The newspapers were full of "the year in review" articles. I skipped most of them - I don't need to read about what a tough year we have had in Israel. There was one article which I enjoyed very much, though, and made me feel hopeful on this Rosh HaShana.
Makor Rishon had an article about a survey sponsored by the paper and the Gesher ("Bridge") organization (an organization which tries to bridge the gaps between the religious and secular communities in Israel). The survey asked questions about Israelis' observance of certain mitzvot (religious commandments) and some of the answers were surprising.
We are used to getting our information about what happens in Israel from the mainstream media, and we also make assumptions about the day-to-day life of the "average" Israeli from this same source. So many of us have the impression from the secular, elite press that most Israelis want nothing to do with religion. This survey showed that this is not true. Many Israelis may not be what we call religious, but they do have a connection to Judaism, and it shows up in their actions.
The least surprising statistic was about strict Sabbath observance - not using electrical appliances on Shabbat. 31.8% do not turn on the electricity on the Sabbath, which roughly corresponds to the number of people who label themselves religious in this country. But this number doubles when people are asked if they say Kiddush on Shabbat (the blessing over the wine said at the meal) to 62.6%. This means that a majority of Israelis have at least one Sabbath meal with their families every week, where they take part in the ritual of Kiddush. I remember when we went to Eilat and spent a Sabbath in the hotel. Friday night there were quite a few tables where chiloni men, putting napkins on their heads (no extra kippot available) would say Kiddush for their families, their kids waiting eagerly for a sip of Abba's wine.
This connection that the average Israeli feels to Judaism is not only in the "family oriented" mitzvot. 70.8% of Israelis say they fast on Yom Kippur. 61.8% say they keep kosher - and the breakdown of this statistic is also very interesting. 92.6% of people who call themselves "traditional" keep kosher, and 25.3% of those who call themselves "secular". I wasn't surprised at the numbers in terms of the masorati (traditional) group - but I was amazed that a quarter of secular Israelis keep kosher.
One of the brightest bits of news in this survey was the fact that in terms of age, more young people keep the mitzvot than the older people (which is the direct opposite of what is happening in America and the Diaspora).
My observant readers will probably understand my positive emotional reaction to this article, but I would guess that my non-observant readers may be either puzzled or a bit uncomfortable. A dominant theme in the western, secular culture is the idea of live and let live, and the need to respect others, even if different from you. I grew up that way, as do most Americans, and I firmly believe that this is the way to go. At the same time, when I became an observant Jew, I absorbed another dominant idea from Judaism that "Kol Yisrael areivim zeh l'zeh" - "Every Jew is responsible for one another". This not only means that we are one big family, and that we have to worry about the physical well being of other Jews, but that we have to worry about the spiritual well being of other Jews also. Being an observant Jew means believing that if all of the Jews keep the Torah, than the Messiah will come - utopia. This is our national Jewish agenda. How do I then believe in live-and-let-live and this agenda at the same time? Aren't they contradictory?
I reconcile these two ideas by what I choose to do, and how I choose to do it - while not ignoring the emotional component.
In terms of my personal actions, I try to provide information to those who are looking for it on observant Judaism (especially here on the blog). I also try hard to be a positive example. Nothing "sells" Judaism more than an observant Jew who is truly a mensch (and nothing infuriates me more than someone who is dressed up like an observant Jew but whose actions are worthy of contempt). But I think that what is more crucial is how I do these things. I try, at least, not to mix up these actions with too much "one-upmanship". The problem with Jews, especially in Israel, is that we all think we know the "right way" - and we are not shy about expressing this. Since we all know the "right way", then it is natural for us to try to convince everyone else to do exactly what we do, in exactly the same way. This of course is mixed up with a lot of negative characteristics like arrogance and insensitivity.
So why don't all Jews follow this line? Why are there so many people out there who make it their life's work to try to convince other Jews to be observant - and many who think that it is their goal in life is to legislate it? Why isn't "live and let live" more dominant than "kol Yisrael areivim zeh l'zeh"?
Here I can't convince you intellectually, I can just share with you the fact that it is an emotional thing. It hurts us when other Jews don't keep the mitzvot.
To illustrate this I will tell you a short anecdote from when I was newly observant. I started keeping the mitzvot when I was a senior in high school, and after I graduated I went to study at Stern College for Women (part of Yeshiva University). When I came home on semester break, I spent Shabbat at home, and caught up with the news of what was happening at my old school with my brother. He was not observant at the time (that came a bit later). He was describing to me some of the renovations that they were doing at my high school, and I was a bit puzzled. Wanting to make it clear for me, he reached out to take a pencil in order to draw me a map. Without thinking, I grabbed his hand, and said "no, you don't have to do that. It is ok, I understand." I did not make an intellectual decision that it would be a bad thing for my brother to write and therefore break the laws of the Sabbath for my benefit - I had a split second emotional reaction. It hurts, so I stopped him from doing it.
A lot of the problems between the religious and non-religious in Israel comes from the fact that our relationship is seen superficially, as a sort of competition. When someone takes off his kippa it is seen as a "win" for one team and a loss for the other, and when someone becomes observant it is the opposite. But the relationship is truly much deeper than that - and those of us who are observant really feel that we are part of the same family.
This is why I was so happy to read this article. I like and respect other Jews the way they are now, and I don't need everyone else to be at exactly the same place I am. But if feels good to know that a lot more Jews are "within shouting distance" than I had thought in the past.