Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Charedi World

18 Sivan 5759 - June 2, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Who Really Won?

by Moshe Schapiro

The situation appeared grim indeed Monday evening 2 Sivan -- post-election day -- when the polls closed in Israel and initial results were announced. Ehud Barak, who had adopted an emphatically anti-religious platform since the outset of the election campaign, won the prime-ministerial race. Moreover, Lapid's virulently anti-chareidi Shinui Party received six seats and Meretz held on to its nine.

Within minutes of the announcement of Barak's victory, leaders of those two most vehemently outspoken anti-religious parties -- Meretz and Shinui -- intensified the sense of impending doom with announcements that they would not participate in Barak's government unless all potential chareidi partners are excluded from the coalition.

Said Meretz leader Yossi Sarid, "The chareidi parties will not be allowed into this government. Their heyday is over. Surely Barak understands this; if he doesn't, we'll explain it to him." Shinui's Lapid issued a similar statement: "The bloc of leftist and centrist parties is large enough to form a stable government. We are not going to allow any chareidim into this coalition. It's about time Israel became a liberal and progressive western nation, not a ghetto from the Middle Ages."

Labor's Shlomo Ben Ami was even more explicit: "Shas and UTJ are in for four lean years now. Those parties are mainly educational institutions; we will dry them up and let them shrivel away in the opposition."

Then on Tuesday morning, with more conclusive results flowing in, the situation took on a completely different hue. Shas and UTJ stunned the analysts by winning a combined total of twenty-two seats, three more than Likud, and six more than the combined bloc of Meretz and Shinui. The public who voted for chareidi parties won fully eighteen percent of the seats in the Knesset (and 20% of the Jewish seats), an unprecedented achievement that Barak cannot easily ignore.

* * *

Last Monday's elections represented an ideological battle that was fought on two separate fronts. That between Netanyahu and Barak was one of geopolitical issues, such as Israel's economy and her relations with her neighbors, while the struggle between Meretz/Shinui and Shas/UTJ was about attitudes the people of Israel would adopt towards G-d and the Torah.

Consider this: the chareidi parties jumped from fourteen seats to twenty-two, an increase of just over fifty percent, which represents approximately 280,000 new voters. Where did they come from?

That ancient Jewish spark that is constantly fighting its way to the surface is clearly apparent. Ironically, Sarid and Lapid unwittingly fanned the embers of Jewish pride and galvanized the traditional and semi-religious electorate into action when they launched a frontal attack against the religious community and its spiritual leaders. History has proven time and again that the Jewish spark simply cannot be extinguished. Last Monday the world once again saw it flare and come to life.

Hundreds of thousands of men and women throughout Eretz Yisroel are experiencing a newly awakened interest in their heritage. While the political parties are working in their ways, totally apolitical kiruv organizations such as Lev L'Achim are also working tirelessly to provide personal guidance to each prospective baal teshuvah. The path of return is a long and gradual process fraught with potential pitfalls; newcomers who are not familiar with the terrain need someone to show them the way.

In recent months -- while Sarid and Lapid were dedicating themselves to an all-out campaign to slam organized religion in the Jewish State -- the demand for Torah knowledge among the populace surged with prodigious intensity. People were clamoring for an opportunity to get acquainted with their religion. Consider the following facts:

1. As part of its 1999 school enrollment campaign, three hundred yeshiva bochurim participating in Lev L'Achim's Yeshivos L'Am program visited nonobservant couples. These couples had attended kiruv events in the past, where they had filled out forms indicating that they were interested in finding out more about their religion. The bochurim spoke to these young parents about transferring their children to Torah schools.

After a single week, the bochurim returned from their campaign with 800 positive responses, which represents a potential influx of up to 1,500 new students into Torah schools. As the next step, enrollment workers have stepped in to conclude the enrollment procedures.

2. For five weeks running, Rabbi Uri Zohar has been hosting a series of radio talk shows on three different religious- sponsored stations: Radio 10, Arutz 2000 and Kol Haneshamah. These programs are aimed at non-religious listeners and Rabbi Zohar puts his seasoned oratorical skills to good use in these appearances, drawing audiences of well over 250,000 secular and semi-traditional listeners.

His talk shows last for several hours -- from early afternoon until well past midnight -- and focus exclusively on the advantages of the religious school system over the secular school system. Rabbi Zohar urges parents to call Lev L'Achim's 24-hour hotline for further details.

