Tag Archives: Israel’s Religious Divide

Buying in Bet Shemesh: Let the freier beware!

I had to laugh just now, perusing The Jerusalem Post’s Passover Real Estate supplement (passed down to me, JC-style, by my mother).

On page 10 of the magazine, Jerusalem and environs real estate agent Shelly Levine lists a 51-cottage project in Sheinfeld, Bet Shemesh (see Spitters and splitters: what have the charedim ever done for us?) as one of her “five best picks” in and around the capital, giving more than a little credence to my contention – in Be a wise buyer, not a foreign freier: a guide to the world of Israeli real estate – that agents “will sell their own mothers to do a deal.”

But the opinion of Levine, President of “savvy agency” Tivuch Shelly, is seemingly held in high regard. “Not a day passes,” she informs readers, “when real estate buyers or investors don’t ask me, ‘What’s THE best place to buy now in Jerusalem?'”

Bet Shemesh, December 2011: THE best place to buy now, Shelly?

And you will never guess who we discover, a mere 22 pages later, to be conducting “Exclusive sales” of the Bet Shemesh cottages . . . yes, it’s our Shelly!

In describing Sheinfeld as “the internationally acclaimed pace-setting community . . . with full spiritual facilities,” Levine must have had in mind “one-of-a-kind” scenes and neighbours – a mere stone’s throw/spitting distance away from her project – like these, these and these.

Even if you still believe, however, that in Bet Shemesh you will find “top quality of life in a value-driven environment,” I suggest that, when sitting down to talk money, you make the vendor watch one of the following reports: in Hebrew or English.

[In the Rosh Hashanah 5773 edition of Real Estate: Grad deals in Sderot! Only a few homes remaining.]


Spitters and splitters: what have the charedim ever done for us?

Everyone’s been talking charedim here, this past week, after ultra-Orthodox Jews spat on a 7-year old girl as she walked home from school in Bet Shemesh (The Independent). And I am not going to hide behind the journo’s favoured “allegedly” because, even if this child has been telling tales, such incidents have been regular occurrences in the city – 15 miles west of Jerusalem, and with a large, modern Orthodox, Anglo expat community – over recent years.

And, the thing is, I just don’t buy the spurious, disingenuous even, “It’s not all of them” defence employed usually by more moderate, but still observant, Jews – for whom such extremism perhaps poses uncomfortable questions – as a smoke screen to conceal the fact that it is most of them. While having little time for the arrogance of so many of Israel’s chilonim (see Doss vs. Chiloni, Parts I and II), I couldn’t help but ask myself this past week: What have the charedim (unlike the Romans) ever done for us? (Suggestions by comment, please, below.)

As a (peculiar perhaps) child, I owned more black-hatted, long-bearded and sidelocked figures – collected on frequent family holidays to Israel – than Action Men. In fact, I was enchanted by chassidim, and – attending Orthodox schools, and possessing a precocious fascination with the “Old Country” (as well as grandparents who would relay the more juicy details, unfit for a child’s ears, in Yiddish) – they seemed the closest link to my matrilineal Galician forebears (to whom I was more drawn than the rather more clinical Litvak misnagdim on my father’s side).

Easily the most memorable aspect of our fourth year Hasmo Israel Trip (see fifth bullet point here) was the Friday night tishen in Mea Shearim and Bnei Brak, at which I had been mesmerized by the spectacle of thousands of chassidim gathered around the table of their Rebbe. And immediately upon making aliyah, I trained as a tour guide at Yad Vashem (Holocaust Memorial Museum), largely because – as well as allowing me to look the Teuton in the eye as I presented him with a less palatable account of his recent history than that fed him by Germany’s postwar educational system – it enabled me to really ‘touch’ this past. And, in 2000, I visited the south-eastern Polish city of Ropczyce, and its satellite towns of Radomyśl Wielki and Sędziszów Małopolski, which at least some of the Reiss Dzikówer chassidim had the vision and/or good fortune to abandon in time.

To you, too, mate!

Something, however, has changed in me – perhaps I have lived here for too long – because I just don’t see charedim in the same light anymore: I no longer see warm, charismatic, spiritual guardians of our wonderful religion. What I do see are ridiculously anachronistic, lazy, chutzpadik, and in many cases (as in Bet Shemesh) violent, spongers and parasites, who threaten our democratic, tolerant values differently, but no less meaningfully, than our Islamofascist cousins in Gaza, Lebanon and Iran (see The Good, the Sad and the Ugly).

Following a Friday night dinner, last year, at my cousin’s home in the ‘normal’, Anglo part of Bet Shemesh, we took a late night wander up the hill into the charedi area on the other side of the valley. Stuey and Dexxy were on their leashes, and I didn’t let them get close to any of the ‘penguins’ whom we passed on the road. But the intimidation to which we were subjected – one particular nutter following us and muttering “noshim ve’yelodim” (women and children) as if he had never seen a dog – made us beat a hasty retreat. And how I resented that: these leeches, the overwhelming majority of whom, neither paying taxes (can someone please explain why they are allowed to vote) nor serving in the army, contribute nothing to this country, telling us – like the skinheads and “yobs” of our boyhood in England – on which of its streets we could and could not walk.

