Israeli ping pong.

It’s amazing how quickly intolerance, distrust and disgust ping pong in this complicated Israeli society. I find myself going back and forth between seething at the secular and religious; at least it’s equal, right?

Example #1

Last Friday I bought a copy of Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper with a left-secular orientation. On the front page was a short article, translated from Hebrew, written in a free-flow style, detailing the author’s experience at the Biblical Zoo last week. The scene included a heavy representation of charedi visitors, as school is out. The article, undeserving of the front page to be sure (news is never slow here), is written with an air of absolute disgust, disrespect and misunderstanding of charedis. An excerpt:

“At the sight of a monkey swinging from a branch, did it occur to them that the animals locked in their cages are ten times freer than they, who are squeezed tight by their black caftans and the burden of a large family? See the papa bear who has decided to take a dip in the water basin… He doesn’t have to say any prayer.”

Burden of a large family? Doesn’t have to say prayer? Why can’t this writer respect the fact that these people, for the most part, have chosen their path? There are plenty who leave, and plenty who are stuck, but the bottom line is, it’s a value to contribute more Jewish children to the world. It’s a value to pray, to show appreciation for what has been given.

I was repulsed by the article and the lack of any attempt to seek dignity or reason behind this population so misunderstood by the secular Haaretz editorial team. The article gets worse from a journalistic point of view, but this isn’t about crappy Israeli journalism.

The editors know their audience is not the type to be in contact with charedim often, and certainly not in a positive light; why not seek to create a bridge of understanding? Where are those secular values of open-mindedness, empathy, understanding? What about education, so built on, so emphasized in the ‘enlightened’ secular world? Why aren’t you educating yourselves on what these ‘other’ people are really about?

I could only think of my own charedi brothers-in-law, who are smart fellows – who are amazing fathers to their kids – and consider education, including the worldly, with the highest respect. I’d be embarrassed for them to read that crap.

Example #2

I cannot shake off the behavior I witness at times – and more specifically this week – on the sherut on the way home from Bar Ilan. The sheruts come from Bnei Brak, and are usually nearly full of charedi men and women by the time they get to me. Because the women and men refuse to sit next to the opposite sex, you kind of have to maneuver a situation where you’ll get a seat and not be kicked out for lack of gender-friendly seats.

This week I, clad in jeans and very very short sleeves, alighted the sherut and very quickly was faced with cries of, “No, no! There are only empty seats next to men! You can’t come!” These were actually loud, obnoxious voices as opposed to polite pleading – and spoken by the women, at that.

Either way, I ignored them and scanned the van to see where I could maneuver someone to allow for a seat. Before I got that far, a secular-looking guy in the front got up and told me to take his seat; somehow he had been sitting next to a charedi woman. I thanked him and sat as the women beside and behind me offered only dirty looks.

Something I never ever will understand about a large sector of the charedi community is why they don’t look at every opportunity as a chance for kiruv. Instead of steeping me (and, incidentally, the writers of Haaretz) deeper and deeper into a mode of hatred, why not try and embrace me, warm me up, make me feel comfortable? Of course – don’t invite me to your homes; I wouldn’t want your children exposed to my upper arms and foul mouth either. But in these small, every-day instances, where you have this chance, for just a minute at a time – why not make the best of it?

Conclusion

I really do expect more from the religious because the philosophy demands more. But I also expect more from the liberal-secular community, as people who pride themselves on open-mindedness, enlightenment, understanding.

There are good and bad people on both sides of the equation, and it’s long time for both to step up to the plate. You don’t have to be a corrupt Israeli construction company to build bridges in this place, but you do have to be excellent at ping pong if you’re going to survive without bridges.