Last week’s disaster in which 10 high schoolers were killed in a flash flood showed the beating heart of the people. Everyone in Israel was pained at the tragic deaths of the nine girls and one boy, as if they were their own relatives. Every time we witness a resurgence of this Jewish characteristic, we wonder why it appears only at the hardest, most painful times, and not in day-to-day life.
One of the days when this heartwarming unity surfaces without any painful event is the Lag B’Omer holiday. For decades, we have watched huge processions of children and parents from all sectors of society walking together. It’s doubtful whether there is another event in Israel in which everyone takes part, shoulder to shoulder, religious and secular, haredi and traditional, native-born and new immigrants.
Lag B’Omer events are held in every city and community—about 800 processions involving about a quarter of a million kids. The best Israeli artists perform, and there is one message: love of Israel, respect for others and the desire to draw together around what we have in common.
Even if we try hard, it’s hard to say a single bad word about the events. But this year, all of a sudden voices of dissent were heard. They came from the same old group that is spearheading the whining about “religification,” who want to detach the Jewish spirit from Israeli society. What is the great sin here? That the children read Torah verses. Truly an unforgivable crime.
The absurdity reached its height when they cried out against municipal funding for the events. Thousands of residents and their children enjoy entertaining and educational performances, but cities cannot support them because they include traditional Jewish elements, and because they are organized by Chabad. We could wave off this bunch, or feel sorry that on the eve of Lag B’Omer, they have nothing better to do than stir up strife and deepen already existing societal divides. But it’s time that the general public put these aggressive agitators in their place.
The vast majority of Israeli society loves Jewish tradition. Polls conducted among the parents of public school students show that they want their children to learn more Torah and take in more Jewish values. Not only is there no “religification,” instruction in Jewish history is seriously lacking. Chabad and other organizations work to fill that vacuum. This activity is done with love, with sensitivity, and sends the right message to the public. Teachers, nursery-school teachers and parents have nothing but praise for these projects and are asking for more. But they don’t always have the power to handle the blunt attacks by officials for whom Judaism and tradition are four-letter words.
The public needs to speak up. It needs to vote with its feet, in the hundreds of Lag B’Omer processions. And throughout the year, it must encourage principals, teachers and nursery-school teachers to provide activities that teach tradition and values for the sake of unity and love of our Jewish heritage.
Rabbi Menachem Brod is the editor of Chabad youth’s Weekly Conversation magazine