Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Sticking Your Head in the Sand

I have been called an ignorant Jew and Israel basher by someone I usually agree with. He is an intelligent and gifted writer - a former pulpit rabbi from Detroit by the name of Reuven Spolter.

But that’s OK. I have thick skin. Nor do I hold any animus towards him - no hard feelings at all. Having made Aliyah himself not long ago, his attitude is to be quite expected. Which is quite contrary the views I expressed yesterday in my post about the ideal versus the real in the State of Israel.

Nor is he the only one who was so strongly upset with me. Many people who have happily made Aliyah and even agree with me on most things disagreed with me strongly here. Frankly I don’t even blame them.

Rabbi Reuven Spolter has probably spoken for many in a written response to that post.

First let me say, that I may have overstated my case. My own experience there when I visit Ramat Bet Shemesh every year has been mostly positive – nothing like what I wrote. I saw no protests. No one spat on me. Or my wife. Or my children. Or my grandchildren. People of all stripes were nice to me.

The Charedi Shul in which I davened had people from all Hashkafos Davening there. There were Dati soldiers and civilians, Charedim with Yeshiva type Hashkafos, Chasidim, and Sephardim. There was no enmity at all. We all sat in the same room and Davened. I felt no animosity from anyone. Only warmth, good cheer and fellowship from everyone.

Nor was it my intent to discourage Alyiah. Even though there are hardships in living there - the reward by far surpasses the pain. The ideal I spoke of is indeed lived by many Jews there. My question about Aliyah at the end of my post yesterday was meant rhetorically.

And finally I stand second to no one in my support for the Jewish State- and my concern for the Jewish people!

And because I do care, I do not back off entirely from what I said. That’s because what I said is true. The issues I wrote about are real and need to be dealt with. They are serious issues that could destroy the country. Issues like increasing Charedi poverty; the lack of any education that would prepare them for the workplace, the extremists of Meah Shearim; the extremists on the West Bank… none of them can be ignored.

One should not simply say that they don’t really deal with these things on a day to day basis and therefore life is good. Life may be good. But when you have masses of people creating one Chilul HaShem after another it undermines the very fabric of the country. When you have masses of religious Jews being raised as ignoramuses in everything but Gemarrah it undermines your country’s future… and your own. You have to pay attention to these issues and the people who cause problems.

The picture accompanying Rabbi Spolter’s post (which I have reproduced here) implies that I am sticking my head in the sand. I would turn that around. His saying that ‘Life is just wonderful where I live’ is sticking your head in the sand. When things like this are ignored they have a tendency to get worse. Life may then end up not being so ‘wonderful where you live’ in the future.

Rabbi Spolter says that since I don’t live in Israel I am therefore ignorant of the facts. That he doesn’t live in Syria is why he doesn’t comment about life there.

Really? He feels unqualified to comment on Syria? Does he think the media possibly has it wrong? That Syria is actually quite a nice place for a Jew to live? Who knows… maybe it is. After all I don’t live there. And maybe you want to buy the Brooklyn Bridge?

You don’t have to live in Israel to know what is going on. Especially when many of the people who write about the things I wrote about yesterday - do live there! True, some of it may be sensationalist for purposes of increased readership. But when virtually all the media focuses on the same thing and sees it all the same way – including the Charedi media (e.g. Hamodia) - there is more to it than sensationalism.

But here is the real kicker: He rhetorically asks:

Why do American Jews seem to think that Jews in Israel are supposed to get along? Where in the Torah is there any guarantee that Jews would agree with one-another in peace and harmony? Struggle and strife are part and parcel of disagreement. We disagree about important things: the future of the Jewish country; the nature of the Jewish State; The destiny of the Jewish people. So Rabbi Maryles expects Chareidim to abdicate their views and just "get along?"

Well… the short answer is, Yes! At least to the ‘get along’ part. One does not have to abdicate their views to get along.

One should of course not give up core principles. But that does not mean there has to be the kind animosity and violence we see in huge segments of the population in Israel. Nor should it mean that one can simply ignore the law there because it doesn’t meet with their religious goals.

Rabbi Sploter attributes the lack of this kind of thing in places like America to what he says are factions living parallel lives. That there is no interaction between them. That we each go our separate ways.

Perhaps that’s true in New York or Detroit. But that is absolutely not true here in Chicago. All segments of Orthodoxy interact with each other here. We even interact with our non Orthodox brthern via our active participation Chicago Jewish Federation. And they are very generous to the Orthodox community. There is not enmity. There is no strife. There is no acrimony. There is exactly the peace and harmony that Rabbi Spolter seems to say can’t exist in among those with strong convictions which he seems to feel must lead to struggle and strife.

One more thing. Rabbi Spolter says:

Strife, as troubling as it is, emanates from real disputes about critical issues, coming from passionate people who care deeply about the important issues that they represent.

Of course it does. I actually agree that this is at least in part the reason for extremism that exists in Israel. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Nor should it be that way. People with strong Hashkafic differences can get along despite their passion about them. Although our Hashkafos are different - and we all take our religious views very seriously here in Chicago -we do get along very nicely. All it takes is learning how to be tolerant and loving of our fellow Jews.