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Things are about to change in Israel

Ultra-Orthodox Jews protest against the drafting of ultra-Orthodox to the Israeli army, outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, June 2, 2024. (Photo: Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Amidst the many things happening in Israel, a hearing is taking place in the High Court of Justice concerning conscription of the ultra-Orthodox sector of young men who, up until now, have had an exemption from military duty in order to further their full-time religious studies.

That may be changing very shortly. Three of the more conservative judges are presiding over the proceedings, and if you want to know which way the wind is blowing, just listen to the analysis given by Jerusalem Post reporter, Yonah Jeremy Bob. Stating that the three justices “were among the roughest and most aggressive critics of the government,” he sensed their aggravation with the government’s refusal to agree to the “IDF’s initial measure to take in a minimum of 3,000 Haredim (ultra-Orthodox) out of over 60,000 eligible draftees over the course of the 2024 recruitment class.

It’s easy to understand their emotionally angry response, because, as the reporter states, at a time “during an ongoing war that has taken the lives of around 1,500 Israelis, Haredim still feel that asking them to do the same service is oppression.”

In fact, these justices are not the only ones who are fed up with an entire sector of young, able-bodied men who don’t seem to appreciate the ultimate sacrifice others have made for them so that they can continue to study without feeling any obligation to share the load of defending the homeland for which they claim to be praying.

Their offensive behavior has been taken up by a group of 1,000 senior Israeli doctors who have now threatened to leave Israel if the draft exemption is not changed. “Describing the refusal of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community to serve in the military as ‘destructive to our future,’ they oppose the legislative initiative that will perpetuate inequality in sharing the burden as reserve duty will be significantly increased.”

It was just in April that 30 paratrooper reservists failed to report for duty, claiming that they were too exhausted to do so. With so many soldiers needed on a number of fronts, including Gaza, the north and the territories of Judea and Samaria, the burnout rate is completely understandable as many of these soldiers do not get adequate time to rest both mentally and physically.

This dilemma could easily be resolved if the 60,000 Haredim would internalize the pressing need to serve as Israel fights for her very existence. Gone are the days when these ultra-Orthodox students could hide behind their books, feigning loyalty by assuring the Israeli public that, without their prayers, the country wouldn’t make it through another day. In fact, those were the sentiments expressed recently by Chief Sephardi Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef who unashamedly stated that “Israel’s success in defending against the missiles and rockets fired by Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas is thanks to the yeshiva students and not the IDF.”

But what would happen to those students if our defensive manpower was at risk, weakened by a protracted war that demands service that renders some of them almost ineffective as a result of being unable to cope with the demands placed on their shoulders? Who will take their place when things get even more intense, and that’s likely to happen if Hezbollah continues to ratchet up their attacks as they’ve been doing over the past few weeks.

Every day is met with a barrage of rockets or drones which have set fire to a great portion of the Golan, burning up over 10,000 dunams of land, affecting 15 different areas in the north, as of this writing. On Monday, 30 projectiles were launched from Lebanon, causing even more fires.

Where are the ultra-Orthodox as this natural disaster is occurring? It is no wonder that they have brought condemnation on themselves in their unwillingness to help out in any practical way.

But it is not only the question of conscription, reaching an untenable level, which is about to account for a great change in Israel. It is also the ceasefire deal which is awaiting a response from Hamas, in the hope of releasing all of the hostages being held by them for some eight months, in exchange for a full ceasefire and abandonment of the Rafah military operation.

If that deal is accepted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, hardline coalition members, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich as well as National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, have both threatened to walk out, effectively toppling the government, meaning that new elections will have to take place in the very near future. Such a move would definitely constitute a major shift in the country as the likelihood of a more centrist government would be probable.

That could result in a complete turnaround from the direction that the religious extremist coalition had hoped to take, by changing a number of laws, which would not favor the minority populations but rather serve the religious constituency, effectively changing the character of the country, making it a more religiously observant state, with little tolerance for the plurality of diverse cultures and lifestyles which comprise the majority of our population.

Ironically, the catalysts of judicial reforms and the hostile takeover of civil rights, which preceded the October 7th massacre, could be nothing more than a bad nightmare that has finally come to an end, although that’s not to say that one frightening scenario won’t be replaced by another.

What is clear, however, is that the status quo will not continue. Israel is about to undergo a number of dramatic changes which will put us on another course – hopefully for the better, because the one which we’ve been on, over the course of the past year and a half, has brought nothing but strife, division, pain and suffering. Great damage has befallen almost every sector of our society, evidenced by the tears that are shed each night while watching the news.

Between the loss of so many lives, whole communities which have been displaced in the south and north of the country, the lack of decisive leadership and the frustration felt by all of us in the inability to bring home our hostages, who are suffering the most, there has been a sense of helplessness which is not characteristic of the resilience and self-reliance associated with the Israeli spirit.

But it is this kind of vulnerability and paralysis, which actually might turn Israeli hearts to acknowledge their need for help from above, because short of divine intervention, we may have very well come to the end of our journey, facing the Red Sea as enemy chariots chase us in the distance.

Yet, God is able to part the sea, once again, so that we are able to walk on dry land while those plotting our destruction are swallowed up in their own deep waters of venomous hatred.

A former Jerusalem elementary and middle-school principal and the granddaughter of European Jews who arrived in the US before the Holocaust. Making Aliyah in 1993, she is retired and now lives in the center of the country with her husband.

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