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Blog

Gesher Helps Soldiers Deal With Sunday’s Attack

By: Asaf Adler

January 12, 2017

As Gesher’s Director of Education, I would like to share a little about this tragic week in Israel, which in turn led to a humbling week for us at Gesher. As you likely know, there was a horrible terrorist attack this past Sunday at the Tayelet Promenade. An Arab truck driver ran over a group of soldiers, killing four and injuring many more.

The group of soldiers at the attack are in the midst of their sixteen-week training course to become commanders. That day, they were beginning their “Education Week” a crucial part of every commander’s training. The soldiers were planning to continue onto a base near Jerusalem, where they would spend the rest of the week with Gesher facilitators, partaking in Gesher’s IDF Commander’s Course.

Our coordinator for the Commanders course, Shlomit, spent Sunday morning and the rest of the day texting Yael, our logistics contact for the platoon.  When Yael did not answer any of Shlomit’s texts, we knew something went terribly wrong.

Yael Yekutiel was one of the four soldiers killed on Sunday. She was a soldier serving in the IDF’s Education Corps and was Gesher’s interface for our Commanders Course.  Yehi zichra baruch; may her memory be a blessing.

On Monday, the Gesher programming for the group was cancelled so that the soldiers could attend the funerals of their comrades. That night, I received a phone call from a high-level soldier in the Education Corps. He shared their urgent need for Gesher, this week more than ever, to help these teens recover from the trauma. We were in a unique position to fill this role while helping the platoon to continue their everyday routine (crucial for moral). We spent Monday gathering our best and most experienced facilitators while preparing our programming for the following day.

On Tuesday, we met with the entire platoon of 220 cadets, sixty percent of whom were at the scene of the attack just two days earlier. This specific group of soldiers are from non-combat units. For most of them, this was their first experience with blood. On Thursday, our facilitators went to their base near Mitzpeh Ramon in order to continue the Gesher programming. Our meaningful activities and dialogue gave a framework for the soldiers to mourn on the one hand, while on the other hand, continue their everyday lives. We hope that we helped the soldiers through the trauma and encouraged them to continue with their training course.

We are truly humbled to have played a role in the unit’s recovery. This week, our IDF officer’s training course took on a whole new meaning.

 

They are Making a Grave Mistake

By Rabbi Menachem Bombach

November 12, 2016

During our thousands of years of exile, the secret to the magic of Judaism stemmed from one thing — differences of opinion. Jews first and foremost disagree. It is only due to this collective trait, that we have survived multiple challenges through the ages. Ironically, disputes and disagreements are what enabled us, even in the toughest of times, to retain our inner vigor and vivaciousness and to be absolutely clear as to the path we should take. Disagreement is the lifeblood of the Jewish people.

How is that possible? We never settled at disagreement alone. We always argued our positions, we put down on paper our diverse opinions and we strove to clarify them getting closer to the truth. For time immemorial, Jews argued amongst themselves about how they understand and interpret the Torah. It’s because of this that we today have merited such a wide network of beautiful and elaborate halakhic traditions and different commentaries and explanations of the Torah that broaden our intellect. Jews also argued with the ideas and cultures surrounding them. This is how our predecessors of the Middle Ages bequeathed us dozens of sefarim on Jewish philosophy and thought. One can also contend that the initial and painful struggle between the Hasidim and Mitnagdim caused each group to deepen and sharpen their own philosophy and find sources for many of their minhagim.

Last night, Jews resorted to violence and threats directed at my family and me for the sole reason that they disagree with my methods of education. Last night, at precisely 3:27AM, two Jews who were dressed as very religious looking Jews chose methods of intimidation and threats just because I serve Hashem in a slightly different way to them. I still do not know their identities and whether they were acting on behalf of someone else and therefore I can only address them in public:

First, I want to tell you – I deeply respect that you may think differently than me. I am constantly trying to navigate Hashem’s world and regularly thank Him for the great diversity that He bestowed upon us, for the landscape, for the wonderful world of nature and for all the different types of human beings and their many faces and diverse opinions. In addition, I am a firm believer that precisely to serve our Creator, we must each walk in the way in which our conscience guides us as this is the role for which we were destined.

