Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Jerusalem for Every Jew

I read with some sadness a recent New York Times article, Israeli Riddle: Love Jerusalem, Hate Living There

The article discusses how, slowly but surely, Jerusalem's gap in Jewish and Palestinian populations is narrowing.

"For four decades, Israel has pushed to build and expand Jewish neighborhoods, while trying to restrict the growth in Arab parts of the city. Yet two trends are unchanged: Jews moving out of Jerusalem have outnumbered those moving in for 27 of the last 29 years. And the Palestinian growth rate has been high.

In a 1967 census taken shortly after the war, the population of Jerusalem was 74 percent Jewish and 26 percent Arab. Today, the city is 66 percent Jewish and 34 percent Arab, with the gap narrowing by about 1 percentage point a year, according to the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies."

The article interviews a woman who lived in Jerusalem for over 30 years and recently moved away.

"“Jerusalem just got to be too extreme and we decided it was time to leave,” said Alona Angel, 60, an Israeli who lived more than 30 years in Jerusalem before moving to Tel Aviv two years ago when her husband retired and the last of her children finished high school. “After so many years in Jerusalem, I thought it would be hard to leave, but it wasn’t.”

Ms. Angel said she was increasingly turned off by religious and political intolerance. She recalled being casually but modestly dressed one day when an ultra-Orthodox Jewish woman began yelling at her that she was not properly clothed. “I just felt less and less welcome,” said Ms. Angel, an interior designer."

Is Jerusalem only a place for Orthodox Jews, or should every Jew, regardless of their religious practices, feel at home in the holy city?

The article goes on to say,

"Jerusalem’s Jewish population is still growing despite the out-migration, but only by a little over 1 percent a year — not enough to match the annual 3 percent increase among Arabs. The small Jewish increase is a result of an extraordinarily high birth rate among the ultra-Orthodox, who make up about a quarter of the city’s population; on average, each of these woman has more than seven children.

Yet as the ratio of ultra-Orthodox Jews increases, so does the outflow of secular Jews."

I asked my husband his opinion about the article. I gave a for instance - how he felt davening beside secular Jews at the Kotel. I had read a blog response to the NYT article (and I didn't save the site and can't remember where I read it) where a secular Jew who lives in Israel discusses the discomfort he and his friends feel when going to the Kotel. He said that many of his friends have stopped going, but he, davka, goes every day as a testament and as a representative to secular Jews everywhere.

Mr. Frumhouse's first response was to think about the "extremists" who come to cause disruption. However, I sidelined him and said, "No, how do you feel about davening next to an average secular Jew, who has come to the Kotel because they have learned that it is the holiest existing site left to the Jewish people and want to pray. Who knows what the experience might spark in them?" He agreed that there should be nothing wrong with them coming and they deserve to go and pray unaccosted.

As frum Jews, we ourselves are accosted from time to time. My mother-in-law told a story of how she and my father-in-law were in Israel visiting my sister-in-law in seminary. They planned a day of shopping in Jerusalem with my sister-in-law and they were to meet her nephew, also in Yeshivah, for lunch. My MIL, FIL and SIL were in a store and my SIL went outside to see if her cousin was coming. Indeed, he was walking up the street and she went up to him and started chatting. Suddenly, a charedi man swooped in between them and started screaming in her face how untznius it is to talk to boys, it's a disgrace, etc, etc. Interestingly, he said nothing to her cousin (who was dressed identical to the charedi). Double standard for men vs. women - who knows - it's a side issue. Anyhow, my MIL saw the man screaming in the face of her baby girl and that chossid didn't stand a chance! She ran out and verbally let him have it, until the man's cohorts dragged him away. Go Ema!!!!!!

Well, such a scene certainly wouldn't deter my family from frumkeit. They just chalked it up to a misguided soul who thinks he is driving home a message and earning brownie points from Hashem by humiliating and harassing people in the street. How about a secular Jew who doesn't feel at home in his/her own religion, but is curious and visits Jerusalem? How about a secular Jew raised in Israel who has already grown up with preconceived notions about orthodox Jews and their prejudice against secular Jews? What if they were to encounter such a person? They might be turned off from Judaism for life!

