For those who have never been to Tel Aviv on a Saturday night, it’s hard to comprehend the magnitude of what’s happening there. Having had that opportunity, it was so much more than what I expected to see.
It was almost as if every single resident spilled out of his or her apartment and onto the streets, all walking towards the central spot of Kaplan Street, where the protests have been taking place for 35 weeks. Each one carried an Israeli flag and wore a T-shirt, which identified their philosophy of wanting to be a free people in their nation. No one could mistake their determination and resolve to continue what they know to be the only way for this country to move forward and guarantee democracy for all.
In his article entitled, “Turn the Jewish religion into a positive force,” Yitz Greenberg endeavored to explain how our present accepted expression of the Jewish faith evolved. He claims that “it all started with the Haredim (ultra-Orthodox) wanting to remain faithful to Jewish tradition, ultimately causing them to refuse to dialogue or cooperate with other viewpoints.”
Their expression and way of thinking, he explains, turned into “divine authority,” which was supported by the vast majority, possibly out of Holocaust guilt or nostalgia. This developed into their being granted military exemption, which finally culminated in their entering the arena of politics in order to ensure the perpetuation of their demands and further guarantee future dictates. Their bloc became so powerful that no one was willing to take them on.
At least not until now! For lack of a strong enough political leader to confront the over-confident hold they presently have, the Israeli people have come out in full force, as an equally formidable challenger in order to take back the country they love and to preserve the one thing which, to them, makes life worth living – that is freedom and democracy. These are inseparable values, without which the Jewish homeland isn’t worth life and limb.
While the nation was initially founded on the concept of creating a safe refuge for the Jewish people, who had been subjected to the worst attacks throughout history, always having to wander from one land to another, Israel quickly surpassed that objective. Not only did the desert blossom like a rose, as per Isaiah’s prophecy, but the country became an exceptional model of technological, medical and military know-how, causing everyone to sit up and take notice! Little stood in our way as we continued to forge a super-nation that no one else had done in such a short period of time.
And just as we were about to reach our pinnacle, we were stopped dead in our tracks by the most religious among us. Granted the power to change the trajectory of Israel’s most popular political party, they seized the moment for which they had long awaited. The irony is that many who voted for what they thought would be a government to benefit them, realized a bit too late that a “bait and switch” had taken place. The new strides that were going to be made would really only benefit a beleaguered prime minister, steeped in legal woes, as well as the ultra-religious parties which saw this as their moment to control the entire population.
But here’s the rub! The people aren’t having it. They are determined to deflate the religious balloon of power and authority and return the country to the super highway it was coasting down, right until the moment that the barriers were erected against a free society.
Who is ready to take that on? The loyal citizens who served their country fought for the right to live as they pleased and were more than willing to respect the prerogative of the ultra-Orthodox, even at the expense of paying their way to study without end, instead of defend, the homeland.
Perhaps, that’s the most irritating thing of all; knowing that they have paid a steep price to make sure that all Jews live freely, according to their conscience. Regrettably, the favor has not been returned by those who neither respect what has been done for them nor are willing to recognize that the rights of others are just as important to respect as their own.
Yitz Greenberg says that “the only way to protect democracy and to save the Haredim from themselves is to put limits on government funding of the Haredi ultra-Orthodox way of life by stopping their coercive monopolies and requiring reciprocity and fair share bearing of national responsibility.” He further states: “Haredim should be supported as an alternative religious minority but only on a par with other appreciated minorities.”
This is important because the ultra-Orthodox sincerely believe that only their religious beliefs are legitimate. In a nutshell, we are in this mess due to religious extremism, which holds itself up as the proverbial Golden Calf idol to which all must bow down. For them, there will be no compromise and no joining of forces with others who do not hold their exact views.
Consequently, the only solution is to take back Israel by eliminating the religious power they have cleverly amassed and are now wielding over our heads like a sharp sword. It is for this reason Greenberg believes that “we must take back the definition of the Jewish religion," and that, “The establishment of Jewish religion in Israel must be revised to also support pluralist religious and secular Jewish ways of living.”
He is right in the sense that excess and extreme religious control have been the downfall of many a nation. Whether those countries only allowed for one religious or political viewpoint (which, in many ways, acted in place of a religion), those who refused to obey, were subject to forced conversion, torture, imprisonment or death. We needn’t look any further today, than places such as North Korea, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and so many others.
These are not enviable venues associated with liberty, personal choice or the freedom to express one’s mind. They are, instead, known for suppression, oppression, injustice, brutality, coercion and abuse – all of the worst that mankind has done to one another. It’s agonizing to think that the true essence of faith, which was meant to inspire, build up and encourage others, can also be cynically used to subject others to the will of one more powerful.
There is nothing attractive or inspiring about causing one’s fellow man to be in bondage and enslaved to beliefs that crush them rather than lift them up. Let’s call it what it is – dictatorship and tyranny – because real and true religion seeks to restore, heal, bless and even sacrifice for one another. That is the only kind of faith that is worth patterning ourselves after.
May the Jewish people finally be freed from the bondage that besets their homeland in order to embrace the type of genuine faith they were intended to demonstrate and spread throughout the world as a light to all!
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.