On Wednesday, I received an email from neighbors Yissachar and Riki Fried, easily the paradigm, most compelling piece I’ve seen regarding the upcoming Beit Shemesh Municipal Elections on 11 November.
And so, I am sharing it with list subscribers, be they living in Beit Shemesh, throughout Israel, new olim or those planning Aliyah. It speaks volumes about the candidate and about the kind of Beit Shemesh that we all hope for. MB
(Or, Why Every RBSA Anglo Chareidi Should Vote for Shalom Lerner)
by Yissachar & Riki Fried
We were among the very first families to move into RBSA over 10 years ago. We live in a corner of the neighborhood where, over the years, those living close by have come from every flavor of frumkeit as well as a diminishing number of traditional and non-observant families.
That first Rosh Hashana in RBSA, we all davened together in the Merkazi shul, then the only shul built in the neighborhood and a single large hall, not broken up into several smaller rooms as it is today. The mispallelim included Israeli chareidim, yeshivish and chasidish, Anglo chareidi “lite”, chardalnikim, dati leumi, “datilonim” and masoratiim. Over time, minyanim, and eventually shuls, were established by and for every group, and just about every sub-group, unto itself.
Already that first year, there were individuals and nascent groups, who sought to establish hegemony in the neighborhood to take control of buildings and institutions, and to determine the direction and future of RBSA according to their own particular interests. Purporting to represent the majority of the inhabitants of RBSA (which was not the case), certain people sought the imprimatur of leading lights in the yeshiva world to declare and establish a RBSA rabbinic hierarchy. Because it was more-or-less imposed instead of being chosen, rather than uniting the inhabitants of RBSA under a single leadership, the strategy, the implementation and the continuing aftermath have proved divisive, bred resentment and spawned great sinas chinam to this day as well as debasing the concept of rabbinic leadership in the eyes of many.
The voices of people who value ahavas Yisroel, have been drowned out by those who favor coercion. It is indicative that we can have no
community vaad harabanim or lay leadership needed to deal with issues that effect us all e.g. youth a risk because certain people will not sit with other people. When we say that it does not have to be this way, it does not come from a western oleh’s naivite. We have each lived in Israel between 15 and 20 years, and can cite examples of places in the country where things work quite differently.
Meanwhile, the lack of cohesion and the infighting in RBSA, together with the conflicts that flare up periodically in RBSB on its borders, have served well the interests of the incumbent administration in the municipality. By promising everyone everything, actually providing very little, and encouraging every group to scratch, claw and scramble for handouts, the city has both reinforced divisions and kept and effectively unchallenged hand on the levers of power and largesse.
Over the past 10 years, we have dealt with the municipality both on a personal level and on behalf of several organizations and institutions in the city. Always we had to come as supplicants and were given to understand that anything that was done for us was a favor. We saw close-up that protexia makes a difference, and even bribery in its more subtle or not so subtle forms you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours being the most mild. Not every city in Israel is run this way. These attitudes are not an intrinsic part of the native Israeli mentality, nor particular to a specific ethnic group they usually reflect the attitude at the top, and trickle from the top down.
The same phenomena can be observed in business. One can go into a shop where the owner or manager and all the employees greet the customer with sever panim yafos and do all they can to help; or into shops where the employees hardly acknowledge your presence, answer your questions as if they are a nuisance, and behave as if they couldn’t care less whether you buy or not. The former shops do better in a competitive environment; the latter thrive where they are the only game in town. Our municipality falls into, and behaves like those in the latter category.
With the approach of the municipal elections, we have spent hours and hours and more hours meeting and speaking with mayoral candidates and candidates from the party lists for city council. We have met with some of the candidates privately, in small, intimate groups by invitation only, as well as in larger public forums. We have corresponded by email and had telephone conversations. Here, just now, we would like to limit ourselves to a discussion of the mayoral race only.
Wanting to see a change at the helm in the city was a forgone conclusion for us. Who to support of the two viable alternatives for mayor has been a more difficult decision to reach.
On the one hand, we want to see the entire city run differently. On the other hand, we have our own sectarian interests our schools and shuls, our social, commercial and aesthetic community issues.
