Tag Archives: Chilonim

New Yids on the Ramat Hasharon Block

I have real issues with all things Ramat Hasharon: I don’t care for the place, much less its residents.

My contrariness (admitted throughout melchett mike), however, is rarely totally lacking in reason or cause, and this small city – situated between the swanky suburbs of north Tel Aviv and Herzliya – is a sterile, soulless, not especially attractive, haven for largely rich, chiloni (secular) and “white” Israelis.

And whenever I learn that a potential date grew up in Ramat Hasharon, the negative stereotype (though one reinforced by experience) that springs to mind – of a stuck-up, high maintenance Ashkenaziya – always preempts any thoughts of a loaded father-in-law (unless, of course, his daughter is a “9”). Indeed, give me a Rosh Ha’ayin Yemenitess over a Ramat Hasharon heiress, any day!

Just to be certain that I am not being unduly harsh here, I asked an Israeli friend, Yuval, for his general impression of the women he has encountered from Ramat Hasharon. “Af kashur le’tachat shel Elohim” – nose attached to God’s ass (the Modern Hebrew equivalent, apparently, of nose in the air) – came the immediate reply.

Shkoyach!” was, therefore, my instinctive response on reading the following by-line to an article, New kids on the block, in Sunday’s Haaretz:

“An ultra-Orthodox, right-wing yeshiva set up on the grounds of an old synagogue in Ramat Hasharon is prompting protests from the neighborhood’s well-heeled residents.”

Now it is not like me to celebrate the establishment of “an ultra-Orthodox, right-wing yeshiva” – I am far from “ultra-Orthodox,” and JDate has my “Political Orientation” as “Midway Moderate” (a claim I justify by the roughly equal number of people who consider me left- or right-wing, respectively) – though when that yeshiva is in Ramat Hasharon . . .

The synagogue in question is behind the home of Avi Adler and Sigal Barak, who are clearly determined to prove what a decent, liberal, “mainstream” (their word) couple they really are: “We’ve never had any problem with it. They have celebrations there, and there’s some praying on Saturdays and Yom Kippur. It didn’t bother us.”

How tolerant of them not to object to prayers . . . especially on Yom Kippur, when the comings and goings of worshippers might interfere with cyclists.

But then, three years ago, Sigal says – sounding every bit the English bigot who has discovered that, horror of all horrors, Asians are  moving in next door – “Different sort of people showed up at the synagogue, people who looked different and weren’t typical of the neighborhood . . . We’re not used to having people like this here on a daily basis.”

Ooh no! Different sort of people? And who look different?! Ooh no! You don’t want that.

After they complained to the Mayor of Ramat Hasharon, the director of the yeshiva – who, according to Sigal, “had this sort of permanent smile on his face” (apparently a crime in Ramat Hasharon) – tried to talk to them, even offering to pay for double-glazing for their home. But to no avail: the couple have now issued court proceedings (in progress) to shut the yeshiva down.

I guess that Avi and Sigal are not too dissimilar from the self-hating Hampstead Garden Suburb ‘Jews’ who launched a dishonest, hateful media campaign against the North-West London Eruv in the early nineties, spreading fear that it would create a “ghetto” (“changing the neighborhood’s character” is the preferred language in Ramat Hasharon) rather than just admitting that they didn’t want black-hatted frummers as neighbours (would they have demonstrated the same steadfast opposition against a new church?)

An old Hasmo friend and I were so repulsed by one particularly virulent and vocal opponent of the Eruv that we masterminded (though, sadly, never executed) a campaign of stuffing greasy, used Bloom’s paper bags – the most heimishe symbol we could come up with – through his letter box!

Last week, I had coffee with a journalist friend in Jerusalem. On asking him whether he thought Israel would still be here in fifty years’ time (the subject of a forthcoming post on melchett mike), Matthew replied that prevalent attitudes amongst chiloni Israelis – increasingly large numbers of whom now get out of serving in the IDF (remarkably, just two of the 120 fatalities in the 2006 Lebanon War came from Tel Aviv) – really make him wonder.

