The Sephardic Spring
In the 19th century, Ashkenazi and Sephardic versions of Judaism were very different. As I mentioned in my monograph "The Novelty of Orthodoxy," some historians attribute this to long-standing differences between the two, while others attribute it to the different environments. Ashkenazi Orthodoxy developed as a response to developments in Christian Europe, for better or for worse; Sephardic Jewry, which was not faced with such developments, did not change in that way.
But in the late twentieth century, when Ashkenazim and Sephardim came together in Israel, the differences began to fade away. Not in a good sense; there was and is still plenty of discrimination. But many Sephardim adopted the Ashkenazi Lithuanian Charedi approach to Judaism, in which things are extreme and reactionary, and young men are encouraged to learn in kollel rather than serve in the army and work to support their families.
Enter Rav Chaim Amsalem. He is an amazing Rav who is seeking to return the Sephardic world to its more moderate roots - you won't hear any screaming tirades from him about how his opponents are goyim! But his work is important for Ashkenazim too. He has launched the new political movement Am Shalem, which seeks to unify Israel around an equal, normal Jewish and Israeli way of life, involving serving in the IDF and enabling everyone to work for a living. It also seeks to rescue the rabbinate from the charedi takeover. You can learn more about Rav Amsalem and Am Shalem at its website, AmShalem.org.
The other day, I mentioned that I was nervous about voting for Am Shalem, because I was unsure if they would pass the voting threshold. However, the polls are unclear; it is certainly at least on the border, and some polls predict that they could gain as many as three seats. This may well be a historic opportunity for change. I will leave you with the following comment that someone wrote to my blog post, which provides much food for thought:
I have heard your argument from so many that Am Shalem makes the most sense and would be their first choice, but...... (mainly passing the minimum number of votes).
If one tenth of such people would vote Am Shalem he will get in. I will sacrifice my otherwise traditional Mafdal/Bayit Yehudi vote (of 30 years) and vote Am Shalem. The difference between 14 and 15 Bayit Yehudi seats is meaningless, but having Rav Amsalem in the Knesset is (maybe) priceless.
(See too this article in The Jerusalem Post)