As we define ourselves as chareidi, albeit with an Anglo flavor, our presumptive place might be in the clearly-delineated chareidi political camp, with a chareidi mayoral candidate (and a chareidi party/city council list). In fact, that was our presumption and we were invited to join an Anglo committee to consult with and advise one of the chareidi parties/lists, to a brain storming session with the heads of the list who will likely have seats on the city council, and to a meeting with Anglo RBSA rabbinic and lay leaders to strategize campaign efforts in RBSA for the chareidi mayoral candidate.
At the same time, we met with the other mayoral contender and the representatives of other lists, because it is important to us to make not only the most informed decision possible in this election, but also a decision we feel is in consonance with our values and our dreams and aspirations for ourselves, our children and our community.
At each of these meetings we asked hard questions that reflected our reservations about the candidates, that challenged their positions and their promises, and that probed their underlying visions of the future of the city as well as their understanding of the relationship between the municipality and the residents, and how a government can and should work.
The chareidi-identified candidate seems sincerely to want to serve everyone, and to provide a better level of service than currently available from the city, but he did not really understand that, ke’ilu, doing favors for everybody, albeit across the board, is not the same thing as treating everyone as well as possible because it is their due. Unfortunately as well, he has aligned himself with some of the same forces who attempted the putsch in RBSA 10 years ago, have never ceased try to exercise power and assert control, and who would highjack the candidate’s proposed RBSA neighborhood committee to expand their influence and advance their agenda. In addition, a number of the city council candidates who stand to hold important portfolios if this man is elected mayor, see themselves as representing only the most sectarian interests, and see being in a position to help in the manner of dispensing favors. In short, this well-meaning mayoral candidate may bring about improvements over the current administration, but it will be politics and business as usual in city hall and the city council because anything else is simply outside their experience or understanding of what is good and desirable. Parenthetically, a small cynical and selfish voice says that were we to support this candidate (and the chareidi list) in a big way and they were elected that we would have friends in the municipality who would treat us especially well during the coming five years. Only one problem that’s not the kind of city we want to live in.
With Shalom Lerner, our initial assumption was that he was not of our camp and that, despite his campaigning under the banner of unity, he might actually view chareidim and our interests with disfavor. But over the course of the last several weeks, after three meetings with Shalom one in private and two in public forums where we went in quite skeptical and pressed some challenging questions, and after speaking with people who have known him personally for many years or worked with him since he assumed public office, we came away with a compelling picture of a man of great integrity, of his word (he doesn’t dispense promises readily, and he regards promises in the manner we are accustomed to in our own dealings), a man who truly values and respects Jews of every stripe save those who use or do not eschew violence who places public service above power and politics, and who envisions a city that welcomes the contributions of its citizens and hopes to encourage and provide a platform for their energies and creativity.
Shalom is not an “Anglo”, although he has lived in both the States and England. (For details of his bio, see www.shalomlerner.com.) He not only speaks English, but he shares our mindset and our mentality. He is someone we can talk with, and truly understand one another.
Shalom, whose grandfather was a Bobover chasid and whose first language is Yiddish, is a product of Ner Yisrael high school in Baltimore (as is his campaign manager R’ Dov Lipman, see www.rabbilipman.com) and Yeshivas Itri. The schools many of us send our children to founded or run or influenced by “Anglos” are a le’chatchila for Shalom, not bedi’avad.
Shalom wants to have dialogue with everyone, if they will have dialogue with him and with each other. He is truly as his implies, an “ish shalom”. Plans for the future of RBSA will be made together with the people who live here. There are those who want to pull the neighborhood, and the city, in one direction or another, by force or by political machinations. Shalom will have none of it. He wants, as we do, to live in a city where there is mutual respect, and where the municipality will serve everyone fairly and equally and with a smile.
We can have that kind of city if we want it, and if we all do our part. The first step is that we all have to turn out to vote for Shalom. He is a real mentch but also determined. He will do a lot for us, and together with us. May Hakadosh Baruch Hu guide us and guide him.