One lad who'll never have a problem with indecent girls

Sikrikim, a splinter group of Neturei Karta – the scum whose distinguished roll of honour includes kissing up to the little brown Hitler in Tehran (can any Jew ever have witnessed anything as sickening as this?) – are believed to be behind recent events in Bet Shemesh (see the darlings in action here). But they, to my mind, are just the worst of a generally bad lot. Charedi discrimination against women (it goes without saying that they are also viciously homophobic) – closing roads to them, forcing them to the back of buses, and even defacing female faces on advertising hoardings – has become commonplace in Jerusalem. And why would a secular Israeli choose to visit his capital on Saturdays when ultra-Orthodox pressure has succeeded in virtually closing it down (it is well-nigh impossible to even grab a cup of coffee in most areas of the city)?

Chassidic sects are also, on the whole, extremely exclusive – with the notable exception of Chabad Lubavitch (one of the main reasons that it is viewed so suspiciously by the others) – with frequent outbreaks of violence between them (the most recent just a month ago). While the rest of us may joke about our tendency to factionalism – “splitters!” – we also cherish our common brotherhood. Seemingly not so, however, charedim. A chassid of the Gerrer sect (considered amongst the more moderate), living in Tel Aviv, informed me that he considers secular Israelis “goyim”. And after helping constitute his struggling minyan – even dragging in reluctant “goyim” from the street – during my year of kaddish for my father, I was only once invited to any of their homes . . . and then only on the morning of Pesach for that evening’s seder (sure enough, though, at the end of the 12 months, I was asked for a donation!)

Ayatollah Ovadia

I exclude the Sephardic ultra-Orthodox from much of the above, though their Shas party is a toxic mix of religion, political patronage and social welfare, led by a small-minded twerp, and formerly by corrupt demagogues such as Shlomo Benizri (in jail) and Aryeh Deri (out of jail), all backed by a loose-tongued, rabble-rousing lunatic posing as a spiritual leader (should be in jail). Hamas without the virgins, if you ask me.

If charedim wish to live in the past, rather than in a modern, democratic Jewish state, I suggest that we ship them – or, at the very least, those amongst them who refuse to abide by the law of the land (and I would make all of them pay taxes and serve in the IDF) – back to eastern Europe. Let them see how their shenanigans are tolerated there.

One thing is for sure, though: we would be better off without them.

Happy (Goyishe) New Year!

Meidlech Power: Women protest against discrimination in Jerusalem, last week

In the name of the father, and of his son, and of this belated post: melchy’s Ireland trip

“I am always going to fly on Saturdays from now on,” spits my sixty-something neighbour from Maccabim – taking a breather from “my son with the start-up” – on our EasyJet flight from Luton. “It is just so much nicer without the ‘penguins’.”

He uses the word, as so many secular Ashkenazi Israelis do, to describe the charedim (ultra-Orthodox) who so get under their skin. And following a delightfully good-willed twelve days in Ireland – where the only Hebrew I heard was “Nishma metzuyan, nishma Orange” (sounds excellent, sounds like Orange) – I know that I am back in the bosom (and not the ones I like) of our very own sectarians.

I had flown in and out of Kerry Airport (so tiny that, on arrival, I walked straight through baggage reclaim [i.e., without my bag] without realizing what it was) on the Emerald Isle’s west coast, and driven over 1300 (hooting-free) miles in a whistle-stop, largely coastal, tour (clockwise) of the land of my father.

“Will you have a pint?” the landlord enquires of the guy sitting next to me, on my very first evening, in the pub in Dingle. “Oh I think I’ll chance one,” comes the Normlike reply. And Ireland and I don’t look back.

Thumbs up from Fergal (Lynch's Bar, Miltown Malbay)

The Irish are simple (not a pejorative in my book), guileless, cheerful, uncomplaining, content. And we Israelis – Jews even – could learn a lot from them. They are also extremely personable and welcoming (in a way that the English most definitely are not: a similar tour, by an openly Semitic stranger, of towns and pubs across Blighty would likely end in a local infirmary). And my father often recalled how spectators would shout “Take the ball from the Jew boy,” when his brother was playing top flight football in Ireland, without it ever coming across as even remotely threatening.

There is also a wonderful, unique naivety about the Irish, which – while I can understand my father’s weariness of the Irish joke, portraying its subjects as something less than bright – I would always take over cynicism (except, of course, my own). The following are a selection of Oirishisms encountered during my 12-day stay . . .

