Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Wreaking Havoc

Yeshiva World News has a letter posted from a woman who lives in the Charedi neighborhood of the Meah ShearimGeula near Kikar Shabbos - Shabbat Square - Jerusalem. This is probably the most Charedi neighborhood in all of Jerusalem. She is obviously an American with a good command of the English language. Her Charedi/Chasidic Hashkafic credentials seem to be unquestionable. What she reported made me sick.

Briefly she described the havoc wrought in her neighborhood by a yet another call for a protest by the Edah HaCharedis. Not that the Edah has approved of what this woman experienced. I’m sure they did not.

The call for a protest against the opening of a municipal parking lot on Shabbos in a secular neighborhood in Jerusalem has once again generated violence. And once again it has caused unbelievable stress and danger to the lives the residents of that neighborhood.

It should be noted that the protest was called for Shabbos on a street called Bar Ilan - not Kikar Shabbos where this vandalism and destruction took place. What happened in Kikar Shabbos took place on the Thursday night before that and on the Sunday and Monday after.

I recently criticized such protests. But now I will go a step further and say that protests like this should be banned. (That’s right - I do favor some bans). Calling for protests like this one will almost always be an excuse for some young people to become violent.

The descriptions of this poster are heartrending! And the behavior of these young delinquents is inexcusable!

I suppose that many of these kids were Chasidic type residents of Meah Shearim. But not all of them. Some were American students studying in Israel. Apparently some are in Yeshivos like Brisk and Mir. The one thing they had in common was the desire to disrupt the peace and destroy property in pursuit of the goal called for by the Edah – to get the municipality to keep a parking lot closed on Shabbos.

That gave them the excuse to be completely oblivious to the welfare of fellow human beings. It didn’t matter to them that they were Jews! It didn’t even matter that they were Frum Jews - very Frum Jews! Their eyes were on the fun they were having in the process of carrying out what they thought was a nobler goal. The ends – justified their means.

This can no longer be looked at as a group of neighborhood hooligans with time on their hands. This is way beyond a local and cultural problem located only in certain ultra Charedi neighborhoods in Israel. Not when there are American students participating.

If my son were spending his year in Israel involved in anything like this I would literally tear Kriya! Where are the parents? Do they know where their kids are?

When are organizations like the Edah going to get real? When are they going to realize that not everything they don’t like needs a major protest? When are they going to realize there are bigger fish to fry? - Like teaching their children to be civilized instead of tolerating their criminal behavior.

The question is what is going to prevent this kind of behavior in the future? Will more and stronger bans do it? Will a Rosh Hayeshva forbidding his students from any participation – on pain of expulsion – even be enough?

Frankly I think that kind of ‘fix’ is the wrong approach –although it’s a start. Many young people will still at the core believe this cause - and its means were just, if a bit of an over-reaction. It is this attitude that needs to change. Not just of the young, but of their mentoring Roshei Yeshiva and Rebbeim

Instead of railing against the evil secular government and decrying the breaching of yet another wall in the status quo they ought to start focusing on the underlying causes of this criminal and dangerous vandalism.

Yes, some of them are incorrigible and are perhaps beyond hope. Those should have the book thrown at them and given maximum sentences in Israeli prisons. Hard time!

But what about the kid who comes from a fairly normal home and gets caught up in the moment -rationalizing that Chilul Shabbos is indeed worthy of such protests?… that this is indeed the only thing that city government officials respond to?

That can only be changed if the entire mindset changes from one of intolerance to one of tolerance. I am not suggesting that Chilul Shabbos shouldn’t be protested, but not in this way. This way has wrought nothing but grief for the very people whom they represent.

A change of heart is needed. We need to go back to the days of Rav Chaim Shmulevitz, Rosh Yeshiva at Mir yeshiva in the sixties. He knew who and what the secular government was. But he did not hesitate to praise it when he felt they deserved it. And he did so publicly. Not that he didn’t get criticized for it by some in his own Cherdi community!

There has never been a time better than now to change the mindset and dynamic of the Charedi from one of hatred towards the flag and country and its secular citizenry to one of tolerance and Vitur – looking the other way – at least in public.

No more protests. Not even peaceful ones since inevitably they will result in violence. I hope Charedi leadership comes to its senses. I hope that if the Edah doesn’t – that at least other leaders part company with them and make their views known to the public! And I hope that they can begin to do what’s necessary to change the mindset that causes student s to do this kind of thing.

I hope that clearer minds in Jerusalem and elsewhere are up to the task. It is a huge one.