Monday, February 20, 2006

Avrum Burg's Confession

In a review of the new book, Yamim Ktumim (Orange Days) by Sivan Rahav-Meir and her husband, Yedidyah, who are a journalistic husband-and-wife-separate-but-equal team, Avrum Burg has this remarkable piece in Haaretz:

In the interests of proper disclosure, allow me to say something I have never said before: When I was growing up, Motti Zisser was the boy I loved most. He and I shared a dorm room at the yeshiva. The classrooms and study halls were not where we learned the things we needed to know in life. Like kids everywhere, we learned much more from each other. Motti taught me to play volleyball. He taught me to see the world through "smile-tinted" glasses, without anger, with so much creativity. I have never told him how important he was to me. People didn't say such things back then. We were rough, tough Israelis.

After high school, we hardly saw each other. He went on to make a name for himself in his world, and I went my way. Now our paths have crossed again in "Yamim Ketumim" ("Orange Days"). After all these years, our differences have clearly deepened. His religious and spiritual life is rooted in the Orthodox Zionist world, whereas I have become alienated from the "straight and narrow" of that world. For many years now, I have been outside the Orthodox mainstream, searching for ways to renew and rebuild Judaism.

And yet, we still have much in common. One of his daughters has adopted a secular lifestyle, just as some of my own children have. This is a terrible source of pain to him, but he loves her dearly and somehow, through the cracks in the relationship between an adoring father and a daughter who is carving out a path of her own, Zisser has become privy to certain insights into aspects of religious Zionism that this insular movement has been studiously avoiding.

"Over the past 15 years, religious Zionism has gone over to black-and-white," he says. "Most of us have parents who survived the Holocaust and brought with them both good and bad in the wake of their wartime experiences ... In those days, the rabbis busied themselves with Torah, not politics ... Their job was to teach us Torah ... and how to be good Jews."

And us? "We placed our children in the hands of rabbis whom we believed were doing their job and teaching them Torah, but our children came back from yeshiva schooled in politics."

Beyond his insights on the virus that has paralyzed the nerve center of religious Zionism, Zisser represents a lifestyle all his own. He is part and parcel of the business world and the realities of the day, but without compromising his faith. He is a full partner in the world of secularity, Arabs, modern communications and politics, but in the final analysis, he calls himself a "Haredi [ultra-Orthodox] Zionist." He is pious in his religious observance and belief, yet an equal partner, sharing the same rights and obligations on all Israeli political issues, from foreign policy and finance to evacuation of settlements and demarcation of borders.

Zisser is a tremendous challenge to secular Zionism - much greater than all the extremists who represent the various streams of Judaism today. If we were friends again, if we were back in touch, I would hug him and say all those things that are so commonplace today, but which were so hard to say back then: I love you, Motti, and I owe you so much.

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