Kikar Hamedina: Designer shopping to die for

And it is difficult to be more optimistic: after all, what exactly would such chilonim be fighting for? Their Saturday morning brunch in Tel Aviv Port? The exclusive shopping in Kikar Hamedina? Or, perhaps, their courtside seats at Maccabi Tel Aviv (basketball, of course . . . far too many “darkies” go to the football)?

The recent recommendation by Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, meanwhile, that Israeli school children visit Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs – the burial site of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (and of their missuses) – was greeted with volleys of derision by Haaretz (with this notable exception) and other left-wing commentators.

Indeed, the only thing such folk – and their tzfoni (good-time, north Tel Aviv area) patrons in Ramat Hasharon and Ramat Aviv (see earlier post) – appear to believe in is antipathy towards Settlers, the right, and all things Jewish.

Who then, exactly, is the “extremist”?


Eli Yishai: Cometh the Sabbath, cometh the man

Shkoyach, Eli Yishai! Finally, someone with the principles to stop those immoral chilonim from paying their bills online on Shabbat and chagim (full story). Whatever next with those godless bounders?!  

Following the inspired decision to end Daylight Saving Time a week and a half into September – over a month and a half before Europe and two before the US – so that charedim can have a psychologically easier fast on Yom Kippur (who cares that it now gets dark at half past five?!), I look forward to further ingenious measures from Mr. Yishai to curtail the liberty of secular Israelis, especially in their own homes . . .   

When will he table, for instance, a new law prohibiting the IBA, HOT and Yes from broadcasting on Shabbat and chagim? Or, better still, one forcing Israel Electric to cut off power supply for 24 hours to people who are proved (by a Beit Din, of course) not to be shomer Shabbat? That’ll stop the heathens desecrating Hashem’s Day of Rest by pouring boiling water onto their tea bags!  

Get 'em out! Children protesting deportation, Tel Aviv, June 2010.

I also commend Mr. Yishai’s efforts to deport those four hundred children. After all, who cares that they were born in Israel, are Hebrew speakers, and consider this their home? And what “lessons from the Holocaust”? Many of their parents are even from Africa and a different colour (no offence, Mr. Yishai).  

Seeing as Mr. Yishai is seemingly so intent on turning Israel into a religious state – I can hardly wait! – aren’t the logical next steps to refuse citizenship to Jews who don’t keep mitzvot, and to strip it from sinners already holding it?

And why shouldn’t Mr. Yishai tell chilonim what to do in the privacy of their own homes? After all, apart from building it . . .  oh yeah, and actually working and paying taxes to feed it . . . and, admittedly, sacrificing their sons to defend it . . . apart from all those things, what have the chilonim ever done for this country?   

Kol hakavod, Mr. Yishai! You are surely your teacher’s pupil. And it is people like you who have made Israel what it is . . . or, at least, what it is becoming.  


Ovadia & Nehemia: Two Ends of the Same Shmekel (Doss vs. Chiloni, Part II)

In Doss vs. Chiloni: Two Sides of the Same Shekel, written during a slight down period (with Tel Aviv especially), I expressed my despair at the ultra-Orthodox/secular polarisation of Israeli society and my longing for the mutual tolerance and respect – relative, at least – which I had known in the Jewish community in the UK.

While I snapped out of that downer some time ago, and am once again certain that I much prefer being a Jew here than anywhere else, I am again feeling the deep, often ugly, religious and even racial chasms within (the purely Jewish constituency of) this country.

Firstly, there has been the shocking – at least to idealists, like me, who believed (or wanted to) that they were living in a modern democratic Jewish state – case of charedi (ultra-Orthodox) Ashkenazim (Jews of European origin) segregating their daughters from charedi Sephardi/Mizrachi (of North African/Middle Eastern descent) girls, at a school in the West Bank town of Immanuel.

