|Oded Menaster in his 2 roles (Mishpacha Magazine)|
I’ve got to hand it to this Charedi publication. They minced no words in describing the outcome of that experiment. Or more correctly allowed the agent of that experiment to tell us his conclusions about it - without comment by any Mishpacha editors. This is a lesson in intellectual honesty rarely seen in publications like this. So, kudos (whatever that means) to them.
The experiment was as follows. Mishpacha hired Oded Menaster, a (presumably secular) professional actor to go undercover in both the very secular Tel Aviv and the very Charedi Bnei Brak. He was disguised as a Toldos Aharon Chasid in the former and an Israeli cop in the latter. The description of his experiences are both revealing and at the same time - not all that unexpected. Unfortunately his experiences in the more observant community of Bnei Brak were more hurtful to him than his experiences in the less observant community of Tel Aviv.
It’s true that there is reason for both communities to be upset with the other. But despite the hatred expressed by both sides, the secular Jews Oded encountered seemed far more tolerant than the Charedi Jews he encountered in Bnei Brak.
Oded experienced no one in Bnei Brak that reacted in any way positive. Some instances were worse than others - but all were negative. Not true in Tel Aviv. it appears that there is something about being secular that makes one more tolerant. And something about being Chreadi that makes one less so.
That Oded felt more hurt by Charedim while disguised as a cop than he did disguised as a Charedi in Tel Aviv is easy to explain after reading his description of both experiences. Here is a sampling of each. The first one is what he encountered in Tel Aviv.
...the conversation took a very unexpected turn. All his inner Tel Aviv soul burst out all at once, like he was starved for conversation:
“Tell me, what do you think you’re doing? The entire country is terrified of COVID while you dance at these mass weddings. Do you think that’s okay?”
“No. It’s not okay at all. But you need to realize that not everyone’s like that,” I said in defense of the community I was representing.
“Not everyone, but many are. You actually seem to be a very nice person. I can see you’re wearing that mask properly. If only all chareidim were like you.”
Later I learned from my chareidi companions that this refrain —”if only all chareidim were like you” — is a familiar one.
“You look like a nice person,” he went on. “It’s a pity not everyone’s like you. You chareidim need to find your way. You take care of yourselves, and we’ll take care of ourselves.”
Nothing comparable occurred in Bnei Brak. Not even close. One case after another – all bad. As the following will illustrate:
Another fellow explained reasonably, if a bit resentfully, “You don’t belong here and it would be a pity if trouble started.”
Honestly? I felt hurt. To a certain extent, more than in Tel Aviv.
But the most disturbing moment was when a little boy yelled “Nazi!” at my passing back.
Look, I understand that to a chareidi, a cop represents a different world — an establishment that’s been portrayed as an enemy of their values and lifestyle. This no doubt comes from bad communication, bad decisions, and even worse optics. It’s sad.
But as someone who’s descended from Holocaust survivors and martyrs, I was appalled to be called a Nazi. Does he even know what a Nazi is? What the Nazis did? How can that accusation even come out of your mouth?
It’s true that both communities have reasons to be disdainful, and dismissive of the other. But based on this little experiment, the Charedi world is far better at being hateful than the secular world seems to be.
There are reasons for the hatred on both sides. Some of which I have discussed here. But there is no excuse for extremes Oded experienced in Bnei Brak.
There are also lessons to be learned here. The Charedi world in places like Bnei Brak must learn how to be more tolerant. Even when they experience what they feel is gross discrimination. Perhaps a more important lessen would be that the secular world can be reached. They seem to be more inclined to hear another point of view. I don't know... maybe it is the nature of a secular person to be more open minded. and the nature of a Charedi to be more closed minded.
But as an Orthodox Jew that believes following Halacha is the right way for a Jew to live, I think we have an obligation to find ways to reach out to them. Based on Oded's encounter (as a Charedi Jew) with secular Jews there seems to be a way to do that so that secular Jew can channel his inner Jew. Which desires to serve God the way He intends us to. I believe that feeling resides deep in the heart of every Jew. What happened to Oded in Bnei Brak is the antithesis of that.
I don’t know how we can change the hearts and mind of that part of the Charedi world. I don’t even know if it’s possible. But if it could be done, it would go a long way toward both worlds understanding each other better and in the process bring a lot of people closer to God than ever thought possible.