Inevitably, when I post about something wrong in the religious world I get accusations such as, “You hate Haredim! You’re Anti Religious! You have an agenda!”  Gloriously, it’s less often now that more people ‘know’ me, but they still come.

So, let me tell you a little bit about myself.

I grew up in Lakewood, back before it was Brooklyn. Then, the trails around the lake were clean and empty, Central Avenue always had parking, I knew the owners of Friedman’s and Gelbstein’s, there was still a co-ed Day School and a Modern Orthodox shul, and large swaths of forest outnumbered the homes.

In the Hebrew Day School, all of my Jewish subject teachers were Haredi though I did not know that word back then. I knew that there were women who wore wigs and that they were ‘more’ religious than than my Orthodox cousins, and far more religious than myself (who was not very).  And they were smart and bright and some had far more patience than others for my questions.  In fact, Reb. Nechama Reich, Rav Kotler’s daughter, never let me get away with anything, but she never shied away from my questions either, and it was an honor to have her at my wedding. So too, Reb. Shulamis Rozansky (sister to Rav Malinowitz of Bet Shemesh fame/infamy).

I never knew of “Haredim” until I moved to Israel. I only knew of “Jews”.

It is true that here, one must choose a camp. And for me this is the saddest part of Aliya. I never wanted to choose a camp within Judaism. I really don’t believe in it.

Since we believe in the State and the Army and God’s hand in both, we were decidedly out of the Haredi camp, though we did live happily in snood and hat for a while in Har Nof (no, you cannot see pictures).  A short move back to the US and then a second aliya brought us to Bet Shemesh. I had heard rumors about a repressive society, an author being banned for books on science and dinosaurs, a gym being hassled for having TVs. But I dismissed them as fanatics.

Well, I have learned over the years that when fanatics are not stopped, they take over. I can hardly believe what I have seen with my own eyes. Women and girls erased from books and magazines. Jewish mothers and daughters removed from scenes of Shabbat tables. My own daughters told to move to the back of the bus. Spit flying at my face by a man calling elementary school girls whores. Burning garbages and throwing trash. Rabbis refusing to denounce the garbage burners and spitters despite being begged to for unity. Hiding sexual abusers. Calling Jewish police officers Nazis. Beating soldiers. Inciting to hatred.

They look like the men I grew up seeing in Lakewood, but they are not them. Their souls are not Yiddish souls. They have traded the crown of Hashem for the coat of self righteousness.

All of them? Chas V Shalom.

But, as I said, fanaticism seeps.

When I walked down the street in Lakewood, walking the mile to shul, every Jew said “Good Shabbas,” man or woman, ‘Haredi’ or not. This does not happen so much anymore.

I don’t go to Lakewood now. It is too painful. It is the land of huge houses and $5,ooo sheitels. It is a place where kids are refused from schools, and the individual can no longer be found.  Do these things eclipse all the wondrous chesed done? No, but they do dull it to a point where it is not the thing that shines through any longer. Modesty is gone and I’m not speaking of skirt length…

Here, in Israel, everything is political and that includes religion. While Haredim may not equal Haredi parties, the damage is often done before that statement can be made. In the interests of keeping control of finances and people, deals are made that are not in the best interests of wider society. This is not exclusive to Haredim but their deals affect areas that affect many people outside of their numbers.

When I take on corruption in the courts, when I rail about Haredi women dying of breast cancer, when I agonize over agunot, this is not me being anti Haredi. This is me wanting the ideals and justice I was taught directly from the mouths of Haredi women.

When I speak against the regulation of religion and the alienation of Jews from Judaism, it is not me being anti-religious, it is me understanding that forcing religion down someone’s throat only sends them running.

So, when you accuse me of having an agenda, you are right. My agenda is justice for those who are being oppressed or harmed in the name of ‘Torah’, to call out those who use Judaism as a shield and cudgel for their oppression of others.

I have never been one who can walk away when someone is being hurt. From standing up to elementary school bullies who picked on a girl mercilessly, to nearly getting knifed for taking a teen’s anti-semitic idea of a joke (he put ‘curls of a Jew’ on the list of things to gather in the high school scavenger hunt and I got him suspended),  I’m simply doing the same things now except the bullies are different and the stakes are higher.

People are people and people do horrible things. But people who do horrible things and use the good name of Judaism and Torah to do so are the worst of all.

I hope that explains why I do what I do.  I hope that if you hear someone say I have an agenda or I hate Haredim, you will tell them, her agenda is to fight the good fight where it needs to be fought, no matter who needs justice, Haredi or not.

Originally published in The Jerusalem Post, In Jerusalem July 8, 2016

IF YOU had to guess how many children out of 100 have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), what would you say?

What about autism? Dyslexia?

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of November 2013, up to 11 percent of children have been diagnosed with ADHD.

Also according to the CDC, about 1.5 out of 100 children have been identified as having autism.

And according to an ongoing Yale University study begun in 1983, which follows kindergarten children in all public schools in Connecticut, one in five children have dyslexia.

Surprised? It turns out that dyslexia is the most common learning disability. However, it is often not diagnosed. This is especially true in Israel, where in some cases the word dyslexia isn’t even on the evaluation sheet as an option for the clinician to choose. The result is that many children who have dyslexia (which is not reading letters backwards, but more on that later) are not diagnosed and do not get the help they need. As a result, they fail in school and all that comes with it.

Dr. Rinat Green, a staunch advocate on behalf of children with dyslexia in Israel, has made it her life’s work to change reality for them. She estimates that a large number of street kids could have been saved had they been properly diagnosed and treated for their dyslexia.

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When my friend’s husband sat in jail for tax evasion and fraud, he demanded and received glatt kosher meals, regular prayer quorums, and even a daily Torah study class.

For all the years he sat in jail, he refused to give his wife a get. She worked to support their five young children, and even sold what she could to keep them in yeshiva.

Outwardly, this man looked very pious. Beard, payot, kippa, black hat, the works. He played the part and people went along with it, while she suffered. For years.

This was in New York, and he was in jail for financial crimes. In Israel, he could have been jailed for refusing a religious court order to give a get and had similar cushy conditions.

A law (originally submitted by then MK Dov Lipman, now sponsored by MK Shuli Moalem) was passed this week in the Knesset to prevent this. It states that men who are in jail for refusing the Beit Din’s order to give their wives Jewish divorces may not receive glatt kosher meals, and they cannot sit and learn in the Torah wing of the prison.

The value of the law is that it finally legislates what people who advocate for agunot have been saying for so long. Namely: withholding a get (or refusing to accept one) goes against Torah and Judaism and all sense of right. You are not being religious — by definition — if you are keeping someone else chained. You cannot hide behind Torah while making someone else suffer. In a world that is mostly unaware of the scope of the get problem, this is valuable. Continue reading

Since the boys were kidnapped and killed, I have drawn shallower breaths. I have avoided anything that will bring out the sadness hidden beneath the thin layer of normal. I turn from things that will let out the wail that is always at the back of my throat and I shut the door on the torrent when it tries to escape.

I did not want to go to hear Miriam Peretz speak in Jerusalem Sunday night. I did not want to listen to the pain of a mother who had buried two sons in the service of this country. I did not want to open that door because I knew. I knew the emotion she would elicit would bring out the flood and the door would be torn from its hinges.
I also knew that I had to go. I had to go and hear her words. I did not have the right not to hear, not to know, not to share in her grief and appreciate their sacrifice.

I went. And I cried. And after she spoke, I sobbed in her arms.

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