me and walked out of the shul.


I didn't know how to react. But for some reason, I wanted to cry. I wasn't sad. I felt moved in a way that I haven't felt in a while. Who was this woman? Why did she take the time to walk over and give me a bracha?

So many thoughts raced through my head at the same time.

I'd been calling this place close-minded and judgmental, I'd been saying that it was a community full of people who would not accept anyone who wasn't just like them. And as I’m formulating my not-so-polite responses to her imaginary criticisms, this woman comes over just to give me a compliment and a beautiful bracha.

When was the last time I had done something like that?

When was the last time I'd even seen anyone doing something like that?

A few weeks ago, I was having a conversation with a few friends about Jewish unity. We were talking about building the Beit Hamikdash, about how it's not possible until there is genuine achdut (unity) in our nation. Until we can learn to accept each other. A debate broke out over whether or not the idea was even realistic. If there was any iota of possibility that we could reconcile all of our differences within the next ten years. We each brought in examples from politics, from the army, from our own lives and experiences. I think the conclusion was that we'd all like it to happen, but the rift between the charedim and dati leumi is too big to bridge.

We have these built up notions in our heads about each other. And yes, some of them are true. But at the end of the day, we're all Jewish. We all have the same goals, the same values, the same frustrations. There are beautiful, kind hearted, genuine people on every inch of the Jewish spectrum. The secular, the traditional, the dati leumi, the charedim. If we could all find a way to put our shades of experiences aside and just see each other for who we really are, anything is possible. Unity is possible. The Beit Hamikdash is possible.

This lady just thought she was doing a nice thing when she came over to me in shul. She didn't realize that she was opening my mind up to the possibility that I could be wrong about these people. That after a few hours in the community I realized that I was, in fact, wrong about them. That maybe I need to readjust my view of the world. That when I start labeling others and judging them, I am the kind of person that I never thought I would be, the kind of person I've warned others not to become.

They say each mitzva we do is a brick in the future Beit Hamikdash. That one day, Hashem will lower the thousands of mitzvot onto our world and we'll be able to see the physical, tangible acts of kindness that we have done for each other. Let's do it. One person at a time, one conversation at a time, one smile at a time.

The possibilities are endless.