A “friend” of mine made a rather belligerent post on Facebook mocking the custom in Israel of standing for a minute of silence each year on the morning of Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom Hashoah). A siren sounds nationwide at 10 AM on that day, letting people know when to stop in place and remember the 6 million who were butchered. Another will sound on Thursday morning, this time for two minutes, as Israelis stand in silence to mourn our fallen on Israel’s Memorial Day (Yom Hazikaron).

The person posted a question asking whether one needs to stand when what he described as the “zionist siren” (his quotes, not mine) blasts if he is sitting on the toilet. This led to a number of responses which criticized and mocked the national custom of standing in silence to mourn the fallen.

Not only was the original posting gross as well as offensive, but it also betrayed the unfortunate attitude of one of Israel’s largest sectors – the Ultra-Orthodox or Haredim as they are known in Hebrew.

These people call themselves non-Zionists and refuse to honor the minutes of silence on the two memorial days. They can be seen continuing to walk down the street amongst the many people who have stopped in place to honor the fallen.

They have several excuses for this. With Yom Hashoah the Haredim claim that the date chosen for the memorial is not in keeping with the truth of the tragedy of the Holocaust. It commemorates the Warsaw Ghetto uprising of 1943, which, however unfortunate, was a small exception to the reality that few if any Jews actually fought back against the Germans. Israelis, they say, wish to remember the resistance as it fits in with the national ethos of sanctifying the military.

On this they do have a point. Personally I think that the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the day that can be marked as the actual start of the Holocaust, would be more fitting for Yom Hashoah. But this does not excuse the failure on their part to honor the customs of the country in which they live.

Haredim also maintain that the minutes of silence are in some way a non-Jewish custom and, as such, should not be observed by Orthodox Jews. But even if this is true, it does not excuse their public displays of disdain for the custom. And it certainly does not justify the mockery of it and their lack of any sense of mourning over the fallen soldiers or sympathy for their families.

If the Haredim do not believe that Tora study should be interrupted for the minutes of silence, fine. They can continue with their studies while inside their yeshivot when the siren sounds. They can continue to go about their business when in the Haredi neighborhoods like Mea Shaarim.

But not when among the general population. And their excuses are beside the point. The real reason why they refuse to honor the sirens is because they have nothing but disdain for our nation, our society and our culture because we are not a theocratic state like Iran.

They want to be able to tell the vast majority of Israelis what they may or may not do with their private lives based on what the Tora says. They probably would not mind if all women here were forced to wear burkas when in public and they certainly would like to able to spy on people when in the privacy of their homes on the Sabbath and holidays to ensure that no one commits acts which are forbidden on those days.

In this way they fail to understand that religious practice has no point if people only do it if forced to by law or when coerced at the end of the barrel of a gun.

Also, if America, England or any other country in the world had the same custom on their respective memorial days, the Haredim who live in those countries would not hesitate to honor it. Quite the opposite. They would rush to be seen in public places standing silent at the chosen time to be seen as patriotic citizens doing their civic duty.

But this is not necessary in Israel because here they do not need to worry about any anti-Semitic backlash resulting from their open disrespect. The irony here is biting.

This is why the person who posted on Facebook called it a “zionist siren.”

The fallen soldiers who are remembered when the siren blasts twice – once for one minute at 8 PM and once for two minutes the following morning at 11 AM – died creating and defending the Jewish State. They died protecting the lives of the yeshiva students an there families. They died while these people sat in their yeshivot in order to avoid military service.

The Haredim owe their safety and their lives to the Israel Defense Forces. It is the secular Zionist state of Israel which has given them a safe haven where they have prospered. This State would never have existed if it were not for countless secular-atheist Jews who worked building it and who never fasted on Yom Kippur.

They refuse to accept the philosophy of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Cook, himself a European born Orthodox Jew, who settled in Israel around the turn of the Twentieth Century. Instead of shunning the secular Zionist pioneers around him who had come from Europe to build a Jewish state, he embraced them as God’s chosen vehicle for enacting the prophesized return of the Jewish people to our homeland.

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Rabbi Cook acknowledged and appreciated the fact that Orthodox Jews such as himself would only find a place to come to and live in in Israel because of these secular Jews and therefore would always be in their debt.

These people are unwilling to acknowledge this fact. They spit on the memories of the fallen and on the nation as a whole, while they receive financial support from that secular government. This support comes in the form of subsidies for their yeshivot and synagogues and financial assistance for their families which live in poverty.

Every Israeli supports their lifestyle and refusal to serve in the army by way of all of the taxes each and every one of us pays the government, whether in the form of income taxes, business taxes, property taxes or the national Value Added Tax on all products and services.

Since most Haredim do not work they do not pay income tax and most benefit from property tax discounts due to their poverty.

The Haredim do not seem to care that much of this money is raised from taxing work performed on Shabbat and holidays as well as taxed goods and services sold and provided on those days as well, by secular people.

It is one thing for them to claim that their dispute with the Zionist movement is based on the fact that it is secular and with the State of Israel is because it is secular. It is certainly their right as citizens in a democracy to promote their values to the general public and to try and affect change from within. But they do this while building a wall between themselves and the rest of us and while insulting the rest of us.

Full disclosure here: I served in the IDF and spent time in the reserves guarding Haredi settlements like Beitar Ilit, just south of Jerusalem. The thousands of Haredi residents there – a place over the old border line and in what the rest of the world calls occupied territory – did not seem to mind having myself and all of the secular soldiers in my unit there protecting them. They certainly did not say to us, “sorry but we are not Zionists so leave and we will protect ourselves.”

I remember what happened every year at my Orthodox Jewish High School in New York on both Holocaust Memorial Day and Yom Hazikaron. The principal was himself Haredi, a Hasid in fact, who wore a black hat every day. Yet we still suspended our regular classes on those days to take part in memorial ceremonies.

He even had us stand for the minute of silence on Yom Hazikaron. On the eve of that day, at 1 PM in New York, the principal announced on the PA system each year that Israelis were standing for the minute of silence at that time and called on us to do so too. He never said that the Tora classes should not be suspended in order to take part.

Hopefully the Haredim will learn that the very least they could do is show a little bit of gratitude and respect for those who sacrifice and risk their lives protecting them. Maybe someday they will do something, anything, to show their appreciation to the IDF like arrange gift baskets for soldiers or just telling their people to give a soldier a pat on the back or to give up their seat on a crowded bus on a Friday afternoon to a soldier on his way home. Maybe they could be bothered to just give two lousy minutes once a year to show their gratitude and that they understood that they too owe a debt to the fallen.

Maybe, hopefully, but unfortunately, not likely.

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About the author

Gil

Gil Tanenbaum made aliyah from New York after he completed college. He Has lived in Israel for over 20 years. He has an MBA from Bar Ilan University and is a contributor for various blogs.

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