We CAN get along

Oftentimes, you read the newspaper or watch news on the TV and you can really lose hope.  I have been feeling particularly concerned about all of the reports in Israel about the exclusion of women in the public sphere.

People often point to Jerusalem as a place that is becoming ultra-Orthodoxidized and the seculars are fleeing en masse.  I can’t speak to the past and what was in Jerusalem more than 7 years ago when I moved permanently to this city, but I can compare it to other cities in Israel in which I work or have visited relatives and friends. 

In writing this entry, I want to share a little hope and a little information about Jerusalem.

This past Shabbat (Saturday), we were invited to our friends’ home for lunch.  They used to be our downstairs neighbors until we moved a few blocks away two years ago.  However, we’ve remained in good touch.  Our hosts are Orthodox – they follow strict halacha, the husband studied in a hesder yeshiva in Alon Shvut and the wife was wearing a wig.  Their three-year-old son wears tzitzit.  Their other guests are our neighbors in our new building, also a young Orthodox couple – the husband made aliyah with his family in his teens and the wife teaches English at a religious school. To remind my audience, I am a Reform rabbi and my husband would call himself secular, though he has family along the entire spectrum of religiosity. 

Our conversation bounced among many topics include “secular” topics like brands of televisions, recipes, and children’s products.  It also reached the topics of religion in our society, the divisions, and what to do about it.  Our host asked if we had all heard of the new organization Beit Hillel – it is a group of Orthodox citizens who are saying that the Ultra-Orthodox interpretation of halacha does not represent mainstream Orthodox halacha and it wants to promote the more moderate voice in Israel.  He himself signed the petition of the organization.  

He spoke about encounters with secular Jews who see his kippah and immediately associate him with the more extreme elements – his secular co-worker let him have it about how the religious are overrunning the country and ruining it.  The other young man says that sometimes he doesn’t wear his kippah in certain places (in Israel!) for the same reason – fear that secular Israelis will judge him badly because he is an observant Jew.

I asked our hostess what she thinks about hadarat nashim (the exclusion of women – most explicitly, women sitting on the back buses, separate sidewalks for men and women and the exclusion of women’s voices in IDF ceremonies) and she quickly made a face and said, “Of course I’m against it!  It is completely wrong!”  Her mother who was also there commented that every generation – even in their mainstream Orthodox circles – seems to be getting stricter.  In her mother’s generation, women didn’t cover her hair.  In her generation, women started to cover their hair.  Now women wear wigs.  The young woman guest says that she has seen the same thing in her circles just in the past ten years – when she was a teen, everyone wore ankle socks. Today, you’re not allowed to wear anything shorter than knee socks.

We talked about the education of our children.  They will not be sending their children to the Ultra-Orthodox schools, they will send their kids to the public-religious schools.  I explained that I would rather a completely public secular school than a place where the religion is represented by people who don’t represent or even accept my religious practice.  Tamir, my husband the atheist, said he would consider sending our children to a religious school where the kids pray everyday (in an Orthodox manner) if it was a good education.  The young woman pointed out that there are public-religious schools in Jerusalem which have kids of all different backgrounds and all are accepted there.

If these snippets from our Shabbat lunch showed anything it is that pluralism is alive and well in Jerusalem – it is not an us-versus-them and it is not a city of seculars and Ultra-Orthodox.  It is a pluralistic scene that has all kinds of Jews along the spectrum and the institutions reflect these nuances.  In Jerusalem there are ultra-Orthodox Jews and secular Jews, but there are also Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Modern Orthodox, national religious Zionist, traditional, Sephardic, North African…. And more, I’m sure.

What made our encounter the model for pluralism in Jerusalem and moreover in Israel?  In our conversation, there was room for everyone, even if we practice differently and believe in different things.  There was a mutual respect, an understanding that your beliefs are right for you, and a desire to learn from each other and to admire each other’s efforts in building the State of Israel.

When our voices – male and female – joined together for Birkat HaMazon (the blessing after the meal), I couldn’t have added to our blessing a larger AMEN.




One Response to “We CAN get along”

  1. Benjamin Sperber Says:

    Dear Rav, Rav Gedollah, “Great Teacher” (I take liberties with the adjective),

    Thank you again for the most important and personal reflections.

    Here in the USA the attack on women is beginning in earnest.
    To tell a woman that after being raped and impregnated, that she must carry this child to term because “the fetus has Constitutional rights” is the new madness that the Ultra right will propose as law.

    I only contribute to you and to R. Maya. I will not send shekelim to a government that is blackmailed by the “religious” parties.
    Hadassah, a women’s organization, should deny treatment at their hospitals to men! Let’s see how they like being protected from a “woman’s voice.”

    Again with great respect and gratitude,

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