In The Year Of The Protester, we used theÂ hashtagÂ and we mimed the slogan to great effect. Â But real change takes more than a slogan. Â It takes dialog. Â It takes understanding. Â It demands maturity. Â It requires that we put down our posters, calm our vitriol and approach one another as humans.
Unfortunately, my new community in Israel has been in the media spotlight for all the wrong reasons over the past few weeks. Â I’m not going into details here, just type “BetÂ Shemesh” into Google News. Â The truth here is that an isolated few crazy people behaved in anÂ abhorrentÂ manner. Â This behavior did not reflect the accepted customs or norms of any large religious group. Â However, the local media took this fairly isolated and detestableÂ action and connected it to a broader societal divide. Â Suddenly, a larger part of this community felt attacked from all sides, and reflexively responded.
For about a week, my community was the focus of global media attention. Â Stories about the “extremists” were reported in digital and traditional media sources daily. Â This drove each side of the growing conflict to reply in kind. Â This conflict ping ponged back and forth across the country and across the world. Â I highly doubt that very much of the recent media attention has anything to do with the little girl who was assaulted on her way to school.
But here’s the real story. Â At it’s core, BetÂ ShemeshÂ isÂ notÂ a city divided and Judaism is not a religion divided. Â I am very friendly with people of across all slides of the religious and cultural spectrum. Â And for the most part, we all get along. Â After the cameras leave, almost everyone goes back to living their fairly normal lives.
Just yesterday I was shopping in the area in the question – an area that the news reports as an ultra-extreme enclave – and everyone on the street was coming over to me with huge smiles to say good morning. Â Strangers were introducing themselves and introducing their kids. Â Without saying it outright, they wanted me to know that they weren’t crazy and that they loved and respected me as a brother. Â And this sameÂ camaraderieÂ occurs at the rabbinical leadership level as well. Â Most rabbinic leaders, even those that do not agree with one another, respect one another. Â The leading rabbinic leaders from the chareidi camp do not support the assault of a little girl and the leading rabbinic figures in the dati leumi camp do not support name calling or chareidi bashing.
There is a time and place for putting up a fight for our religious beliefs. Â But we are damned if we are going to let the media hype drive us to conflict.
Sometimes I wonder, if we could learn to putÂ asideÂ the 1% making extremist, totalitarian statements (on both sides of the conflict), if we could learn to look past the protest and focus on the dialog and productive progress, wouldn’t the other 99% get along better?