Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Worst Kind of Israel Bashing: The Ignorant Kind

Generally, when you write about something, it's usually a good idea to make sure that you have your facts correct. For example, I don't write about what it's like to live in Syria, for the simple reason that I don't live in Syria, and you can't believe everything that you read on the Interwebs. (Although it doesn't seem all that pleasant right now, from what I read.)
In that light, I wonder about a recent blog post that a friend forwarded to me called, "Aliyah - the Ideal and the Real."
In the post, the author first idealizes a dreamworld.

We should be a nation of scholars and workers; soldiers and sailors; farmers and entrepreneurs; artisans and craftsman… a ‘full service’ nation. We should be a nation based on the ideals of Torah where every Jew serves God to the best of their ability and participates toward the common good in their own unique way. With love and tolerance towards one another in complete brotherhood.
Actually, I don't disagree. And Israel does fulfill much of that dream: soldiers and sailors, farmers and entrepreneurs. The accomplishments achieved by the Modern State of Israel are nothing short of miraculous. Truly.
But then our blogger turns to what he calls, "The Real". Too much fighting. No one can get along with one another. 
Israels (his typo) air must be polluted. Because it seems to be making Jews stupid – not wise. Instead of unity we have divisiveness. A divisiveness among Jews unmatched in any other part of the world where Jews can be found. In Israel - it is Jew against Jew.
I wonder: Why do American Jews seem to think that Jews in Israel are supposed to get along? Where in the Torah is there any guarantee that Jews would agree with one-another in peace and harmony? Struggle and strife are part and parcel of disagreement. We disagree about important things: the future of the Jewish country; the nature of the Jewish State; The destiny of the Jewish people. So Rabbi Maryles expects Chareidim to abdicate their views and just "get along?" Sorry, that's not how it works in the United States, and it's certainly not how things work here. 
In America, people get along so well because they basically ignore one-another. American Jews live parallel lives, never meeting except perhaps at the JCC, and Federation meetings (where they fight about how to allocate money). American Jews of different colors meet not in shul, certainly not in their schools. In fact, I was warned when I arrived in Detroit that the local Vaad would shun me if I joined the Board of Rabbis, the only interdenominational body in the city. (I joined.) In reality, American Jews never meet, never really influence one-another, and when they do, the conflicts can be legendary. So to imagine that conflict and disagreement should not take place in Israel, where the stakes are higher, and the issues really do matter, is nothing short of naive.
But I'd like to ask our blogger-author an even more important question: Let's assume that what you write is true. We do fight here too much. We should get along better. People shouldn't act out in extreme ways. But then our author writes,
What happened to the milk and honey? Under these conditions - why would anyone one to make Aliyah?
What does any of that have to do with Aliyah? First and foremost, does our author live in Israel? Does he have any idea what's really going on in the Jewish State? Do you think that for the most part, things that you read in the media about inter-Jewish strife have any affect on life here? (Let's leave Beit Shemesh aside for now. That really is challenging, and I feel for my friends who have to deal with the issue.)
I need to share with you, my dear readers, an important factoid about the media that you might not have noticed before: The Media likes to sensationalize. It focuses on extremes, because that's what generates clicks, sales, and their livelihoods. 
How much of the news that we consume is really news anymore? It's mostly quotes of people, saying ever more outrageous things, in a bold and often successful attempt to drive the media coverage of a certain issue. Is there any better example of this than Chareidim wearing yellow stars? Did anything really happen at that rally? Did anyone's life really change from that event. It was directed, focused and staged for the media, which lapped it up, whipping all of us into a frenzy. And do you know what I, and every single other Israeli did the next morning? We went to work. Ho hum. I didn't see a news item about that.
I've got more news for you too: many of those Israelis that went to work were Chareidim. And despite (and sometimes because of) the efforts of leaders in the Chareidi community and the government of Israel, more Chareidim are getting job training, education, and working in the public sector. And as this trend grows, tensions between groups will diminish.
Secular Jews in Israel aren't as anti-religious as the media makes them seem. Chareidim don't hate secular Jews as much as the media makes them seem. And despite the efforts of extremest on all sides, life goes on, and it's a great life at that.
So, if you think that by moving to Israel you should be coming to a Jewish Utopia where everyone gets along, singing Kumbaya each morning as we built a community in peace and harmony, sorry, the real world isn't like that. Strife, as troubling as it is, emanates from real disputes about critical issues, coming from passionate people who care deeply about the important issues that they represent. And, while the media often forgets about it, life goes on, people go to work, children attend school. I even attended a minyan yesterday in the Old City of Jerusalem where Chareidim and Dati Leumi prayed side by side, without dispute. It might surprise you to learn that events such as these take place in the Jewish State each and every day, many thousands of time over. 
So, if you don't want to move to Israel, that's fine. Everyone's got their reasons. But blaming it on Israel - or at least the Israel that the media portrays, won't make you more correct, and won't make you feel less guilty about it either.