Pouring oil on the flames, when this appalling racism was (quite naturally and predictably) challenged in the High Court, the supposed spiritual leader (and former Chief Rabbi) of Israel’s Sephardim, Ovadia Yosef (right), castigated – of all people – the Sephardic petitioner, proclaiming that anyone who “raises his hand against the Torah of Moses” by petitioning the chiloni (secular) High Court “has no place in the World to Come.”

I have made no secret of my contempt for the shenanigans of Israel’s charedim and the disregard with which they treat this, their country: see The Good, the Sad and the Ugly. Moreover, it never fails to amaze me how irresponsible – many would add “malevolent” and “dangerous” – characters such as Rabbi Ovadia succeed in becoming leaders of their own households, never mind entire communities. In 2000, for example, the firebrand ‘Ayatollah’ described the Holocaust as God’s retribution against the reincarnated souls of Jewish sinners (The Independent). Nice.

Then, on June 13, Israel’s Haaretz daily published an op-ed about certain, ostensibly nefarious, activities in the Ramat Aviv suburb of north Tel Aviv:

“At night they lurk among the trees and on benches for the teens, offering refreshments and sweet talk . . . taking in a youngster and destroying a family . . . Where are the police and the municipality as strangers badger children among the trees at night . . . with their butter-wouldn’t-melt smiles?”

Such language, from the keyboard of veteran journalist Nehemia Shtrasler, immediately summoned up images of Mein Kampf:

“. . . the black-haired Jewish youth lurks in wait for the unsuspecting girl whom he defiles with his blood . . .”

I would often recite this passage to an old school friend – newly religious, incidentally – who, with similar intent, would prowl the streets of Woodside Park for Scandinavian and Eastern European au pair girls with defences (and, often, soon knickers) down.

But what has actually been going on in the leafy suburbs of north Tel Aviv? Packet-of-sweets-and-cheeky-smile predators? Surely not?!

No. Far worse . . . frummers!

Shtrasler (right) was expressing his disdain for the activities of Chabad Lubavitch hassidim, the presence of Chabad House, and the opening of the organisation’s kindergartens, in the secular heartland of Israel.

How dare they!

And, with sentiments and language as rational as the British fascist’s “they come here, they take our jobs,” Shtrasler documents Chabad’s “organized plan to take control of the neighborhood”. Horror of all horrors, they have even opened a yeshiva (institute of religious learning) – “staffed by ‘messengers’ who are prepared to sacrifice their souls for their Rebbe” (language of Fundamentalist Islam purely coincidental?) – and encourage locals to “keep the Sabbath and follow mitzvot [Commandments]”.

How dare they!!

Experiencing a sudden bout of intellectual and journalistic schizophrenia, Shtrasler then sees fit to quote the late, great Rabbi Elazar Shach: “Chabad is the cult closest to Judaism.” Talk about picking sources to suit one’s story!

Now, admittedly, I do not spend too much time in their company – the last time they tried to get me to put on tefillin (phylacteries), outside a Jerusalem supermarket, I told them I wasn’t Jewish (disgraceful, I know) – but when was the last time anyone heard a Chabadnik tell a child that “their mothers and fathers are sinners”? Or that “people who don’t honor Shabbat are doomed to hell”?

“The sight was elevating,” Shtrasler – now himself sounding like a Chabadnik – describes the 800-strong anti-Chabad demonstration “to protect their homes” and “their values”.

What . . . Tzfonim (north Tel Avivians) with values?!

And, on reaching the very bottom of his extremely deep barrel, Shtrasler notes how Chabadniks “have no problem flouting the law” and that “they build without permits.”

Unlike other Israelis you mean, Mr. Shtrasler?!

Of course, Shtrasler fails to mention any of the fine works for which Chabad is so renowned, not least the warm and generous hospitality it extends to all travelling Jews and Israelis in every far-flung corner of the world. But heimishe (homely) Friday night dinners are, no doubt, of little importance to a man who would probably sell his own mother if he was concerned about fellow leftie ‘intellectuals’ thinking her too Jewish.

