Everyone has read and heard about the almost daily protests against the draft in Israel. Some of these protests have turned violent and uniformed hareidi soldiers have been verbally and physically abused for daring to walk the streets of their neighborhood. Rocks, bottles and garbage have been hurled at these young men whose only crime is their decision to join the IDF. These brave, young men, realized that sitting in Yeshiva and pressing the benches is not something that they are capable of doing honestly. As such, they decided to devote some of their time to the defense and services of those same people who will protest and insult them instead of keeping their names on the roster of yeshiva students who get a deferment. This is a letter which one such hareidi soldier is writing to one of the rioters. Please read on.
My Dear Meir:
The thought of letting it pass, to let you ‘blow your steam,’ was my instinctive reaction, but it was overpowered by my need to ask. I really don’t understand. After all we lived on the same block in Ramot, went to the same Yeshivot and were for many years very close friends. As we grew up into our late teens, our paths separated, each following his consciemce. And here is why I am perplexed, disappointed and totally in the dark. Please explain, if you can.
You were always the more studious one; sitting by the Gemara for four hours without interruption and for you it was a daily occurrence. I, on the other hand, was unable to sit and concentrate on the small letters of the topic, the sugya. I would fidget and daydream quite often. When it came to tests or reviews, you always excelled, receiving accolades and top honors, while I, on the other-hand was a mediocre student who barely made it through the day. While your interest lay in the pages of the Talmud and commentaries, my mind wandered as I was conjuring ideas of how to improve and invent new, wonderful - I thought - technological gadgets. You would snicker at my daydreaming and at times I envied your ability to focus on the holy seforim in front of you. It was at age twenty that I finally got up from the Bais Medrash bench and joined the Army because if one is not learning Torah seriously, the law is that one must register to be drafted.
And because of that you hate me. I have seen your friends at violent demonstrations against the draft. I heard them scream and yell that anyone who has the audacity to join the Army will be cursed by G-D and every evil will befall him. For these religious recruits, the IDF has one goal in mind, your friends claim, and that is to drag them away from their religious way of life, to subvert their upbringing and destroy their faith in true Judaism.
Your friends shame them by calling them Chardakim (a play on the words, chaydak, which in Hebrew means vermin and hareidi. Thus, Chardak is a combination of chaydak and hareidi, a ‘religious vermin’ and your friends don’t shy away from expressing their hate and using violence.
And then it happened. I had a few hours leave and arrived home to Beit Shemesh barely two hours ago from the base for a short visit with my family and I was wearing my Air Force uniform. Proudly, if I may add. A few minutes later , we were confronted by a group of your friends. They began to yell at us and insult me, calling me all sorts of ugly names and demanding to know how I dare walk the streets in the ‘Nazi uniform.’ My wife cowered in fear and my little daughter screamed in terror. We were surrounded by many foul, vile, hate-filled faces and people soon began to shove us. It was then that I noticed you.
Yes, I was dressed in the uniform, my face adorned with a short, black beard and a large black yarmulke on my head. I assume it must have been the beard I grew after leaving Yeshiva because it seems you didn’t register that it was I whom you and your associates were confronting.
You were standing across the street with a number of others and then you raised your hand and threw a bottle which shattered in front of us. My wife screamed. I yelled your name, you looked up in surprise as recognition set in. You quickly disappeared by running behind a building.
Shame on you.
I saw hate in your face, Meir. I saw your ability to hurt my wife and child. I saw and I didn’t understand. How could you? No, I’m not questioning your ugly behavior towards me in particular because I realize that I’m just one more victim in your mission of terror. There were many others before me in Beit Shemesh, Jerusalem, Bnei Brak and other cities of great Torah learning towards whom violence was directed . I’m sure I’m not the first you hurled a bottle at and I wonder how many you hit. Why, Meir? We are soldiers, we did not pass the laws with which you have a problem.
Is this your version of a Ben Torah? Is this your version of loving your fellow Jew, Ahavat Yisrael? Is this the result of the many years you spent in front of the Talmud? Where in the Shulchan Aruch you studied does it state that you have the right to do what you did? Is this the kind of treatment you get when you happen to walk near a group of hareidi soldiers? Do they confront you and shout and yell and insult you for wearing the Yeshivish uniform, the black suit and hat? How dare you hate me for wearing the uniform?
Disappointment is not the word I want to tag you with. There must be a much more powerful phrase that will adequately describe the deep disillusion I felt that day. Somewhere in the dictionary there must be a word or sentence that can describe the powerful emotion that exploded in my chest. I became short of breath.
And then, Meir, I began to cry. Yes, Meir, I stood there in front of the rioters and simply cried.
There on the street, faced with sheer ugliness, I cried for the fear and terror my wife and daughter felt. I cried for the inability to comprehend that yon despise me so much because your path was not mine. You chose to sit in Yeshiva while I chose a path which, I strongly believe, combines the way of the Torah with service to the people of Israel and is also the path that suited my learning abilty. I cried because I truly loved you for who you were and I cried for the unbridled, incomprehensible and unwarranted hate you have for me.
But, Meir……I mostly cried because I don’t understand what you’ve become, Meir.