Hundreds of calls have come in to the hotline. The information provided by those who call is stored in Lev L'Achim's central data bank, and distributed to enrollment workers in the field. These workers then make personal contact with those who have expressed an interest in a Torah education for their children, and they follow through with the enrollment procedure.

3. In mid-April, the Kaliver Rebbe traveled to Eretz Yisroel for the express purpose of participating in Lev L'Achim's school enrollment campaign. Lev L'Achim's activists arranged public receptions for the Rebbe in various cities throughout the country. Hundreds of local residents stood in line for hours awaiting an opportunity to seek the Rebbe's advice and to receive his brocho. Those waiting in line were asked to fill out questionnaires answering questions on such details as the size of their family and the age of their children.

The Rebbe made his brocho to parents of young children contingent upon their agreement to transfer their children to religious schools. Most parents agreed to this condition -- in writing -- and intend to enroll their children in religious schools for the coming year.

Over three thousand forms were collected in seventeen public receptions. The great challenge that faces Lev L'Achim now is to contact all of these parents in order to help them find suitable schools for their children.

4. Last year 15 new schools and 35 new kindergartens were opened to accommodate the massive influx of new students who entered the system as a result of Lev L'Achim's school enrollment campaign. Yet in 1998, many of the parents who initially indicated a willingness to make the switch later backed off, not allowing their children to attend the new schools, fearing that the promised school buildings would not materialize, or that the new schools would not meet their expectations.

Now that the schools have proven themselves viable educational options, these parents are ready to enroll their children. The names of thousands of families that fall into this category are stored in Lev L'Achim's data bank. School officials foresee another massive wave of new students attending their institutions in the coming school year, and several have already embarked on extensive expansion projects in anticipation of the inrush.

The 1999 school enrollment campaign is still in its first month, yet Lev L'Achim workers have already enrolled 150 new students to the Ohr Chadash school in Rechasim, which represents a one hundred percent student body increase. Sixty- five new students so far have likewise been accepted for the coming year in the school in Afula (which has a current student population of forty) that was established last year by Keren Nesivos Moshe in memory of Rabbi Moshe Sherer, zt'l. These are but two examples; similar scenarios are taking place in institutions throughout the country.

This trend is gaining momentum all over Eretz Yisrael. Rabbi Avshalom Sarig, who coordinates Lev L'Achim's school enrollment activities in southern Tel Aviv, reports that hundreds of semi-religious parents took part in a loud protest in front of City Hall last week, demanding that a religious school be established in their section of town. As recently as ten years ago, no one imagined that such an event would occur in Tel Aviv.

The struggle for the Jewish soul did not end with the elections. A powerful grassroots movement is stirring non- observant society in Eretz Yisroel, a movement that no one -- not even the self-professed enemies of Torah -- can stop bli ayin hora. They may attempt to exclude us from Barak's coalition and "dry us up" by cutting off funding for our institutions, but the resilient and irrepressible Jewish neshomoh that has always burned brightly will prevail, as it has in the past.


How the Battle is Being Won

After weeks of intense effort, Rabbi Avshalom Sarig finally managed to convince a single mother to enroll her ten-year- old son, Yaron, in a local religious school. Yaron had wanted to make the switch from the start, but his mother at first objected. Even after she agreed to sign on the dotted line, the job was far from over.

When the school's principal interviewed Yaron's mother and inquired after her religious leanings, she informed him outright that she had no intention whatsoever of making any changes in her lifestyle. If her son wishes to implement some of the things he learns in school, the mother explained, that would be fine with her -- she would not interfere; but neither would she change her lifestyle one iota.

The principal explained to Rabbi Sarig that the mother's tough stance could prove a serious obstacle to the child's intellectual and emotional development, since he would absorb one message in school and quite another in his home. "Perhaps, though, we should let matters be," the principal concluded.

But Avshalom had a better idea -- he offered to take the child to live in his own home. At first the mother was hesitant, but after she visited the Sarig household several times, she agreed to the arrangement. Last month the boy moved in with his "adopted parents," and is finding his new educational setting a wonderful experience.

Yaron is learning Torah today as a result of Avshalom Sarig's incredible act of mesiras nefesh -- the key factor that is winning over the populace. Staff members of Lev L'Achim realize they are building not statistics, but neshomos.

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