The Biblical Nehemia (and this is as close to a Devar Torah as you are ever going to get from me) is believed by some to have been a eunuch. And seeing as “no one whose testicles have been crushed or whose penis has been cut off shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 23:1), can Shtrasler’s bitter anti-religiousness perhaps be interpreted as some bizarre, misplaced sense of identification with his namesake?

Anyway, what arrogance! Only, this time, chiloni. But, make no mistake, it is no less hateful than the bigotry of the Immanuel charedim (whom Shtrasler must surely despise even more than the far more worldly ones of Chabad . . . or perhaps not, because at least the former leave him alone).

Indeed, replace “Chabadnik” with “Jew” and “Shtrasler” with “Streicher”, and such poisonous rhetoric (full article) would not have been out of place in Der Stürmer.

At the end of another polemic, in this Monday’s Haaretz, Yoel Marcus – demonstrating that Shtrasler’s language was no one-off – summed up the racial unrest amongst Immanuel’s charedim by referring to a Heinrich Heine poem:

“. . . if the rabbi and the priest could both move back a little; both of them stink.”

To my mind, however, arrogant chilonim such as Shtrasler and Marcus are as much a part of the stench as the charedim whom they so decry.

So much for the “Jewish state”.

Doss vs. Chiloni: Two Sides of the Same Shekel

“Too many dossim.”

This is the almost universal response I have received from Tel Avivim these past weeks, when I have informed them that I am considering a move to the country’s capital (though many of them probably do not even consider Jerusalem as such).

Dossim (singular doss) is Hebrew slang for the ultra-Orthodox or charedim (though it can also be used, usually less pejoratively, in relation to modern Orthodox dati’im le’umi’im).

Its dearth of dossim aside, Tel Aviv has more to offer than Jerusalem in nearly every department: arts and entertainment, food and drink, nightlife, shopping, sport. It also has the sea. Jerusalem has the Old City (though so does Jaffa), Israel Museum and Yad Vashem.

Tel Aviv nightclub

But the other thing that Tel Aviv has a lot more of than Jerusalem is poza (pose) and bullshit. Big bullshit. And I need a break from this city. And fast.

The faces on the shdera (Rothschild Boulevard) that I not so long ago greeted with warmth now elicit little more than a perfunctory smile. And, as for the regulars at the kiosk who insist on sharing their views on nearly everything – but invariably worth nothing – with anyone sufficiently unoccupied (and kind) to listen, I can hardly bring myself to look at them. Like the Israeli football pundit, each one “talks a great game” in his or her respective field or area of knowledge – real or, more often, imagined – but you can list their collective achievements on the back of a Tel Avivit’s thong.

And I find the Tel Avivi‘s “Too many dossim” verdict more than mildly offensive, sounding, as it does, rather too much like “Too many Jews”. Anyway, it is as ridiculous a generalisation as claiming that Tel Aviv is full of godless chilonim (seculars) who fornicate with strangers in nightclub toilets (most of the Tel Avivim I know would never dream of such a thing, having sufficient respect for their womenfolk to use the back alley).

Whilst I could never be referred to as a doss, my fairly typical Anglo-Jewish upbringing means that neither will I ever be labelled chiloni. And I am very pleased about that. Your average proud chiloni usually possesses a code of values not far above that of the politician or, still worse, real estate agent. And I certainly don’t see anything so wonderful in the chiloni Tel Aviv lifestyle that gives its practitioners the right to look down their noses at their compatriots forty-five minutes down Road Number 1.

Charedi riots, Jerusalem (June 2009)Israel’s charedim, too, are far from perfect. One would like to say that they don’t tell others how to lead their lives, and that they don’t “throw stones”. But, of course, they do both (the latter literally). On the whole, they set a pitiable example, providing ample ammunition to detractors who didn’t require much to start with. (See my earlier post, The Good, the Sad and the Ugly.)

