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.
And 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.
For 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.
These 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.
Anyway, 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.