Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Charedi World

1 Av 5759 - July 14, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Produced and housed by

The Voice of Israel

by Moshe Schapiro

The radio went dead the morning the arrest warrants were issued.

The religious pirate ration station operators made a wise move to get off the air when they did, for unbeknownst to them, unmarked police vehicles equipped with sophisticated tracking equipment had begun trolling the streets at dawn and were already closing in on their targets. To broadcast under those circumstances would have been suicidal, but by then radio operators had pulled the plug and vacated the premises. They still remain in hiding.

What's the big deal? Why does the religious press continually dwell on this subject? Let's not get the issues confused, some are saying -- banning religious entertainment may be undemocratic, but to call it "religious persecution" -- isn't that a bit extreme?

Not by a long shot. Entertainment is just a by-product of religious radio -- at least from the Torah point of view. The fact -- the undeniable truth -- is that these networks are the spiritual lifeline for hundreds of thousands -- some say for millions -- of Jews.

Many people do not realize that the real objective of many religious radio stations is to unify a huge subculture, a group comprised of the overwhelming majority of Israelis who are aching to reconnect to their abandoned heritage. They're out there, all right -- each one searching alone, wandering aimlessly, buffeted by the winds of change, sweeping across Israel's spiritual wasteland like lost sheep in search of water. Pathetic as it may sound, religious radio was, for many of these searching souls, their only window to the light of Torah. It is not directed at the mainstream chareidi community, many of whom do not even have radios.

Rabbi Uri Zohar's daily ninety-minute talk show on Radio 10 was by far the most popular program on religious radio, drawing a listening audience of approximately a quarter of a million. He never peddled the cheap brand of pop Kabalah that beginners love to gobble up these days. Instead he devoted his entire program consistently and exclusively to the importance of a Torah education for children.

After he developed his daily theme -- comparing the rate of violence in non-religious schools with that in religious schools, for example; or blasting yet another myth concerning the curriculum of religious institutions -- he would urge listeners to call Lev L'Achim's school enrollment hotline and request additional information. Hundreds of parents followed his recommendation, and in a matter of hours these parents would be visited by a member of Lev L'Achim's school enrollment staff. As many as a third of the 1,400 children that Lev L'Achim has enrolled to date for the coming school year were reached by means of Rabbi Zohar's program.

The morning the police surveillance units rolled into action, Radio 10's general manager sent Rabbi Zohar an urgent message: "Don't come anywhere near the broadcasting station; lie low for a while."

But getting arrested in a police raid was the least of Rabbi Zohar's concerns. The thought that plagued his mind was: "All those children! They must be reached!"

Nevertheless, religious radio remained silent for seven days, giving religious politicians an opportunity to lobby on behalf of the religious channels, but their efforts failed -- despite numerous surveys demonstrating wide public support for the outlawed stations. Both the Attorney General and the Police Commissioner dug in their heels, refusing to call off the surveillance vehicles. The situation remained a stalemate.

Coincidentally, that week a wave of violence swept through public schools all over the country, and dominated the headlines:

On June 4, using screwdrivers as weapons, five schoolmates stabbed fifteen-year-old Yevgeny Yakobovich to death in Upper Nazareth. Yevgeny had insulted one of the boys, they claim, calling him "fat" and "a miser."

A few days later, sixteen-year-old Gilad Raviv was stabbed in the chest by another high school student in the Yerushalayim neighborhood of East Talpiot.

Several days after that incident, reports reached Jerusalem police that a major rumble involving students from two junior high schools was scheduled to take place that evening in a vacant lot on the outskirts of the city. Each school was to be represented by forty-five fighters brandishing knives, brass knuckles, metal clubs, nunchaks and an assortment of other weaponry capable of breaking bones and shattering skulls. A panel of a hundred "judges," consisting of students from other junior high schools in the city, would be on hand to keep score and determine the winner.

Just a few days later, a sixty-year-old man in Netanya was attacked by a pack of local teenagers and left in a gutter to die. He was rushed to the hospital and remains in serious condition. Eyewitnesses say the teenagers surrounded the victim and toyed with him before stabbing him with shards of glass.

At this point, Rabbi Uri Zohar decided he had enough. Fully aware of the danger involved in going back on the air, he made the decision to resume his broadcasts. His children needed him; he refused to abandon them now.

What followed was a coup d'etat of the hearts of the Israeli population, in the spirit of the do-or-die rebels of the past who risked life and limb to help their fellow Jews. Yes, there are still people today who are willing to sacrifice anything and everything when the destiny of Klal Yisroel is at stake; Rabbi Uri Zohar holds a high place among them. Hard to believe? Those who have had the merit of seeing him in action know that it is true.

In the small hours of the morning last Sunday, a group of men quietly entered the abandoned radio station and removed recording equipment and transmitters. They set up shop in an alternate site, and that afternoon, at precisely four o'clock, Rabbi Zohar's voice went on the air for forty minutes, pleading with parents to transfer their children out of the public school system, rife with violence, and enroll them in Torah schools. Following that broadcast, the radio team quickly packed their equipment and fled, leaving behind a lone observer to time the arrival of the police department's surveillance van.

The public's response to this broadcast was awesome. Hundreds of calls jammed Lev L'Achim's switchboard solid for over two hours. As might be expected, not all of the callers were parents interested in enrolling their children in Torah schools -- many just wanted to thank whoever had been responsible for the broadcast, and to express their frustration at the government's fascist tactics to stifle freedom of speech.

The daring Zohar broadcast opened the floodgates of courage, emboldening many of the pirate stations to go back on the air with a spirit of festivity and wild abandon. It was a bad move.

Rabbi Zohar's broadcast had been meticulously planned. It included a series of contingency plans and precautions designed to minimize the risk factor. Unfortunately, the other stations were not nearly as careful, and they suffered the consequences -- police raided three "pirate" radio stations last week in Jerusalem, making arrests and confiscating a large haul of valuable equipment.

Nevertheless, the Zohar broadcasts continue, going strong, keeping Lev L'Achim's enrollment personnel hard at work. They don't always start on time, and they don't always continue for the same amount of time, but people keep their radio dials tuned to the right frequency, and even if there is a delay, they wait for Rabbi Zohar day after day.

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