We, the Jewish people, are constantly worried about not being understood by non-Jews and how this can evolve into anti-Semitism. We are living in a time when this fear has become more acute and our collective hearing is attuned to horrendous lies about how we drink blood from babies, as stated by such idiots as Damien Enticott, a once-councillor in Bognor Regis, a town on England’s southern coast.
We are accused of age-old fibs like being cheap and running Hollywood and the world’s banks. These absurdities sting us as a community, as we know the damage they can cause, just as the label of “Jesus-killer” did throughout the ages. In the back of our minds, many of us fear the vicious anti-Semitic violence that stems from these deceits.
To change this way of thinking, the Jewish people must engage non-Jews, in order to educate them on our teachings and what lies in the centre of our soul – Ve’ahavta l’rayacha ka’mocha, loving our neighbour as we love ourselves.
Along the way, we need to do internal work, as well, in order to strengthen us as a people. By this, I mean that haredi Jews need to get to know non-haredi Jews and vice versa. This non-judgmental process is paramount for the unity of all Jews and a stronger defence of our people.
In mid-November, I was invited to the home of a haredi family. “Haredi” means “those who tremble,” and indeed, there was a certain amount of that in their strict and very focused adherence to the letter of the law, as they made Kiddush, washed their hands for the challah and bentsched (saying Grace After Meals). I have a high comfort level with the haredi way of life, as I attended Ner Israel Yeshiva for five years, as well as Beth Ha’Talmud in Jerusalem – both ultra-Orthodox yeshivot. So most of what I witnessed was normal for me, yet I still looked around and wondered about a lifestyle so dramatically different than my own.
I trembled a tad, as well, looking differently and remembering that, to some, I am a ko’far, a heretic, since I let go of frumkeit many years ago. Yet, as lunch progressed and the 23 others in attendance chatted and consumed the endless cholent, salads, chicken wings and pulled beef sandwiches, our denominational slants began to dissipate. Discussion touched upon Jewish philosophy, the contentious concept of freedom of choice, the Toronto Maple Leafs and, of course, the food. We were all civil and there was an overall energy of peoplehood in the room. My son got along well with the haredi children, especially over a game of hockey in the basement.
By and large, haredi Jews have not been exposed to Jews of other backgrounds. The opposite applies, as well. This is understandable because of the fundamental halakhic differences and view of the Torah, but it is problematic when it comes to Jewish unity and the defence of our people.
In Israel, the IDF has the 97th Netzah Yehuda Battalion, which is set up for haredi soldiers. There are also organizations that attempt to bring together Jews of divergent backgrounds. But in the Diaspora, haredi Jews can harbour a distrust of non-haredis and other Jews often look upon the ultra-Orthodox with disdain. And the distance between the two is growing.
At the same time, anti-Semitism is on the rise. Jew-hatred is proliferating. It only makes sense that we, the Jewish people, find some place where we can embrace the other within our midst, if nothing else than to ensure our adherence to the simple imperative of “loving thy neighbour.”