Religious extremism in Bet Shemesh.
Normally, I don't discuss bad stuff that goes on among Jews, both for lashon hara (gossip) concerns and because it's just not my way. I'm an "a little bit of light dispels much of the darkness" kind of girl, and I try to go about my life attempting to shine bits of light upon my world, the world of my children, that of my friends and loved ones, my community in real life, and on this blog. And hopefully, in the larger universe as well.
But when the Bet Shemesh insanity hit international news, I knew that I had to address this issue for a positive, constructive purpose.
Allow me to go on record saying that as a Torah-observant Jew, one that some might call ultra-Orthodox (dubbed chareidi, or haredi), I am disgusted, horrified, sickened, traumatized and embarrassed by the behaviors of the thugs in Israel who are not only acting completely contrary to Torah values, but disgracing its name publicly.
My little boy is four years old. In preschool, he has a sweet little program called "Social Skills." He brought home a little pictorial overview of what he learned in Social Skills.
"Two rules, Mommy." Eyes huge. "Nice face and nice voice."
How wise we are, at four.
In discussing the issue with my 11-year-old son, he was aghast that anyone could actually believe such actions are Torah-true. "Ma," he declared, "they're doing the opposite of you. You're trying to help people see that Torah is beautiful, and they're making everyone hate it."
A Facebook friend-of-a-friend made the following pithy observation:
An ultra-Orthodox rabbi, Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz of Monsey, NY put out a public statement denouncing these awful behaviors, as did the Chassidic Belzer Rebbe and the Agudath Israel of America. This is all good.
A family friend living in Israel emailed the following:
Twelve years ago when we lived here, I learned [studied Torah] with Reb Noach Weinberg [of Aish Hatorah] in his office. He took me out on his mirpeset [balcony] where, looking down at the Kotel Plaza, we saw two groups of protestors. A Conservative group demanding women’s rights at the Kotel. The other, a Chasidishe [Chassidic] group yelling and fighting. Reb Noach, z”l [of blessed memory], turned to me and asked: What’s your take on this?
----I was giving a pilpul [Talmudic-style dialectic] on the pros and cons of each group’s actions. He interrupted by saying… "Do you know what I DON'T see? I DON’T see a tear! Not a sigh. Just fighting for the rights of zealotry."
Around the corner from me lives a family that looks, on the outside, very similar to the thugs. Fur hats, curly peyos (sidelocks), Chassidic garb. This family takes my breath away with its love for all Jews. All Jews, of all stripes, backgrounds, and degrees of socio-economic success, are literally welcomed into their home with a huge smile and a hug.
Yeah, a bear hug.
This past week I was driving carpool and my neighbor's son had missed the bus. I took him home, only to find that no one was in at his house. He assured me that he was supposed to go to this Chassidic family down the block if his parents weren't home, to be "babysitted."
Upon corroborating this interesting tidbit, I dropped him off at the love-for-all-Jews abode and watched carefully as he entered the home as one would his own: without knocking and without preamble. To say that this family puts my unconditional love for my fellow Jew, and my hospitality, to shame, is an embarrassing understatement. This is a family of role models. This is the ultra-Orthodoxy I am honored and proud to be associated with. It would be seriously incorrect to say that "their home is open to everyone" - it simply belongs to everyone.
Can I say the same about myself?
Where does all this leave me? Insomniatic, distracted, disturbed. I've written my letters to the New York Times and Israeli press. I've sent a Facebook message to the mother of one of the victims, expressing my solidarity and disgust. I've wondered about the perps: who are they really? Who are their mothers, wives, sisters, and children? Do they sleep well at night? I've worked through my emotions, trying not to hate the haters. I've searched my heart to examine if any traces of the personality defects of the thugs, such as ego and anger, need to be worked on in myself.
I am encouraged by those who recognize not to torch all Chareidim (ultra-Orthodox) by the fire of these thugs. Their moderate responses are incredibly heartwarming. I am warmed by my community here in Cleveland, where so many different types live near one another with respect. I pray that this post be a step towards the solution.
And in my prayers this morning, I had extra passion during the prayer for peace.
Oseh shalom b'mromav, hu yaaseh shalom aleinu, v'al kol Yisrael, v'imru... Amen.
May He who creates peace in the heavenly spheres, create peace upon us, and upon all of Israel... may it, indeed, be so.