Sunday, May 30, 2010

Against the Haredim Before Being for Them, then Against

Here's a fine example of why Israel is so exasperating, and nigh impossible for outsiders truly to follow. Let's see if we can unravel the tangled strands.

Ron Huldai used to be a general in our air-force. When he finished that, he went to run the Herzliya high-school in Tel Aviv - admittedly a high-profile school but still only a high-school. Most generals aim higher (or lower, when they become arms-dealers in Africa, or BMW's boss in Israel). So that was admirable. A few years later he ran for mayor, and since he keeps on getting re-elected he must be doing something right. I'm often in Tel Aviv these days, and grudgingly admit that it's not a bad-looking town; I'm even beginning to like it, in a wary sort of way. Tel Aviv is a very secular town (though Rishon Leziyon is even more so), and many Israelis from elsewhere will tell you it's a bit detached from the rest of the country. Or not, as this story indicates.

Huldai recently spoke out against the refusal of some Haredi schools to teach what's called the Core Program. This is defined as the utter minimum of modern studies that school children in Israel must have, and includes mostly some Maths and English. If parents wish their children to spend all their time studying religious things (Jewish, Arab, whatever), that's their right, so long as the children get the Core Program. Some Haredi schools object even to that, and Huldai correctly came out against them. His position is relevant because elementary schools get much of their funding through municipalities. (This paragraph has been a simplification, but it will have to do).

So far so good.

In recent years there have been a small but noticeable number of young Haredi families who have moved into Ramat Aviv, an expensive and very secular area in the north of Tel Aviv. I drove through a couple months ago and was startled to see how visible they were - well, they do rather stand out in their uniforms against the backdrop of the Ramat Aviv mall. The locals don't like them there, and especially don't like the local Chabad House - though if they understood Haredi society they'd know that Chabad isn't exactly Haredi, it's Chabad. But when dealing with stereotypes, who's counting. They're apparently especially worried about the influence Chabad is having on local teenagers, though if you ask me it would be better to offer some sort of counter influence if you're all worried about your children being enticed by something. As Cat Stevens once said, it's a wild world out there (and look what happened to him... hmmn. Maybe I shouldn't have brought that up).

Anyway, some of the locals are getting organized to stop the influx of unwanted Haredi into their neighborhood, and it appears they're demanding of their mayor that he back their position:
Huldai appears to have won substantial support from Tel Aviv's secular public after coming out against the haredi study program last month. His statements will be put to the test this week in a city council debate on the "haredization" of northern Tel Aviv.
Why the one position is connected to the other, I can't say; the statement that his previous position will be tested by his position on this one is baffling. Why? It should be possible to demand that Haredi children learn maths, even when they live in Ramat Aviv - or have I missed something?

Then there's the matter of segregated buses, which somehow slips into the report:

Since the residents' campaign was launched two years ago the mayor avoided making explicit statements endorsing any one side. On Monday he will be forced to comment on a motion filed by Councilman and Attorney Reuven Ladiansky from the Let Live faction. "I intend to mention the fact that the Municipality is funding a bus line which maintains separation between male and female students in Ramat Hahayal," Ladiansky told Ynet.

These segregated buses are not about the Core Program, and are not about who lives where, but they are, as the French would say, a shande. Everybody should be against them. As a matter of fact, if Tel Aviv is in any way like Jerusalem (perish the thought), the Haredi moving out of their neighborhoods and into secular areas are probably the saner ones, those who'd like their children to grow up knowing that not everyone is Haredi, and that most people get along just fine on regular buses. The secular folks who correctly think the segregation of buses is a mishegass ought to be encouraging young Haredi couples to move into secular neighborhoods.

Have I made it all clear now? No? Well, at least I don't need to get elected to anything. Think about poor Huldai, and how he can ever extract himself from this one...

1 comment:

RK said...

It reminds me of Philip Roth's satirical take on the reaction of assimilated Jews to haredi newcomers in "Eli, the Fanatic." ("If I want to live in Brownsville, Eli, I'll live in Brownsville.")

Brownsville is obviously very different today (and was never a haredi community), but simply replace it with Mea Shearim. The hiloni are as clueless as ever when it comes to haredi society.