Why Stay In Bet Shemesh?
Well, the results of the election are in. And unfortunately, they are not good. Charedi incumbent Moshe Abutbol won the election by 1800 votes, which is at least 9 people (ba-da-bum!).
A local dati-leumi rabbi just shared a thought: Perhaps we, the supporters of Eli Cohen, could have been victorious had we employed the tactics of Moshe Abutbol and his supporters:
Using Holocaust imagery to portray the other side;
Having a team of people working on collecting identity cards to vote multiple times;
Using municipal resources to further our own campaign and harm that of others;
Lying to Gedolei HaDor in order to recruit their support;
Capitalizing on rabbinic authority to intimidate people into accepting our voting directive;
Driving around the neighborhood, blasting out prayers over loudspeakers describing the opposing campaign as the enemy of the Jewish People;
Creating pseudo-religious methods of manipulating votes;
Having community rabbis use their public forum for sharing divrei Torah to instead engage in political campaigning;
Convincing local physicians to compromise their professionalism and capitalize upon it in a misleading way;
Making posters depicting Abutbol side-by-side with the violent extremists who support him, just as Abutbol made posters depicting Eli Cohen side-by-side with Lapid;
Claiming the support of rabbis on the other "team," even when this is entirely false.
But, continued the rabbi, we have our Jewish ethical values, which we stuck to, and can be proud of. Better to lose the election and maintain one's integrity and values, than to win the elections by compromising them.
Those were his thoughts. But, I was thinking, where does that leave me? How can I live in a city which is on a track of accelerating charedization, where the Israeli flag is routinely ripped off my car, where charedim try to forcibly prevent everything from restaurants with outside seating to public exercise equipment, where the mayor and mainstream Anglo-charedi rabbonim refuse to take a stand against violent extremists and treat the dati-leumi population with a complete lack of respect, and where in the future, the position of mayor will simply be determined by the askanim? Why stay in Bet Shemesh?
Pondering my options, I thought about friends of mine who have gone into kiruv, outreach. True, it's a difficult lifestyle. You are living in an environment that does not reflect Torah values. You and your children are in contact with Jews who have no idea what Judaism is about. But, as everyone appreciates, it's valuable to make such a sacrifice in order to be able to inspire and educate others towards a true Torah lifestyle.
I've decided that I want to do that.
And so I'm staying in Ramat Bet Shemesh.
Ramat Bet Shemesh is a wonderful opportunity for kiruv! Here, one is surrounded by people who are unfortunately unaware of correct Torah values. They go against Chazal's directives about how one should work rather than live off charity, and about how one must educate one's children to be able to support themselves. They don't know how to act with derech eretz towards people from different communities. They don't understand the responsibilities of being part of Am Yisrael.
It's a great opportunity to inspire and educate them! We can show them that there are good Jews and Torah scholars who wear colored shirts and even kipot srugot. We can show them how to lead life as a Jew with Torah values - working for a living, contributing towards the nation. We can show them wonderful shuls. We can show them the benefits of charity organizations that lead people towards independence, with the help of social workers and other professionals, rather than fostering dependence. We can show them the benefits of child-protection services that report to the authorities rather than to rabbis. We can show them wonderful yeshivot that combine Torah with chessed and Zionism. We can show them how dedication to one's community and even having political goals does not need to mean compromising integrity, ahavat Yisrael or derech eretz.
Plus, it's not as though I'm all alone here. About 47% of the city shares this outlook. I live in a wonderful neighborhood with terrific like-minded people who proudly fly the Israeli flag. I teach in a fantastic dati-leumi American yeshivah. There are at least a dozen wonderful dati-leumi and charedi-lite shuls. There are excellent dati-leumi schools for my kids. Each year, there are people in the charedi community here (often Anglo immigrants) who, like I did a few years ago, suddenly realize, What on earth have I gotten myself into?, and want to jump ship to join the dati-leumi community. We need to maintain our framework for absorbing them.
Here is a quote from one of the comments to this post, written by a neighbor of mine who inspired me towards this line of thought:
My close friend and I have been saying that for all these years. While some friends sought out "emotional comfort" in all dati-leumi communities, we chose to stay here and to be involved. (She started the local mo'etzet nashim which unites women from literally ALL communities.)
We are here because we don't live in Israel in order to hide among people who are "like us." We are here to interact with people who think differently, who make us have to check and recheck our values regularly, and people whom we can, b'ezrat Hashem, teach by example what Torah and Yir'at Shamayim is all about.
I am proud of my children for taking up the challenge, for being active and involved, for getting others involved, for recognizing that elections are not just about RBS , to which perhaps Abutbul will tend as he has so many supporters here, but rather that elections are about the Vatikim, the Olim from Russia and Ethiopia, the elderly, the children with Special Needs, the handicapped, and so many more.
I sincerely believe that we are capable of continuing to work together, as Eli truly got us to do, with Jews of all stripes, to find the common ground...
Yes, I'm happy to live in Ramat Bet Shemesh. It's a wonderful environment and opportunity to bring people closer to Judaism.