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A Response to "Too Far from Home"

Rabbi Moshe Grylak

“Chareidi Israel is not happy to absorb immigrants”

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

I

Dear Readers,

The following is a response to a recent column (“Too Far from Home,” Issue 740) in which I lamented the slow trickle of aliyah from European countries. Despite the fact that European Jews are on the lookout for safer, friendlier shores, the painful question is stark: Why isn’t Eretz Yisrael a first option? Here is one reader’s take on the question. I will, G-d willing, provide my response next week:

D

ear Rabbi Grylak,

In a recent column, in which you lamented the lack of aliyah by chareidi Jewry, specifically European Jews who are currently facing a great rise in anti-Semitism, you made the following statement: “Israel today is a highly developed country and able to happily absorb many chareidi immigrants.” The part about Israel being highly developed is correct — Israel has made great strides in economic development over the years and is now on par with many Western countries. However, the part about “able to happily absorb many chareidi immigrants” is not correct. Chareidi Israel is not happy to absorb immigrants. By and large, it is not always a welcoming society for olim, which and often makes coming to Israel a real test. This society can feel quite tribal and not embracing of outsiders. Permit me to explain.

Outsiders are defined in many chareidi sectors by three factors: Are they foreigners/non-Israeli born? Do they work? Are they baalei teshuvah? If the answer to any one of these three questions about you is yes, then you may feel like an outcast and outsider. It is possible to overcome any one of these “handicaps” to some extent, although rarely completely. If more than one of these is true, you face an uphill battle and likely will never be totally accepted or welcomed by the chareidi community. You will be treated particularly badly if all three of these conditions are true.

Why is this the case? Foreign chareidim are feared because it is known they all are likely to have some level of secular education, at least through high school level (which Israeli chareidi men generally do not have), and have thus been subject to “outside influences” and lack spiritual purity. Many have even been to college, even if just to earn a degree in accounting, which is worse. As one friend of mine in Ramat Beit Shemesh was told by a school principal, “We don’t want Americans in our school. We want good families.” The next level of spiritual impurity is working. This is considered to be another source of “outside” influence, and a clear indication that the person does not take Torah seriously. Finally, the past history of a baal teshuvah is considered to be a danger the community must fear.

This is the reality of a highly polarized chareidi Israel. Yes, there are exceptions, but the educational system in particular is aligned against outsiders. To olim, there is nothing more demeaning than having to sit outside a school principal’s office and literally beg for your child to be given a place — as friends of ours were advised to do. It is this world that chareidim from Europe and America are rejecting. They are rejecting a world where our sons and daughters are told that all physical outlets such as playing recreational sports or dancing and singing in all-women settings are forbidden. They are also rejecting a society where our sons are not equipped for the working world and are told that they are doing something wrong if they even want or need to do something other than full-time learning.

This is not a world where I believe it is best to raise my children. For one of my children this environment would likely have been a disaster. Why should any child be raised where he or she doesn’t fit in? Until attitudes change in the Israeli chareidi community, there will not likely be a mass chareidi aliyah, unless the Diaspora community finds itself under extreme pressure. Although some people claim there is progress in certain parts of the Israeli chareidi world regarding more openness, other segments appear to be becoming even more extreme and insular. Until we see more of a welcome and a greater acceptance of a broader range of frum Jews, our choice seems to be to stay where we are for now.

May Mashiach come and show us all the true light of Torah, speedily in our days.

With warmest regards,

Waiting in Passaic, NJ

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 743)

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