At the start of World War II a group of draftees were standing in line waiting to be inducted into the British Army. Each one had to come forward and state his name, address, date of birth and religion to the Sergeant-Major, who then wrote things down. Behind the Sergeant-Major was an officer whose job was to supervise. Things went smoothly, with each draftee declaring his details and his religion (Anglican, Calvinist, Presbyterian etc.) Then one guy stands up and declares: "I have no religion.' The Sergeant-Major was taken aback, unsure as to what to do. The officer reassured him and said: 'Just write Jewish.'
I was thinking of this story when I read that in yesterday's cabinet meeting the ministers from Shinui attacked the idea of open, government assisted Yom Kippur programs. According to Ma'ariv:
A heated exchange erupted this (Sunday) afternoon during the weekly Cabinet session between Minister Yisrael Katz and his counterparts from Shinui, during a debate on the “Judaism for All” project.
Under the framework of the project, synagogues open at 195 community centers and temporary locations during the High Holy Days in order to allow those who are not observant to attend prayer services during Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.
Shinui has expressed fury over the project, arguing it is a state-run system that aims at turning citizens religious. According to Minister Katz, “Shinui is acting worst than the anti-Semites abroad when it lashes out against a project that is meant for teaching and guiding”. In response, Minister Poraz said, “A Jew can also be an anti-Semite”.
Minister Natan Sharansky, who is in charge of the project, said that he found it hard to believe that there are Jews who react with such opposition to such a liberal undertaking, which only intends to provide secular Israelis with knowledge of their heritage. According to Sharansky, the project has been a great success and the demand is rising from year to year.
Labor-Meimad lawmaker, Rabbi Michael Melchior, who established the project five years ago, called on Poraz to resign for his remarks and for terming the project as “missionary”.
The Tzohar Foundation, which aims at bridging gaps between secular and religious Jews in Israel said in response, “The project’s aim is to make Judaism accessible to all. We regret the fact that a Jewish party is coming out against one of the last things that are still consensus in Israel”.
Shinui reminds me of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Really. Emerson, in his essay 'Self-Reliance' once wrote that 'A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.' Never mind that Jewish awareness is as critical to Israel's survival as tanks. Never mind that the overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews are not doctrinaire secularasts, as the AviChai-Guttman Institute reports keep demonstrating. The most important thing is to be against anything Jewish in the Jewish State. Or, as Minister Poraz would put it: “A Jew can also be an anti-Semite”. The British officer knew of what he spoke.