Originally published in the UK Jewish Chronicle

We — my husband and I — made aliyah twice.

First, as a starry-eyed young couple, the second time as a family of five after six years back in the United States. After some debate, we opted for a soft landing over intense integration and wound up in Bet Shemesh. Before arriving, I had heard rumours of a rabbi excommunicated on account of his books on dinosaurs, and of gyms where televisions were outlawed, but I chalked such things up to extremists. After all, I had grown up in Lakewood, NJ and we all always got along just fine — – jeans-wearers and sheitel-donners alike.

It soon became clear, however, that I had moved to the front line. Nowhere near any of Israel’s borders but the front line of ever-increasing religious extremism. Over the years, it has crept in — sometimes seeping so slowly that we don’t notice until too late, sometimes slamming us against the proverbial wall.

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Originally published in In Jerusalem, March 10, 2017

 

Noam and Noa wanted to marry according to Jewish law and tradition, but wanted nothing to do with the Chief Rabbinate. Both felt that, with its stranglehold on marriage and more importantly, divorce, where the rabbinate must approve a couple’s desire to divorce before it can be implemented, the institution does more harm than good.

They searched high and low for a way that would enable them to marry according to Halacha, without having to encounter the rabbinate at all.

Why would a young couple on the verge of starting a new life together be thinking of the end of their marriage?

Jewish law mandates that when a couple seeks divorce, it is the husband who must give the bill of divorce (get) to his wife, and she must accept it. Aguna is the term used to describe a woman trapped in marriage, while she awaits the delivery of a get from her husband. According to traditional Jewish sources, the classic case of an aguna was a woman whose husband
could not be found. One whose husband was lost at sea, did not return from a journey, or was missing in action; those are the traditional agunot. Continue reading

Originally published in the In Jerusalem, December 9, 2016

When I was 17, my mother sent me to Auschwitz. Now that my son is 17, my husband and I sent him too.
I was a teenager living in the US. He is a teenager living in Israel. I went with the March of the Living because my mother (God bless her) insisted upon it. He went through school with nearly all of his classmates as many Israelis do in the 12th grade.

I went knowing that my grandparents had watched their children murdered before their eyes. I had sat with them as they cried, lost in memories I never heard from their own lips.My son was shipped off with a binder full of his family history. His paternal great-grandfather never stopped bearing witness in video, written, and photographic testimony.

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Testimony and history of Mordechai Topel zt’l in the Holocaust.

My grandparents hid. In barns, woods, wherever they could, trying to keep their remaining relatives alive. My grandmother became a partisan when all her siblings, children, nieces and nephews had been lost to her.
My husband’s grandparents survived multiple camps and death marches and became nearly the sole survivors of their previously large families.

 

As I walked through the silent forest, with Polish police surrounding us, I imaged my grandparents hiding from the Nazis under fallen trees and in ditches. My son stood in a gas chamber similar to the one his zaide (Yiddish for grandfather) stood in as he waited to die like his parents and siblings before him, but was saved when water rained down instead of gas.

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In a gas chamber next to the destroyed one that held his great grandfather

The school asked all of the parents to write letters which would be given to the boys after they visited Yaar Hayeladim, a forest site where hundreds of Jewish children, as well as hundred of others, lay in several mass graves. We did not know what he would be thinking, or what he would want to hear, so we said the things we most wanted him to gain from his experience.

This is the letter we wrote:
“As parents, all we want to do is protect our children. We sooth your scrapes and work hard to put you in places where you will grow and learn and be safe and protected. We fight bullies and we kiss away your tears. But, at some point, we must stop shielding you and let you learn about the evils of the world and all that man is capable of. It is a lesson you must learn so that you can do your part to make sure that it never happens again, not on a large scale and not on a small scale.

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Originally published in In Jerusalem, The Jerusalem Post, September 30, 2016

‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ has long been the policy of the Haredi parties when it comes to how the State deals with public works on Shabbat. As long as the work was kept quiet, the Haredi parties did too. However, as was recently the case with rail work on Shabbat, as soon as the Haredi media reported it, the politicians had to protest publicly. And they did. And work was halted, stranding thousands.

Since its founding, the State of Israel has had to maintain the delicate balance of being both a Jewish and democratic country. While Jewish and democratic values often align, when the two clash– they do so with vigor.

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MK Rachel Azaria

For much of the State’s history, religious matters have been the domain of the ultra-Orthodox, the legacy of David Ben Gurion, to ensure unity and support for a Jewish state. The “status quo” arrangement Ben Gurion made remains in effect. 

And it worked — for a long time. Matters of religion used to be black and white, as MK Rachel Azaria of Kulanu explains it. People were religious or they weren’t. They kept kosher, or they didn’t. Over the past 20 years, however, many Israelis have taken on an in-between ideology, one that incorporates religious observance with democratic values, and therefore conflicts with the strict ultra-Orthodox approach that has governed the Jewish identity of the state.

At the same time, Israeli society has absorbed more than a million immigrants from countries where Jewish family lines had been blurred, leaving many unable to prove their Jewish roots. Thus, they are sociologically Jewish, but not necessarily as far as traditional law is concerned. Continue reading