Monday, January 26, 2009

Haredim & The Memorial Siren החרדים והצפירה

OK, you say. What do these two op-ed pieces have to do with each other? In one, Gideon Levy protests (עברית) the transformation of Memorial Day into a religion, complete with coercion. In the other, Asher Maoz gets fed up with the ultra-Orthodox (עברית). The interesting thing is that while most non-Orthodox Israelis would agree wholeheartedly with Maoz, they would recoil at Levy’s suggestion that our day to commemorate fallen soldiers is nothing more than legislated grief.

In fact, the image that makes non-Orthodox blood boil more than any other is the requisite annual photo op of ultra-Orthodox continuing to walk (i.e., not stop what they’re doing) for the memorial siren. And here lies the problem: An image is just that―an image―like a flag, for instance. A flag is not the embodiment of patriotism; it symbolizes patriotism. That’s why it upsets folks to see others burn it. But the incense that non-Orthodox feel when they see that annual photo, or are reminded of the fact that the ultra-Orthodox don’t serve in the IDF, is misplaced; it’s a classic example of not separating the wheat from the chaff.

The problem with the ultra-Orthodox isn’t that they don’t stand for the siren, or even that they don’t serve in the army. These are petty details―symbols―that don’t threaten the integrity of our society in the least. Particularly regarding the latter, we all know that it would be more trouble than it’s worth for the IDF to recruit and train ultra-Orthodox young men; they would only be a burden on the system.

The problem with the ultra-Orthodox is far more profound than their ignoring the siren. I can deal with disrespect for symbols; what’s insidious is their utter disrespect for us all, i.e., the fact that I can’t have a legal abortion without consent; the fact that I can’t frigging get home from Jerusalem on a Saturday night without detouring all the way to the coast; the fact that I can’t have a civil wedding―these infuriate me, and are far more threatening to our way of life than not observing a moment of silence for the fallen.

If we had our priorities straight, we’d tell the ultra-Orthodox, “Fine. Don’t serve in the army. Dance a jig during the memorial sirens if it makes you happy. Just don’t come running to us, the taxpayers, to fund your recognized-but-unofficial schools, subsidize your mega-families, and bankroll your vise-like grip over our life cycle events."

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