Secondly, I urge you not to abandon your beliefs, but rather the opposite, allow them space and room for expression. I would more than welcome the opportunity to engage in a serious and substantive discussion on the topic of how best to educate our children – about the challenges facing the teachers of our forefather’s tradition, about the obstacles we all constantly encounter and the most successful ways to deal with them. On the contrary, I would be happy if you challenge me, to make me work harder to prove my ways, to try to elucidate them even more clearly.

Both my points above require me to tell you very pointedly that according to the way I understand our holy Torah, you are committing a grave mistake. Even if your intentions are for Heaven’s sake (l’shem shamayim), your actions are wrong and bad. I urge you to open up your eyes and pay attention to the fact that you are disgracing and embarrassing the name of God, are sinning when it comes to biblical mitzvoth between man and his fellow man, but more importantly, there is zero chance that by following this path, you will achieve your goals. Because even if every single morning I must wake up to my locks being glued shut or to puddles of tar thrown on my floor, I can only relate to these as tests that I am forced to pass in order fulfill my task in this world.

Even if I will not have the opportunity to carry out a debate for Heaven’s sake with those who think differently than me, I will continue to remember that the faces of the G-d fearing Haredi community to which I belong, are multifaceted and diverse and comprised of many, many different people. I will continue with even more resolve to expand the educational projects to which I dedicate my time and attention. I will do all in my power to realize our vision for our graduates to become talmidei chachamim, full of yirat shamayim and men of knowledge and intellect. I will charge my students wherever they are, to exhibit responsibility to all parts of the Haredi community, to identify with it and to contribute to it with all their might.

In conclusion, I owe thanks and blessings to all those who offered their support, encouragement and desire to strengthen the institutions of Torah and service of Hashem through their words, deeds and financial resources. Those circles of supporters, whose numbers grow daily, of quiet yet determined individuals who enable us to continue to adhere to the holy work of educating Jewish children. I know that we are all brothers. There is more that unites us than divides us. And I hope that there will come a day that we abandon the ways of brute force, fear mongering and intimidation to return to the tradition of our ancestors of using the power of disagreement and argument to help spread the word of Torah and make it great.

Rabbi Menachem Bombach, a graduate of the Gesher Leadership Institute and a member of its steering committee, is the Founder and Director of the “Hasidic Midarsha for Boys” in Beitar Illit. He is also a member of the faculty at the Mandel Program for Leadership Development in the Haredi community. He has an M.Ed. in Public Policy from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Shabbat Legislation: Pro and Con

Two Opinions by Fellows of the Gesher Leadership Course

Pro: Bezalel Kahn

Gesher Leadership Course Fellow, a member of the first cycle of the Leadership Course for Communications personnel. News and Program Director at the Haredi Radio Station “Kol Chai”

The law was proposed by Likud MK Mickey Zohar, it is an important law from a number of perspectives, but it also contains a less positive aspect.

We will begin by saying the at last that there is an MK who does not wear any kind of kippah, who understands that the State of Israel is first and foremost a Jewish state.  There is no more significant symbol of Judaism than Shabbat.

Therefore this proposed legislation should be applauded, for it will erect a clear warning sign for all those that forget that we are in a Jewish state, and the Shabbat guards us more than anything else.  As the saying goes: “More than the Jews have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jews.”

This law also has a social aspect, important in and of itself, in the free-for-all of employing Jewish workers on Shabbat, at the expense of their day of rest and at the expense of those employers who do close their businesses on Shabbat.   It cannot be that one business owner will want to keep Shabbat and the other opens his grocery and causes the first financial harm.  On the other hand, it is not clear why kiosks, restaurants and theatres are not included in this proposal.

But there is a good reason why this law has been proposed by an MK who is not Haredi.

A Sabbath-observer cannot propose or support a proposal whose content is important, but has a small stinger attached to it:  the approval of public transportation for example, or similar “goodies” for the secular population of the Jewish state.  It is impossible and prohibited to turn Shabbat into a commodity, and say: you support our principles and we will give you this or that “candy.”  Either (one accepts) complete Sabbath observance or…that’s all, there is no either-or, the time has come to stop playing with the holy Shabbat in the Jewish state.

