I don't have great memories of Tommy Lapid. Despite not being the greatest fan of Chareidism out there, I found the idea of Shinui, a political party dedicated to attacking that segment of the Israeli population in the absence of any other identifiable platform profoundly offensive. I don't doubt that Tommy's son Yair felt much as his father did and, sadly, I can probably name half a dozen legitimate reasons for those feelings but I still don't have great memories.
But Yair Lapid's latest piece in Ynet is one I think should be read by the Chareidi world because it is a cri de couer that trascends the petty religious/political lines that divide our people. Years ago I visited Israel and spent time with both Chareidi and chiloni friends. The Chareidim had no shortage of complaints about the chilonim and most of them were quite justified. In turn the chilonim had a lots of complains about the Chareidim and again, they were legitimate. At the time I didn't want to take a side. I could see that both sides were right in their criticism of the other but neither side seemed to have an insight into the other's concerns about them.
Lapid looks at it from a different point of view, the eminently practical one.
The silence in the backseat grows deeper. They're not hostile, heaven forbid; that just have nothing to talk about. They can't talk about computers, literature, geography, history, or even the Bible. Yeshivas barely teach any Bible, only Talmud. That doesn’t leave much to talk about. They're just kids, but they're already strangers.
And they don't study math. I studied math and I was terrible at it. Perhaps this is why I fail to figure out the equation I see in the rearview mirror: How exactly will 2.6 children support 6.9 kids?
Twenty percent of students in Israel's schools are haredim; another 20% are retired; another 20% are Arab. I have no problem with any of them. One is allowed to be haredi, or Arab, and certainly a pensioner. However, if at this time already it's unclear how 40% of the country's citizens are able to support the other 60%, can you imagine what will happen here in 10 years?
Make no mistake about it, my smiling friend; I do not wish to live in a world where everything is examined through the economic bottom line. Yet this is hopeless. My children in fact have no future.
This is so because in the past eight years we've seen a 24% decline in the number of students in teacher colleges in the national education system. People don't want to be teachers in our sector; not with the current salaries. Why are the salaries so low? Because in those same eight years, the number of teaching cadets in your sector leapt by 111% - and all of this comes from the same budget.
You want private education for your students? No problem whatsoever; pay for it. There is no other country in the world – not even one! - where the government funds private education. There is no other country in the world where Education Ministry representatives are not allowed to enter a school whose bills they pay (and fully so – 100% of the bills.) There is no other country in the world where teachers refuse to present their curriculum to the body that pays their salary.
Forget about ideology, and forget about the fact that I fail to understand how you're not bothered by the fact you live at my expense, but I can no longer pay. The money is gone. There's no more left. I don't have enough to give my children, and I don't have enough to give yours. Do you understand how this makes me feel?
And what am I asking of you after all? I want your children to study some more things – again at my expense. Of course, at my expense. I give up on anything that you suspect of being tainted by our values (are they truly so terrible?) so let's stay with the basics: Hebrew, English, math, and computers. Merely the fundamental toolkit that enables a person to turn into a productive citizen who supports himself one of these days.
Let's decide that you and I were already screwed, but at least help me save our children.
A year ago when riots were raging in Meah Shearim over the abused child from the Chareidi family that had been taken into the protection of the State, the Chareidim could not understand why the chiloni authorities were acting the way they were, but I knew. There is a strong tradition in Judaism for loving our children, something which only grew stronger after the Holocaust when 1 million of them perished. Over time, the Chareidim have changed. There is no question that they believe they love their children but I would venture that the chilonim love them even more. And why not? Any chiloni parent knows they just might lose that child, chas v'shalom, when their time to do army service comes. They know how hard it is to make a decent living in Israel and they fret for their future. They want to see grandchildren living in happiness and peace and the latter has been denied them for 62 years. When they saw a child being abused, they knew what the right thing was to do. While the Chareidim worried about circling the wagons and keeping the evil seculars out, even if it meant putting the child into further harm, the chilonim knew what the right thing to do was.
A year ago I recertified for trauma medical care and in my group was a non-religious Israeli doctor. Near the end of the course we did the requisite triage scenarios in which we are presented with five simultaneous patients. The idea is to rank the order you would treat them, categorizing them into those that can be saved, those that are not so bad and can wait and those who will probably die and therefore can also wait because the limited resources must go to those who can be saved.
In one scenario one of the patients was a child. He wasn't that injured according to what we were told and everyone else in our group ranked him third in priority. Both I and the Israeli doctor ranked him first and when the others looked at us we said, simultaneously and without coordination it: "You always take the child first!"
This is a deep Jewish value. This is Lapid's neshama shining through in ways he probably doesn't even understand. This is his tie to our nation and its incredible history, the feelings he has for his children and the rest, even the ones on the other side of the divide. This is what must unite us more than anything and what we must strive to all come together over if only to keep our people going.
Lapid is right. The Chareidim are a very successful community and they know it, some of them to the point of overt smugness. Their political influence and the control they have over defining what an observant Jew is today dwarfs what they were capable of only a generation ago.
But it is all a castle build on sand, in this case the finances of the State of Israel.
Let's dispel a few myths. The main reason the Chareidi community in Israel has been so successful in growing its numbers is because the chilonim have grumblingly paid for them to grow. They have provided a country which values yeshivos and Jewish learning, security from harm and everything that kept them from prospering rapidly in the alte heim. And they have received no gratitude, only the smug look Lapid describes.
For all our sakes this must change. Do the Chareidim love their children? Does condeming a child to a life of poverty show love? Does forcing them to limit their education so that they cannot function outside the walls of the beis medrash show love? And more to the point, does it show an understanding of what Judaism is?
Once again, for all our sakes this must change before tragedy and circumstances changes it for us.