We’ve put together this two-hour seminar on Haredim, exploring the Haredi community through different lenses so as to enrich and diversify our perceptions.
You will need:
- Good speakers connected to the computer
- Good internet connection
- LCD computer projector
- Print-outs of the poem
Baseline information (10 minutes)
After welcoming everyone, play the video “Background information on Haredim”
In this short film, you’ll find some information about the Haredi world. You might ask the participants to write down new facts they have learnt from the film, and perhaps to share a few issues they would want to learn more about.
Getting to know you… (30 minutes)
Screen the following photos, one after the other. (Copyright does not allow us to suggest printing them out). Allow each photo to stand for at least 60 seconds.
Ask the participants to write down one aspect of the photo with which they identify, and one aspect that they do not.
Quick sharing after each photo.
Bringing up the children
Hand out copies of the poem “The Children of the house of Study” by A. Margalit.
A. Margalit is the pseudonym of Pnina Lichtenstein – a well-known and much loved Haredi female poet. Her poems are included in the curriculum at the Haredi Girls’ High school. A. Margalit was a literature teacher at the girls’ Haredi School “Beit Yaakov” for many years and has written curriculum in this subject. She lives today with her family in Jerusalem, she has self-published her book “Small Cloak”. She is in favor of censorship, and much aware of the educational content and values of her poetry and its influence on her mostly female readers.
1. (Have someone) read the poem out loud.
2. Before talking more, add the following: “This is a picture of an ideal childhood through the eyes of a Haredi poet. We’re going to read the poem again, and as you listen, try to imagine in what way does this ideal mesh with your ideals for childhood, in what way does it differ?”
3. Now (have someone) read the poem out loud again.
4. After the second reading, help people work out the references they didn’t catch. (See the list of footnotes immediately following the poem).
5. Have everyone share the image that most struck them.
6. Now return to the original question: To what extent is this an ideal childhood in your eyes?
The Children of the House of Study
By A. Margalit
Translation by Shlomit Naim-Naor
The childhood is walking down the sidewalk
With rosy lips and cheeks
It salutes your existence
As it is carrying a copy of the G`mara (1)
Under its armpit.
The childhood is walking. The feet
Are chasing after a dotted rusted old wheel
Suddenly the wind blows and pushes
And a soft hand gently taps the head
Ensuring the Kippah (2) won’t go with the wind.
The children are back from school
And the air is dotted with beauty marks
It`s dusk and dark the day has passed
But they are still bent over their studies, indeed
The thumb is digging in the air (3).
The childhood walks from here to there
Guard passes guard (4)
Tomorrow`s People of Israel
Marches in a smaller format
Only today its name is Tashbar*.
The childhood walks on the sidewalk
And everyone around is smiling,
Like an angel of innocence and blessing
Following close on the strides in silence.
The children are back from the house of study
In storm thunder and haste,
Before they enter home, on the doorstep,
Fingers placed on the Mezuzah. (5)
And childhood is on tiptoes:
So much taller is the mezuzah.
The lights go off. Tashbar* are going to sleep,
A dream is woven between pupil and eyelid,
A sweet endless dream.
About the starry sky
And about Joseph and his brothers
And about their Bar Mitzvah,
In only six years’ time.
* תינוקות של בית רבן children of the house of study
- G’mara: A book of Talmud study
- Kippa: skullcap
- Traditional studying gesture
- These words have connotations of the army, and of religious observance
- The small box with sacred text inside that rests on the doorframes of Jewish houses. It is tradition to touch it, and then to kiss one’s fingers.
Haredim in Israel is a 3D issue
You might recall the fable about the village that has never seen an elephant. They ask for a description from people who have only touched an elephant in the dark. One says an elephant is a tree-like stump, while another talks of a moving hose out of which warm air emerges, while another talks of a large flap of skin. The village is only able to gain a picture of an elephant if it somehow synthesizes all the different descriptions.
In some ways, this is how we learn about Haredim. Different Israelis grab on to the issue from different angles, seeing some aspects clearly and others not at all. For us to gain a full picture, we need to cover all the different angles.
To switch metaphors, just as when watching a 3D movie we need special filter glasses, that both categorize colors and at the same time synthesize them, so we suggest that addressing Haredim in Israel requires certain lenses. We have identified five lenses, though there may well be more! Some Israelis see the Haredi issue through only one set of lenses, some through more than one, but it is rare to find someone who looks through all five…
1. Have the group read out the five lenses.
The Army Lens (“Share of the Burden”):
Most Haredi men do not join the Israeli Defence Force, due to an exemption agreed in 1948. According to this exemption, as long as a Haredi man is studying at a Yeshiva, he is exempt from army service according to the “Torah Learning Master” clause. This is the source of great resentment among the rest of Jewish Israelis.
Key question – how to get the Haredim into the army?
The lens of Multiculturalism:
Haredim are a minority in the majority secular state of Israel. Just as any other minority, Haredi traditions should be tolerated, and their customs respected. To do otherwise would be to discriminate, and to coerce a weak minority into giving up its unique culture.
Key Question – how to make sure Haredim can maintain their unique – separatist – culture?
The Women’s Lens:
Haredim live in a segregated society, where girls and boys are educated separately from the age of 3, modest dress is of huge importance, and separate gender seating on public transport has become the norm. As the Haredi community grows, these values are sometimes seen to encroach on Israeli society in general.
Key question – how to get Haredim to give equal public place to women?
The Torah Lens:
In the Holocaust 80% of all the world’s Yeshivot were destroyed, and 90% of all rabbis were murdered. Since then the State of Israel and the Haredi world have invested in the holy task of rebuilding and maintaining the world of Torah – its study and its way of life.
Key question – how to make sure as many Jews as possible study Torah and maintain a life-style untainted by the evils of secular society?
The Economic Lens:
Most Haredi men do not join the workforce, and most of those that do work part-time. Most Haredi households do not pay taxes and cannot survive without government benefits. As numbers grow – roughly doubling every decade – the State of Israel will not longer be able to support such a burden. (Some see the integration of Haredim into the army as the first step to introducing them into the workforce).
Key question – how to get the Haredim working?
2. Hold a straw poll: “Through which of these five lenses do you think you have been looking at the situation of Haredim in Israel?”
3. Hand out copies of “lenses“, for people to refer to while watching the movie.
4. Screen this film (35 minutes) >> http://vimeo.com/37846108
5. After watching the film, allow space for general feedback and discussion before guiding a conversation with the following questions:
- Which of the characters did you most connect to?
- Which of the characters did you find most challenging?
- (In what way) Did you find the lenses useful? Are there any lenses missing? What would you add?
- It seems clear that any solution to these issues will require compromise and/or sacrifice. If you were in Israel what would you be willing to sacrifice?
“One ? and one !”
In conclusion, ask the participants to share with the rest of the group one question they are left with, and one thing that surprises them.