Loyalty Cuts Both Ways

In Perspective: Loyalty cuts both ways

Mar. 26, 2009
Daniel Gordis , THE JERUSALEM POST

It’s not every day that your 15-year-old son decides that he wants to hang out with you, so when he makes the offer, you grab it. Amazingly, he suggested that we go to the Biblical Zoo. Not having been there since he was very young, I was happy to oblige.
Toward the end of our few hours there, we happened upon a relatively new exhibit, the collared peccary. With no offense intended, it’s neither especially attractive nor, to my untrained eye, a particularly interesting animal.

But this is Israel, and even the collared peccary was cause for pause. For on this sign, unlike any of the others in the zoo which display Hebrew, English and Arabic, this sign had Hebrew and Arabic in the center, English on the side, and under them all, a brief Yiddish exclamation – “Dos is nisht a chazir.” This is not a pig!! One can chuckle at a sign like that, and say “Only in Israel! Or you can ask yourself what that sign actually reveals about Israeli society.

It means, clearly, that there is a population of Israelis, sufficient in size to merit its own sign, that does not speak Hebrew, English or Arabic, but rather knows only Yiddish. And that population, were it to think that this was a pig, would be very upset. To ensure that no untoward reactions were elicited by this new non-pig, the zoo has assured the haredi population, which visits the zoo in large numbers, that in keeping with Jewish tradition, there are no pigs in this pen.

Am I over-interpreting this? Is the notion that the zoo might be worried what some (yes, only some) of these people would do if they thought a pig were in the zoo far-fetched? I don’t think so. Ask the residents of the Anglo community who live in and near Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet, many of them newly-arrived immigrants, about their aliya experience. Listen long enough, and you will hear of a small but extreme group of anti-Zionist, extremist haredim in that community who are literally terrorizing them.

YOU WILL HEAR the story of the person who received a note in his mailbox saying that a television was observed in his apartment, and that if it were not removed immediately, the writer “could not be responsible for what might happen to your wife and children.” Ask them about Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations in their neighborhood, and they will tell you about the religious customs of this group on Independence Day. They wear sackcloth, they fast and they read Vayechal from the Torah, the portion most Jews read on days of mourning. They will tell you that if you slow down at a traffic circle, the chances are good that one of the small children from this group of extremists will be sent scurrying into traffic to break the Israeli flag off your car.

And the police? Yes, they’re there. They buffer between the two groups to make sure that there’s no trouble. (The police did, however, take down the Palestinian flags that these Jewish extremists had displayed.) Ask these immigrants, who chose to leave America and to raise their children in the Jewish state, about the Friday night not long ago shortly after a haredi mayor was elected there. They will tell you about three religious (but not haredi) teenage girls who were attacked on the street by this group. Two got away, but one was trapped, thrown to the ground, kicked and abused, and it was only when a teenage boy from her own community ran to help her that she was whisked away by a few of the haredi women, taken to their apartment, given clothes and a stroller to make her look haredi, and then accompanied as she was walked home and back to safety.

And the police? They literally said to a friend of mine there: “They all look the same to us. Do you have any idea what do to?” And when names were ultimately provided them, nothing happened. Why? Because at the end of the day, the police know that these Anglo immigrants will cower in fear and watch the values of their homes plummet as others, who are now hearing about this, choose Modi’in and Hashmonaim over their neighborhood. These immigrants will not resort to violence. Not so the extremists, who burn garbage bins and otherwise make it clear that it’s not worth tussling with them.

Someone I know in that community told me this week that they’ve now organized informal patrols to walk their teenage kids on Friday night, so that they can come and go without being molested. It sounds a bit like Europe, doesn’t it? Exactly the condition that Zionism was meant to change, only now it’s happening here, and now the perpetrators are “Jews” (I use the quotes advisedly).

THIS HAS BECOME the season of “loyalty-talk.” It started with the question of the loyalty of Israel’s Arabs to the state – a question that is legitimate, important and extremely complex. But ought we focus exclusively on that one population to the exclusion of others even more open about their objection to Zionism and Israel? What about those who make life miserable for Israeli Zionists? What about the obvious non-loyalty and hostility of some of Israel’s Jews?

Loyalty cuts both ways. Citizens, to be sure, can be expected to show a modicum of loyalty to the democratic state in which they live. The olim of Ramat Beit Shemesh gave up everything to come here, and now many live in fear. There are enemies of Israel who are terrorizing some of Zionism’s best. That’s what the Yiddish sign at the zoo hints at, and what the Ramat Beit Shemesh stories make abundantly clear. And the state is not protecting them.

Who’s failing the loyalty test now?

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About Daniel Gordis

Dr. Daniel Gordis is Senior Vice President and the Koret Distinguished Fellow at Shalem College in Jerusalem. The author of numerous books on Jewish thought and currents in Israel, and a recent winner of the National Jewish Book Award, Dr. Gordis was the founding dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism.

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