A life in question

It’s the experiences of people like Racheli Ivenboim that measure the continuing failure of many – not all, but many – Rabbinic leaders to lead by example: to show what Judaism’s true values are. One thing’s for sure, this (from Arutz Sheva) does not do the Gur hasidim much good:

Chairwoman Racheli Ivenboim of the Meir Panim-Co’ah Latet food charities, a member of the Gur hareidi-religious community, has withdrawn her candidacy for the Jerusalem city council on the Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) list following threats, according to a Tuesday report by the Yediot Aharonot daily.

Ivenboim told the newspaper, “They simply took all the threats they can make against a hareidi person and directed them at me. They threatened to kick my children out of educational institutions immediately and to cast my family out of our synagogue and community. They told me everything hung in the balance and made it clear to me that my whole life was in question if I fulfilled my basic obligation to vote and be elected.”

Does anyone else feel sickened by this? It doesn’t matter that the threats might have been empty ones. I well understand the reluctance of Mrs Ivenboim to call their bluff.

Ivenboim’s candidacy had been the first of its kind, not only because she was a hassidic Jewish woman running for public office, but because she chose to do so with the religious-Zionist Jewish Home party. What’s more, she claimed she initially received significant backing from the hassidic leadership.

“I had a lot of doubts about doing this [joining the race – ed.], and what decided it for me was a decision from an important Hassidic rabbi,” she said.

And where is that leadership now?

Speaking to the hareidi-religious Kikar Hashabat website, Ivenboim clarified that it was not hassidic leaders who put an end to her candidacy, but rather local activists.

“Those who worked to block my candidacy were ultimately low-level askanim [hareidi political activists] who felt threatened by the fact that there was a hareidi woman planning to serve the public with honest intentions, not for personal benefit,” she accused.

She later warned, “The [hareidi] community needs to decide if we’re going to go according to the personal interests of some askanim, or if we prefer to listen to halakhah [Jewish law] and to the rabbis.”

Although she seems to be saying the Rabbis support here, I ask again: and where is that leadership now? Surely real leadership would be able to swat these threats in seconds?

Relating the story on her Facebook page, Jewish Home Member of Knesset Ayelet Shaked said, “Until now, hareidi politicians have claimed that there are no hareidi women in politics because they don’t want to be. So here is one who wanted to be and they wouldn’t let her.”

You mean they lied?

The party issued a statement that said, “We are working to bring a list of women, hareidim and secular people to Jerusalem and to our delight are receiving many contacts on the subject, as a matter of fact, because of what was done to Racheli. We won’t let extremism and disagreement raise their heads in Jerusalem.”

It’s somewhat ironic that this is happening in the run up to Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. I hope these low level “askanim” repent in time, and it’s not long before there is a female hareidi involved in politics. It would be an important bridge between communities, and a help to fostering mutual understanding. Meantime, perhaps all we can do is pray for change.