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”.