It is quite clear that the overwhelming majority of Israel’s Jews fit into the category of either doss (in the widest sense) or chiloni. Those occupying the sparsely-populated centre ground are, primarily, from traditional (though not Orthodox) Sephardic (North African) families, but extremely few Ashkenazim (Jews of European origin).

Jewish practice in the Diaspora, on the other hand, being far less polarised, works a great deal better. I don’t believe I ever heard an English Jew describe Golders Green, or even Stamford Hill, as containing “Too many frummers” (the Yiddish equivalent of dossim). Anglo Jews display a solidarity – even if out of necessity – that is sadly lacking in Israel, where chiloni and charedi are in a continuous, and perhaps inevitable, scrap over the size of their respective slice of Israel’s political, social and economic cake.

Growing up in London’s United Synagogue, we would often joke about the co-religionist who would come to shul on a Shabbes morning, and then go and watch Arsenal or Spurs (his football team) on the very same Saturday afternoon. And favourite players would often even be guests of honour at bar mitzvah parties!

Such a halfway house would be virtually incomprehensible to doss and chiloni Israelis (though for opposing reasons), for whom its enabling factors and conditions – mutual religious tolerance and respect – is, tragically, as much of a pipe dream as peace with our Arab neighbours.

The Good, the Sad and the Ugly

There have been two stories dominating the news in Israel this past week. While the first demonstrates everything that is good about today’s Jewish State, the second shows it at its most ugly.

18th MaccabiahAnd the good story does not relate to the start of the eighteenth Maccabiah Games. I can’t get too excited about a “Jewish Olympics” . . . which, for me, is about as interesting as an Islamic beer, or Christian Klezmer music, festival.

Indeed, to call the Maccabiah amateurish would be unkind to much non-professional sport. In the men’s 100 metres final (stumbled across whilst channel-hopping), all the sprinters were in their blocks and the starter’s gun raised . . . when this guy appears out of nowhere, unchanged and remonstrating. Not having the heart to send him, un-run, back to Canada (I think that’s where the nincompoop was from), the sprinters were made to get out of their blocks and wait while he changed in front of a ‘live’ national TV audience. The commentator’s observation, that “something like this would never happen at the real Olympics” (in fact, it was pure Hasmonean Sports Day), was more than a little redundant.

Like the role of British polytechnics (now renamed “universities” . . . though everyone knows what you really are) – to enable those who can’t get into a ‘proper’ university to obtain a (worthless) “-ology” – the primary purpose of the Maccabiah is to allow yiddishe mamas whose children could not become doctors, lawyers or accountants, but who had a little sporting ability (a lot for a Jew), to kvell (gush) about something:

“Have you heard?! Darren’s been chosen to represent Great Britain in kalooki!!”

What Mrs. Shepnaches omits to mention is that: kalooki is a card game, Darren is only 37 – and should still be participating in active sports (like lawn bowls) – and he is only going to be representing Great Britain’s 280,000 Hebrews (less than half a percent of its total population).

The Maccabiah is all a bit sad, and perhaps the time has come to question its relevance and its future.

No, the stories that I am referring to are the victory of Israel’s men’s Davis Cup tennis team over the world number ones, Russia, last weekend, and the charedi (ultra-Orthodox) riots in Jerusalem these past few days.

Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich celebrate victory over RussiaFor a sporting “minnow” like Israel – which, less than four years ago, was on the brink of virtual disappearance from the international tennis map – to beat the mighty Russia 4-1 and reach the Davis Cup semi-final (in Spain, in September) is little short of sensational. Indeed, alongside Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team’s five European Cups, it must go down as one of Israel’s greatest sporting achievements (and further poetic justice following Sweden’s spineless capitulation to Islamofascists in the previous round).

