Elections anywhere can cause strange things to happen, and a friend of mine had an experience that certainly qualifies. Heeding the call of Gedolei Yisrael, shlita, he tried to help the cause. And the cause, in this round two of Knesset elections, was not limited to garnering votes for the Torah-true parties. Diffusing the pervasive hatred spewed by the leftist parties comprised a serious, added dimension. Avigdor Liberman practically built his whole campaign on knocking the chareidim; and even Benny Gantz, who initially resisted the hate-mongering of his partner, Yair Lapid, eventually joined the let’s-garner-votes-by-blaming-everything-on-the-chareidim bandwagon and culminated his campaign with the slogan, “Establish a unified secularist party; exclude the religious parties.” So, yes, trying to wipe away some of that awful hatred became a central theme.
UTJ masterfully created high-impact clips highlighting points like the roughly 30,000 people, most of them chareidim, who volunteer in chareidi organizations such as Yad Sarah, Ezer MiZion, Zaka, Ichud Hatzala, Zichron Menachem and so many more. Contrasting the estimated billions of shekels of value of this huge amount of volunteer work with the roughly half a percent of the country’s budget that is allotted to chareidi institutions — despite its comprising about 20% of the entire population — demonstrates that it is a pernicious canard to cast the chareidim as one gigantic parasite that is to blame for everything bad.
So, my friend shared those videos with people for whom he thought they could make a difference. Well, one of those individuals turned out to be a hard-core leftist who let my friend know, in no uncertain terms, how deeply he loathes religion and the religious. My friend — not one to be bested — began sparring with this fellow, while carefully maintaining a respectful tone (unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the leftist fellow, who employed some very crass language), assuming that the chap would make a quick exit from the conversation. But the opposite happened. He continued to engage — seeming as though he very much wanted for the conversation to continue — over the 48 hours of the day before and of the elections. In fact, the last I heard, the conversation was still going on, and it remains to be seen how long it will last.
Moreover, this passionate leftist pointedly mentioned that he goes to shul on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, lights candles on Chanukah, and does not eat bread on Pesach. All this in order to “identify with the Jewish nation.” I couldn’t help but think about this strange interchange in the context of an idea that was shared with me by a certain Chassid whom I picked up when he was waiting on the side of the road as I was volunteering to drive people in need of a ride to their ballot box. I asked him if he had voted yet.
“It would be better if you didn’t ask me that,” he responded.
“Why?” I persisted. “Is it because you don’t vote?”
“Different kehillos have different traditions.”
Not being a stranger to that fact, I just asked him which Chassidus he belongs to. The name he gave is part of the Eidah Hachareidis — whose strongly held opinion is to not participate in elections — so further elaboration was unnecessary.
But then he shared a beautiful idea with me. “We ask Hashem to gather in our exiles. Why not ‘the exiles’? I think the reason is that, besides the geographic distances separating Klal Yisrael, there is also great philosophical distance between our various groups. And even our various groups have many sub-groups that have gotten splintered more and more apart as time goes on. So, we need Hashem to gather in not only the exiles, in the sense of bringing the entire Jewish people to Eretz Yisrael and eliminating the physical distance that separates us; but also, and perhaps primarily, to gather us in from our own, self-imposed exiles. The exiles of bitter disagreement that divide us.”
There is no question about it, Klal Yisrael is unfortunately very divided, and the recent elections not only highlighted that fact, but to a great extent exacerbated the situation. However, there is a strong ray of hope and light in this deep, dark gray cloud. And that is the fact that we don’t just turn our backs on one another and ignore one another. If a self-professed, die-hard leftist can desire to keep the conversation going with a devout chareidi Jew, and at least feel his desperate neshamah enough to want to identify with the Jewish people; and if two chareidi Jews whose opinions regarding the elections are divided by an almost impossibly deep, philosophical chasm can discuss their respective opinions with mutual respect, then all is not lost. Even though it may be currently covered by layers of divisiveness and discord, deep down the beating heart of the people is still one, and we pray for the day when indeed Hashem will gather in all of our exiles and the oneness of the people will shine forth in all its glory.
Rabbi Berman is a Rosh Kollel and author.