Is Jerusalem for all Jews or only the observant?

Happy Yom Yerushalayim.


Alan aka Avrum ben Avrum said...

Dear Frumhouse,

A good post!

Now, your final question is rhetorical, right? I'll respond in any event ... the "ir Ha Kodesh" is precisely that ... the Holy City for all Jews but with an important proviso that derech eretz govern all interactions between and among Jews of all stripes! Who among us can be so presumptuous that he knows how He will look upon any Jew when the final din comes? The very notion is preposterous, and it is my sincere hope that any Jew who assaults another, misguidedly or otherwise, may that be brought to the attention of the Heavenly Court first and foremost when the time comes for that Jew to face his Maker!

I am,

Very Sincerely yours,

Alan D. Busch

haKiruv said...

"Anyhow, my MIL saw the man screaming in the face of her baby girl and that chossid..."

That doesn't sound like a Chossid to me. :-)

mother in israel said...

You really have to take these articles with a grain of salt. I mean, from what I know there is a lot of truth to it, but still.

muse said...

great post
There are people who only condemn, the opposite of kiruv.

Jerusalem Joe said...

Very interesting article. I have known several secular woman who have been cursed and spit upon by haredi Jews while walking in the center of town - not in the haredi neighborhoods.
I also have many friends who left because of the same reason - it's stuffy and intolerant or, as one put it:
"Jerusalem has all the disadvantages of a small town such as narrow-mindedness, intolerance, and everybody knowing everybody else to the most intimate details, while also "enjoying" the disadvantages of a big city - noise, pollution, impossible rent, very crowded, no green areas and so on.
You have to be a special kind of Jew to like living here, especially if you are secular.

Rafi from baltimore said...


I just passed thi blog while searching for a picture of the kotel. I go to a black-hat yeshiva where you cant daven w/ the minyan unless you where a hatand jacket. (This isanother issue, but i comes out that all my rabbeim there agree that a black hat is simply a social standard and shouldnt have started. But one it started, "you cant change the world" and it becomes a minhag of a shul or yeshiva, which you then have to follow the minhag of the place you're in).

Anyway, I asked people in my yeshiva how they feel about secular jews, and i was diguisted by the amount of people that just rattle off negatives, and just look like "nebuch". They wouldnt befriend a secular jew, or go to a secular jewish shul. I find this to be a horrilbe problem in the jewish world, and the world seems too late to fix. Yet i feel like it's still fixable. Anyone have any ideas to change the world and stop the sinas chinam?

frumhouse said...

Rafi from Baltimore - If your school is in Baltimore, than my husband attended Yeshiva in your area too. He's a former NIRC man and just attended his 20 year (Sheesh, we're old!) reunion this year.

"all my rabbeim there agree that a black hat is simply a social standard and shouldnt have started"

Wow! I can't believe they would admit this. I am rather impressed. That being said, I suppose all of them still wear black hats. My husband wore a blue hat with a beige feather when he went to Yeshiva. I'm not sure if it was merely as a protest or if he was weighing a career option as a pimp.

I don't think that you can ever convince anyone that their way of life is not the best. In lesser subjects than religion, you might get someone to admit that "My way of life is best for me, but it might not be best for you or for them."

When it comes to fundamental belief systems, however, there is only one right way or the highway. Even when those beliefs start tapering off from the core issue (such as the Torah, or the 613 mitzvot, or the 10 commandments). When wearing a black hat (using your example) becomes blurred with the basic principles - it too becomes the fundamental issue and vital to the proper practice of the religion.

That being said, how can you argue the validity and the vital importance of wearing a black hat for davening when the advocates are "On the side of G-d?" How can you argue when the hat has taken on a morality of it's own? When denying it's virtue is tantamount to blasphemy? There is no arguing with folks who feel they speak on behalf of Judaism/frumkeit/G-d. The hat isn't simply a hat anymore.