  • First up, the old dear in Listowel (County Clare), who, upon hearing my accent, draws closer to whisper (in spite of there being no one within 50 yards) “We had to leave Birmingham. Too many blacks.” Though she doesn’t appear to see any irony in gushing, not thirty seconds later, “Oooh, it was lovely having Obama here!”
  • Then there is the driver, in Sligo, who, responding to my request for directions to Donegal, says “Follow me till I go through the last set of lights.” (“Oh yes” is all he can reply, with a sheepish grin, when I enquire how I am to know which are to be his last.)
  • There is the HSBC staff member in Derry/Londonderry (depending on your denomination), who – in the process of trying to get me to open a new type of account (though not, it would seem, wanting me to hang around for long enough to hear of its benefits) – informs me, in response to my query about the Troubles, and without a hint of mischief, that “The Real IRA are mainly targeting banks these days.”
  • And the estate agent in Dingle (I spend my last day there, too) who tells me “There are two tiers of stamp duty in Ireland: up to one million Euros, one percent; and, over one million Euros, one percent.” (“You’d better see a solicitor,” he replies, flustered, when I point out that this is really only one tier.)

The most interesting and memorable (and, on its coastline, scenic) leg of my trip is in the north. There is no need for a border between Counties Donegal and Derry, or even a sign welcoming you to Northern Ireland (there is neither), because one immediately knows, from one street to the next – because of the traffic lights, the road signs, and the architecture – that one is back in the UK. And I can’t wait to get my teeth into the conflict that permeated my childhood and youth . . .

I am not the slightest bit concerned about getting into difficulties: to Loyalists/Unionists, I will be an Israeli (if not a Jew), and to Republicans, the cousin of a high-profile IRA lawyer. And, reminding myself of the intrepid reporter that I once was (cf. tepid solicitor I now am), I throw myself in headlong: walking up Sandy Row on my first morning in Belfast, and playing Louis Theroux dumb, I ask a vendor of Marching Season accessories and regalia whether Catholics visit the street: “You know what they say,” came the gleeful reply, “Sandy Row, where the Fenians don’t go!”

Next is the Catholic Falls Road, where I am immediately ‘greeted’ by the sight of a Palestinian flag (right) flying proudly from its mast; and, a mere few hundred yards further, the Protestant Shankill Road, which flies Israeli flags in counter provocation (though, judging from the folk I speak to on both sides, neither has a clue about the conflict here). I hear shocking tales on both streets, which – as a result of the Good Friday Agreement – are walked daily by cold-blooded killers.

Indeed, never have I been as comforted by the sight of a rabbi as I am, that evening, at Shabbos dinner. And Rabbi Brackman’s ‘extremism’ – ‘making’ me repeat my (I thought convincingly drawn out) Shemoneh Esrei after I confess, under questioning, to having forgotten it was Rosh Chodesh – appears rather less so following the madness of earlier in the day. Nonetheless, I resist the inevitable invitation to shul the following morning, having already booked a Republican walking tour of the Falls Road and its environs. It is not a close call.

“I spent 16 years in jail for the attempted murder of an RUC officer,” commences Peadar Whelan, our guide. And, when I enquire (Theroux-style again) whether he had, indeed, tried to kill the man, it becomes clear that Peadar’s convictions have not mellowed with time: “He was an RUC man” is all he replies, with a hint of a glare (which, in my first encounter with a man who has attempted murder, I choose to interpret as a contact lens issue rather than a sign of menace). I don’t push it.

Over a Guinness (right) at the end of the tour, in the Felons Club – established “to foster and maintain among Irish Republicans friendships formed during imprisonment or internment as a result of their service to the Irish Republican cause” (see the memorial to the 1981 hunger strikers in the background, with Bobby Sands at its head) – I attempt to enlighten Peadar as to the Israeli side of our own troubles . . . though, with a man who professes to seeing “no difference” between Bin Laden and Bush-and-Blair (not to mention Bibi), that is always going to be a toughie.

I move on to Dublin, its Dolphins Barn cemetery (the Isaacson Bushey), Jewish Museum, and – most anticipated of all – to 97 South Circular Road, the childhood home of my father. And, having had the chutzpah to cold call (and on a Sunday morning), Ollie and Tim could not be more welcoming: they allow me to photograph the entire house, and even show an interest in my inherited stories of Dublin’s “little Jerusalem”.

Unfortunately, however, I have the wrong house: on visiting my father’s brother in London, later in the week, he informs me that the family home had, rather, been on the other side of the road (the houses having been renumbered over the years). Sincerest apologies, Ollie and Tim . . . though my offer of B&C (bed and canine) in Tel Aviv still holds good (and see June’s Mensch[es] of the Month!)

I spend my last days in Ireland enjoying the green land and its folk (and earmark Kinsale, County Cork, as the place that I may, one day, choose as my retreat in Civilisation). And, on my last evening, I peruse the young audience at the Dingle Tuesday Evening Cinema Club, and marvel how – rather than noisily sighing and tzutzing (as a Tel Aviv audience undoubtedly would) – they, without so much as a snigger or a smirk, respect the nonagenarian chairman’s ridiculous verbatim reading of a lengthy newspaper review of the upcoming “fil-em”.

“Whatever happened to our simplicity?” I wonder. We must have had some. Once.

Sophistication is not, in itself, a necessary good. And my short stay in Ireland makes me think about all the ‘sophisticates’ with whom I have surrounded myself in Tel Aviv . . . and wish I hadn’t.

Shyness is nice,” once wrote the greatest living Manc.

So, too, is simple.

Atop the Healy Pass, on the County Cork/Kerry border


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.