Sunday, April 29, 2007

Hareidi Conundrum

The more one pays close attention to the hareidi community the more one realizes how complex and intricately designed their weltenschaaung is. There are times when they anger me by their myopic vision of the world they live in, but there are other times that I am proud of their deep sensitivity and love for Am Yisrael. A good illustration of this conundrum can be found in the Jewish Week of April 27 where two articles appeared each totally unrelated to the other, but each focusing on a unique and different quality within the hareidi community which underscores my point.

The first article A Hero’s Final Journey refers to the tragic but heroic fatal and ultimate deed of Mesirat Nefesh (self sacrifice) by Prof. Liviu Librescu. By now all of us are aware of his sacrifice in order to save the young lives of his students. It mattered not whether they were Jewish, Muslim Christian, atheist, anti-Semitic or racist. His love of life and belief in its sacredness is what I assume, was the prime catalytic agent in his split second judgment call to block the door from a mad man hell bent on murder.

How much can we lean from this understated and humble scholar’s actions? His ultimate sacrifice was based upon the knowledge that we are all Gods’ children, irrespective of our beliefs and personal life style choices. Apparently, the hareidi community understood this and coupled this man’s Mesirat Nefesh with a beautiful act of Kiddush Hashem (sanctifying God’s name) and Kavod Lamet (respect for the deceased). The expression pouring out from the hareidi community expressed their recognition that Prof. Liviu Librescu, holocaust survivor, a citizen of Israel and the world deserved their respect in spite of the personal religious choices that the Prof. made and lived by.

The respect accorded to Prof. Librescu wasn’t manifested only by the hareidi (Chevra Kadisha) Burial Society, but by the average hareidi man on the street who went out of their way to console the widow and other mourners. As State Assemblyman commented “all the people treated her as if she was their relative. I think she was totally stunned…I have never seen my community so moved…”

In another article appearing in the same issue of the Jewish Week, but at the opposite end of the spiritually uplifting spectrum was an article entitled Rabbis Barred From Israel Memorial. In the city of Hod Hasharon, a Reform Rabbi was barred from chanting a prayer at the municipal services for Israel’s fallen soldiers, in order to avoid disruption by orthodox Jews. In Omer, near Beer Sheva, a conservative woman rabbi was barred from reading a prayer on Yonm Hazikaron (Memorial Day) whose brother fell during his service to the Jewish people, because it was seen as to “revolutionary.” A third example for this intolerance by the hareidi community was that Rabbi Michael Boyden, a reform rabbi and av shakool (father who lost a son in one of our operations) was told that he would be able to recite a prayer at the ceremonies if he was introduced as “Mr.” rather than “Rabbi” Boydin.

It is difficult to believe that that at one end of the spectrum we see the transcendent behavior, and heartfelt feelings of the hareidi community, but at the other end of the spectrum we see the myopic, insular and heartless behavior of the same community. While they aren’t identical communities, one in New York and the other in Israel, nevertheless they do share many of the same values and mores that have shaped this community for hundreds of years in Europe, and later in America and Israel.

I understand the political/religious issues surrounding those three commemorative events celebrated on Yom Hazikaron. Unfortunately, it was the wrong venue and the wrong time to make those positions felt. If any of you has been in Israel on Yom Hazikaron, you will understand that it is a terribly sad time, especially for those who lost loved ones during our campaigns and wars. To turn this sacred moment in time into political/religious showdowns is cruel and heartless. The behavior demonstrated on Yom Hazikaron overshadowed the beautiful outpouring and transcendent behavior witnessed and experienced by all of us when Prof. Librescu was laid to rest. Why couldn’t the hareidi community demonstrate the same decency and dignity on Yom Hazikaron as they did when Prof. Librescu was buried?

Interestingly enough and to their credit, Chabad distanced themselves from the hareidi community in this matter. They understood that by the actions of the hareidi community, an attempt was being made to disenfranchise and deligitimze an integral part of our people. Chabad’s approach is different. They prefer inclusion wherever possible rather than exclusion.

Perhaps it would serve the hareidi community to concentrate deeper on those beautiful words of the “Ma Tovu” Morning Prayer recited daily – “How goodly are your tents Jacob, your dwelling places, Israel.”