More importantly, however, and as opined by David Horovitz in his weekend Jerusalem Post Editor’s Notes (aptly subtitled “Wonderful things can happen when everybody pulls in the same direction”), it demonstrated how – as we have seen in so many of Israel’s “against all odds” military victories – a spirit of unity and solidarity can enable this miraculous little country to far out-punch its weight.

The riots in Jerusalem, conversely, illuminate the ugly side of Israeli Jewish society and a chasm of as much concern, if not more, than that between Jew and Arab. And it is one which serves to further weaken the country in the eyes of its many, queuing, detractors (see, too, Horovitz’s weekend editorial). Thousands of charedim went on the rampage after a woman belonging to a radical anti-Zionist hassidic sect, and believed to be suffering from mental illness, was arrested on suspicion that she had almost starved her three-year old son to death. Tens of police officers were injured in the clashes, with over half a million shekels worth of damage caused to municipal property. The rioters’ leaders remained silent.

Haredi protesters confront policeThese anti-Zionists do not recognise the sovereignty or legitimacy of the secular State of Israel, and – like other, merely non-Zionist, charedim (for a brief background on charedim and Zionism, click here) – pay relatively little or no tax (the vast majority don’t work), and (with a negligible number of exceptions) do not serve in the military. If I were the parent of an IDF combat soldier, I would want to know why my son has to risk – or had to sacrifice – his young life, when charedi boys of the same age get away with sitting in yeshivot (Talmudic seminaries) all day?

And please don’t insult us with the disingenuous nonsense that learning and praying have been as much a part of Israel’s great military victories as the heroism and selflessness of its young soldiers. I had to suffer more than enough of that from the feebleminded Jewish studies ‘teachers’ of my childhood and youth. We saw how much good prayer did us in Auschwitz and Treblinka. In fact, if charedim had (perish the thought) been leading this country at any one of  its many times of existential crisis, we would all now be fish food somewhere at the bottom of the Mediterranean.

I don’t hate charedim. I am from charedi stock, and most ‘connected’ to my Galician and Lithuanian roots. Indeed, should I ever be viewed as truly chiloni – secular, in the rather extreme Israeli definition of the word – I might consider it time to head back to the Diaspora.

I am, however, convinced that charedim have rather lost the plot in modern day Israel. The hassidic choice of clothing, especially, which had some rationale in Eastern Europe, is positive madness in a country with an average summer high (even in Jerusalem) pushing 30°C. No wonder Stuey and Dexxy bark when they walk past! Even the most sacred and entrenched of Jewish traditions – and the wearing of such garb could never be classed as that – have been adapted to the relevant environment and other circumstances.

There are communities of Ger and Belz hassidim living in in a spirit of peaceful coexistence in my Sheinkin area of Tel Aviv, considered the ultimate symbol of modern, chiloni Israel. I was shocked, however, to be told recently by one of their number that that he doesn’t consider chilonim to be Jews.

Devils' embraceAnyway, my suggestion to all of those charedim who don’t like it here in Israel, do not recognise and respect the country’s laws, and/or who oppose the very basis of the State – like the Neturei Karta filth who demonstrate against Israel alongside the most hateful of anti-Semites, attend Holocaust-denial conferences in Tehran (right), and who, on Thursday, paid a visit to Hamas in Gaza – is that they return to live in the shtetls (small towns) of Poland and Eastern Europe. Perhaps life will be better for them there, where they will be more or less self-governing and left to their own devices.

Charedim such as these, living in Israel, are no better than parasites. And to add chutzpah to injury, whilst considering themselves not subject to the law, they – again, like all charedim (about 8% of Israel’s citizens) – try to influence how the rest of us lead our lives.

They can’t, however, have it both ways. If they expect to enjoy the fruits of Israeli citizenship, they must obey and fulfil the same rules and obligations as the rest of us. If they are unwilling to, I am certain that the Poles, etc, will welcome them back with open arms (or, at least, blades).

Sometimes, I think that they deserve each other.