By the way, in the above I did not relate to the question that many struggle with: is it at all appropriate to endorse religious legislation of this type?   In my opinion, if Shabbat-observers are strict and strengthen their observance, then the pleasantness and blessings of Shabbat will have an impact on those who do not observe, for Shabbat is the source of all blessings.

Con: Dr. Hila David

Gesher Leadership Course Fellow in the second cycle of the Gesharim Leadership Course.  Director of the “Culture Basket” Initiative in Rishon Letzion.  Member of the directorate of Keren Sapir, member of Israeli Council for Culture and the Arts.

The Shabbat Law as proposed by MK Miki Zohar does not contribute to promoting understanding between religious and secular Jews.  The law, which penalizes businesses open on Shabbat three times the day’s proceeds, not only does not promote outreach and unity between different groups of people, but it encourages separation and succeeds to arouse anger and rebellion against religious coercion.

Establishing norms by means of legislation is meant to help the wider public adapt proper and acceptable behaviors.  In this case MK Zohar agrees that the law is intended to help businessmen preserve their day of rest and it is even supported by the Grocers’ Forum.  It is highly unlikely, therefore, that the law would assist the wider public and would be acceptable to them. MK Zohar says that in recent years a situation has been created whereby a person who wants to observe his Jewish faith in this country finds it difficult to do so, and that his goal is to enable everyone to keep their Shabbat. In reality the law achieves the opposite and will harm the current status quo and the fragile relationship between the secular and religious, according to which each group can observe its Shabbat according to the way its sees fit, its understanding and the way it desires.

In this case, interfering by means of legislation will not promote understanding and consideration between the groups and will not resolve the real social problem, but is only an populistic attempt to gain recognition through a dangerous and coarse foothold.  The meaning of Shabbat as the day of rest is understood differently by each subgroup, person and sector and is not to be arbitrarily determined by the members of the Knesset by means of legislation.  Instead of promoting this law, it would be better for a member of the Knesset to encourage meaningful discussion, and promote initiatives to create a meeting of minds that would emphasize that which brings the various groups of people together and encourage activities to bridge the gaps and not accentuate that which separates us.

Following the Suicide of Esty Weinstein

Statement by Gesher Leadership course Fellow Michal Prince

In the past week we have dealt with analyzing every detail in the life of a woman who was anonymous until a week ago.  We scrutinized the personal, family, and social causes that caused her to take the most awful step.  We go back and forth, at one point accusing the society in which she was raised, her daughters who cut off contact with her and then we immediately turn to the woman herself who did not find the strength to cope and took her own life.

Then we moved to a broader discussion of Haredi society, all aspects of freedom of choice, loss, and community responsibility.  No one is free from criticism.  Everyone is to blame. Those who did not enable and those who did not see.

Enough already.

Enough with investigating the stories in general terms.  Stop speaking about them and us.  And it makes no difference which side ‘we’ are on.  Here is a tragedy that we all have to learn from, to listen to it, to give it some space. It touches upon matters that we all understand and can identify with—motherhood, family, community, religion, and choice.  There is no one who is responsible for what happened and but at the same time we all have the responsibility to stop and think about our part.

The time has come to learn how to listen to the individual.  To give him a place.  To listen to his story and read between the lines.  Living in the society in which she was raised was difficult for this woman, she chose how to live and she chose how to die. We have to listen and ask tough questions but we cannot forget the other who found this place to be a home, protection, and faith. Let us listen to her as well.

When we can listen to everyone’s story, then something will happen, something will touch us and change.

Unfortunately we live in an imaginary world where someone else tells others our story.  We have one perception of a Haredi woman, a settler woman, and a secular woman and this story falls into this world of preconceptions and fulfills all the hackneyed media stereotypes.

Our responsibility is to transform the imaginary woman into a real one.  To clean and do away with the mask of smoke and alienation and let a person pierce our armor.  We do not have the ability to change Haredi society or secular society for that matter (and I for one want to change neither of them) but, we do have the power to turn individuals into people who are seen and heard, and maybe even into friends to whom we can extend a hand before the worst occurs…