The Brisker Rov once said that the secular Zionists stole the love of Israel away from Chareidi Jews. What he meant by this was that Chareidim, who ought to have a deep and natural connection to the holy land, now feel a little uncomfortable with and alienated from those feelings. This is sad. But it is changing. Jerusalem and Bnei Brak have triumphed Borough Park and Stamford Hill as the centers of Torah, and the chareidim provide one of the most consistent aliyahs to the country – very much to the benefit of all Israelis by anyone’s book.
Chareidim recognize that great miracles were performed in the founding of the State. It was a mystery how the radical anti-Torah Zionist leadership of the time merited to be the vehicles of history-changing, Providential change in the Jewish nation, but the facts were undeniable. And that those miracles were followed by the miracles of ’67 (especially), ’73 and pretty much every war we have been through or suffered under since. We deeply appreciate the enormous sacrifice that the early pioneers made to create the miracle of the land and I marvel to this day the encroachment of green fields into the Negev. We all derive tremendous benefits from living in a high-tech, well run economy; a thriving democracy where we can all give our utmost passion to our causes (almost) without anyone killing anyone.
Israel is, in addition, free of anti-Semitism. It is true that our enemies lurk on our borders by the tens of millions and that the Palestinians are the most radical people on earth in their recorded percentages of support for suicide bombing, establishing a Palestinian state on all of Israel, etc. But, most of the time, we Israelis get up every morning knowing that we can freely and safely walk our streets, feel no discrimination as Jews in school or the workplace, not face clubs or rentals or businesses that say implicitly or explicitly, “Jews not welcome”.
In addition, this miracle-State has contributed to making Israel the greatest center of Torah study on earth. Not only has Torah flourished in Israel, but the State has actively supported this. Overall, the State has made massive financial contributions (under the last government around half a billion shekels anually) to Torah educational initiatives of one sort or another. It has, until now, deferred army service for yeshiva bochrim (which usually amounted to an exemption). It has allowed all-Chareidi neighborhoods, and entire Chareidi towns to develop — significant populations where everything — from the makolet-man to the mayor — have been steeped in Chareidi values.
While Chareidim may find non-Chareidim sometimes hostile, the broader Israeli population is much closer to Torah values than any other major Jewish population. Over time, Israelis are getting more religious, not less. A recent poll (2013, by the Guttman Institute and the AVI CHAI Foundation) found that 85% of Israeli Jews say that it is important to celebrate Jewish holidays in the traditional manner; 63% don’t mix meat and milk, and 35% do not watch TV on Shabbat.
But, just as the non-affiliated have been getting closer to Judaism, the Chareidim have been closer to fuller integration with the State. Consider that the two largest initiatives to defend Israel on campuses in the Diaspora have been a joint initiative of the Foreign Ministry with Morasha International called Binyan, and Aish Hasbara Fellowships. The former has brought an astonishing 1,000 N. American Jews on Hasbara trips to Israel, with a clear commitment to follow up on those activities in the States. The campus rabbis who have bought into this program are almost exclusively Chareidi. Many of the trips are led by Chareidim and many of the Hasbara lectures in Israel are given by Chareidim (under the watchful eye of Foreign Ministry officials). As one of the organizers put it, “Chareidim today have to be the Zionists on campus. Anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism. And often we are the only ones there who can effectively recruit and program to protect the State of Israel.”
Only Chareidim in the Diaspora, you will say. Well, let’s take Charedi politicians. In the olden days, they were purely sectarian, there to guard the interests of their constituents. But over the last three governments, Chareidi politicians have held important posts in the Finance Ministry, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Housing and many more. One can point to hundreds of pieces of legislation initiated by them — like a law on seat-belts in cars — that not by the wildest imagination had anything to do with their own sector. I write non-judgmentally. Let the facts speak for themselves.
What about work and the army? This too has been happening. Seven thousand Chareidi men (apart from Chareidi women) are right now doing professional courses and degrees in law, computers, business administration, education and a dozen other areas. Besides the Nachal HaChareidi, the army now has units in intelligence and elsewhere that are absorbing Chareidim, providing them with a degree, and legitimizing the idea that today, unlike in the past, the army will be sensitive to the needs of the observant.
Who cares whether the Chareidim wave the Israeli flag on Yom HaAtzmaut or not? Who is going to dictate what constitutes loyalty and script the text? In America, we don’t judge a citizen’s loyalty to the State by whether he is a flag-waver or not. In a world where so many secular Israelis consider themselves post-Zionists or by some other new title, we need to come up with broader definitions of what it means to be a proud member of the State of Israel as a vehicle that serves the Jewish nation. If we set the bar too high, we make it unfairly and unnecessarily uncomfortable for whole groups to say that they belong. We shoot ourselves in the foot with our elitist and outdated attitudes.
Non-Chareidm have to invite the Chareidim to become a part of the healthy (and always passionate) debate about what this State should look like, instead of having them look in as outsiders. Chareidim have to become more comfortable with the facts of their situation and not to fight the battles of yesteryear. Non-Chareidim should nurture and facilitate trends towards work and army that are happening, instead of making easy political capital by trying to solve it in one fell swoop with legislation. Chareidim should continue to value Torah-study above all, but ensure that they have the means to support their values. Non-Chareidim should remember that for 2,000 years it was almost exclusively Chareidim who kept a continuous presence on this land, often at the expense of their lives. Chareidim should know the sacrifices that our non-Chareidi brethren have made to hand us the wonderful gift of this country. Non-Chariedim should tap into that deep love of Israel — of its land and its people — that Chareidim have in spades. Come my brother—you are a Jew and so am I; let us hold hands and begin to talk! L’chaim to this wonderful people and its magnificent country. I have never regretted the thirty-three years that I have felt this was my home!