Why don’t the Haredim (Ultra-Orthodox) in Israel honor Memorial Day?

Rarely do we have a chance in the American Jewish communities to hear a Jewish point of view that many of us would  frankly find offensive. Yet, in the interest of communication, it is imperative we understand the words of the ultra-Orthodox critic–if for no other reason–because  he forces us to think about what he is really saying. Oftentimes, it is the hidden and unspoken message that speaks louder than the audible one. Let me tell you about a story that happened this past week in Israel ….

In an interesting article that appeared in the YNET News from Israel, a Haredi rabbi attempts to explain the perennial question people in Israel always ask around this time of the year, when Israelis and Jews all around the world remember Israel’s fallen soldiers and victims of terror: Why don’t the Haredim (the Ultra-Orthnodox and Hassidic) communities observe Israeli Memorial Day or Independence holiday? Why don’t they stand up during the siren?” “Why are they so indifferent towards Independence Day?” And so on.

Without missing a beat, the writer explains, “The Haredim simply don’t care … this day symbolizes nothing to them.” Unlike the Neturei Karta of Jerusalem, who mourn on this day much like many Palestinians do–howbeit for altogether reasons. In their eyes, all Jews must wait for the Messiah and not place their trust in a secular Jewish State.

The real reason Haredim do not celebrate this holiday is because, “they feel no connection to them. Most of them have never served in the army, and their parents did not take part in Israel’s wars. Very few are the fallen, the injured or the combatants among the haredi family or neighborhood. So who have they got to remember and commemorate?”

A true believer of the Haredi community would probably admit that another reason why he cannot feel anything but ambivalence during this time of the year is because the secular Jew in Israel feels equally apathetic toward the traditional Jewish holidays that mark the destruction of the Temple, which the Romans destroyed in 70 C.E. Moreover, during the period between Passover and Shavuoth (a seven week period), Jewish law proscribes any kind of joyous celebration; such a religious ruling would prevent a Haredi from celebrating these holidays in earnest.

And the writer concludes, “So, dear seculars, get off our backs on memorial and Independence Day. We truly have nothing against them. We have no reaction to your grief, and we do not despise your joy, but however – they mean nothing to us.” Think if it as a tit-for-tat type of philosophy.

What the rabbi neglected to mention is that the flowering and resurgence of Jewish life within the Haredi community would never have been possible were it not for the ultimate sacrifice those pathetic “secular” Jews have made so that they might be able to spend their lives studying God’s holy Torah. They also fail to realize that were it not for the sacrifices made by the secular, non-Orthodox, and Modern-Orthodox Jews, the Arab world would have prohibited any Jew from living in Israel altogether, as the Palestinian leaders have pledged to do time and time again. Jewish tradition stresses the importance of gratitude, and as one can see from the above story, the Haredi Jewish sector is remarkably deficient.

There is a one more point we must not gloss over; the Haredi writer admits this particular point but he really doesn’t understand the implications of his confession. There can be no love between whether it be between persons, or even with  the State, if one has given nothing to enrich a relationship. For those who give their lives so that everyone else might be free in this country, or in any country, such people understand the true meaning of freedom for they have paid for that gift by making the ultimate sacrifice. Put in the simplest terms: we get what we put into a relationship.

As the philosopher/psychologist Eric Fromm writes in his best-selling book, “The Art of Loving,” true love requires labor and sacrifice. Anything else will not do. Perfunctory giving lacks depth and feeling. The more one gives of oneself, the more bonded two people become because there is a personal investment. We love what we labor for because the loved object becomes in a mystical sense, intertwined within our own innermost being. When a person fails to give themselves in love toward the Other. the relationship becomes flimsy because the couple never had anything invested in the first place; they literally have nothing to lose. This is the real cause of the Haredi ambivalence–and that is why their story is so tragic.