Pride, and Shame, in Israel

When I return to the United States, I promise to create individual blog posts about the many aspects of our Israel trip, but there is an underlying vibe in Israeli society today that is making news that I cannot go on any longer without mentioning.

Let me preface all this by saying how overall, I have absolute love for my (that’s MY) spiritual homeland. It is ancient. It is wi-fi’d high tech and hydrophonic modern.  Every rock and stone tells a history of the Jewish people and the other civilizations that have come and gone here. I am not a tourist here, though I am living in hotels out of my suitcase. I can get by somewhat with my Hebrew. My kids and I have friends here. Though I am here right now I am already longing to come back again, and wonder how long will that be, and when will I ever be able to stay here for more than 10 or 14 days at a time?

I take pride that my children are walking through their history. More than any mid-afternoon Hebrew school class can offer, they have all week been immersed in hearing people speak Hebrew all around them, witnessing the miracle of chanukkah in the land that chanukkah happened, walking through the tunnels the Maccabees forged to reclaim and rededicate the temple.

How can I not be proud when I witness how much Israel has changed since my last visits? In 1967, most of Jerusalem’s old city, reclaimed from Jordan, lay in ruins. Now: synagogues have been rebuilt. Archeologic wonders like the excavations revealing access to all the length of the Western Wall of the Great Temple and then the Davidson Archeological Center giving access to all visitors the Southern Wall of the Temple Mount; the fact that my daughter blew her new Shofar in the very place that the Kohanim priests blew their horns to mark the end of Shabbat at Sundown on Saturday night:

The pride of how Israel has preserved artifacts of not only its own ancient peoples but of the cultures of Greeks, Romans, Ottomans, Byzantines, and so many that tried to conquer and occupy Jerusalem. You want to see ancient sites? Greek? Roman? Byzantine? Come to Israel, it’s a historian’s one stop shopping place.

And then the pride of being at the Kotel on Friday night with thousands of Jews celebrating Shabbat and Chanukkah, blessing my children at Judaism’s holiest spot, how could I not feel pride at what Israel and the Jewish people have accomplished?

But then….

I was first very disturbed that first night at the Kotel. As Shabbat descended, men and women gathered to pray on their respective sides of the Kotel. And, like most times at the Kotel, I noticed women standing on chairs, looking over the mechitza, or separation wall, to wave to husbands, sons…

Then, a man came over to them. Shouted to them “Modesty, Modesty!” Get down! Get out of here!”

Slapping their hands. Slapping them. Shooing them away like they were children. Is this how a Torah Jew is supposed to treat the mothers and Daughters of Israel?

Then, more news reports.

  •  Haredi men saying that women may not walk on the same sidewalks as men in certain towns like Ben Shemesh.
  • Haredi men spitting on a seven year old girl and calling her a prostitute because she was not dressed modestly enough in their eyes (the girl was orthodox and she was wearing a long sleeved blouse and a knee length skirt.)

We spend the last two nights at Kibbutz Halavi. A beautiful Kibbutz, a beautiful hotel. But many of the guests were ultra Orthodox Jews. Would it be too much for these, our fellow Jewish bretheren, to return a smile when I gave it to them, to even ask where we were from and make some small chat? Have they forgotten the mitzvah of greeting people with a cheerful disposition? Have they fogotten in their zealousness of making sure that every piece of lettuce and every cut of meat is under the correct hekshcer (kosher certification) that every Jew is responsible for one another and the meaning of Kibbutz is to gather together?

Have they forgotten the words, Henei Matov U Ma Naim, Shevet Achim Gam Yachad  – How wonderful it is to gather and sit and be together like brothers?

The direction of religious extremism in Israel is the wrong direction.

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About stacylynngittleman

I have been a reporter and public relations professional for over 30 years, specializing in profile features and investigative longform writing. During my career I've profiled WWII Honor Flight Veterans, artists and musicians and have written on topics that range from environmental and gun control issues to Jewish culture. Click around on my writing samples plus read my blog on my personal life raising three kids over 27 years and three cities.

3 responses to “Pride, and Shame, in Israel”

  1. Ittay says :

    As an Israeli living abroad, I agree with your sentiments but am curious about your concluding sentence “The direction of religious extremism in Israel is the wrong direction.” Is there such a thing as good “religious extremism?” If there were three chief rabbinates in Israel, including Orthodox, Reform and Humanistic, which would be less corrupt? Which would be less extreme?


    • transplantednorth says :

      no, no religious extremism is good. My wish is that there were more room in Israel for religious pluralism and a recognition of Conservative and Reform movements. Sometimes, I feel more Jewish back in the states where I can practice the way I please (I’m a woman, I go to an egalitarian synagogue, I read Torah). Spitting on an 8 year old girl because her skirt is not long enough, deeming that women are just “not appropriate” in any public situation – that indeed is the wrong direction. Thanks for you comment, I live for comments on my blog. Shabbat Shalom.


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