Last semester I spent five months studying Hebrew on a kibbutz in Israel. While I was there, war erupted with both Gaza and Lebanon. In Israel there is a universal draft at the age of 18 which affects the entire culture. The army responded immediately. Reserves were called up to bolster the regular army, including many of my new friends. The names of kidnapped, wounded, and murdered soldiers filled the news. Everyone knew someone involved in the fighting. Every Israeli knows someone who died. The war was immediate, with bombs falling on the kibbutz and my friends fighting to end the bombardment.
However, the war also helped illustrate the deep rifts between the Jews of Israel. Like Christianity, Judaism is not monolithic. Ultra-orthodox Jews live off welfare while studying torah, and refuse to serve in the army. Orthodox Jews build controversial settlements inconquered territories. There is a conservative and reform minority inspired by American Judaism. However, the majority of Israelis are secular.
This secular majority comprises most of the army, and resents what they consider to be “ religious leeches” that feed off their taxes and require their protection. An “ us versus them” mentality is solidifying, where secular Jews refuse to learn about their own religion and the foundation of their beloved state, and orthodox Jews refuse to learn about or participate in the common culture. This divide is creating deep rifts in Israeli society that the tiny country can ill afford, and these rifts are only growing deeper.
Abigail Michaelson, ’09 Chicago, IL
Majors: Geology, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Sponsor: Steven Sacks