Who You Callin ‘We’, White Man?


There are pros and cons to living in a mixed community.  Wait, let me back up, for those who don’t know what I’m referring to. Although in the States a mixed community might mean families from different backgrounds, religions, cultures, speaking different languages –  here, we are all Jews.  A mixed community, in Israel, means religious Jews and secular Jews living together, with the ideal of respecting each other’s right and privilege to live as one wishes, worship (or not worship) as one wishes, swim in the local pool on Saturday (or not) as one sees fit. Hassle free.

Understand that this is in juxtaposition from the last place we lived where we marinated some skirt steak and (silly us) threw it on the grill at 7:52pm on a Friday, which drew every half naked neighbor we had out to their balconies to scream at us – some in Hebrew and some in Kurdish, threatening to call the police (What would the police have done? Do they speak Kurdish?) since we obviously had no respect for ourselves or “their” God.  Not pretty, especially in light of the fact that my hubby was in his underpants at the time. How Jerry Springer.  Hence, the move.

 

Last night, we hit a definite “con” to a mixed community.  It’s been brewing for some time now.  Our moshav is growing – there used to be 80 families here and there has recently been an expansion of new homes, bringing the total to close to 130.  More families means more kids, and more kids mean more kindergartens.  The way it works here, as I am quickly learning, is that any Jewish educational institution in this country overseen by the Ministry of Education needs to be deemed either religious or secular (there is a separate system for Charedim.)  There is no in between, partial, sorta or kinda. This spells trouble for a mixed community.

 

The local parents have spent this entire school year debating about the establishment of the new (needed) kindergarten. It’s July, folks.  School starts in 41 days.  We don’t have a decision – should the new kindergarten be religious or secular? There has been meeting after meeting (Don’t these people work?) and the debates have gotten longer, louder and more passionate.  I’m talking table banging passionate. There is a small, dedicated group of (religious) parents who insist that a mixed kindergarten is the best option to reinforce our collective strategy of inclusion and tolerance. So, the municipality performed a phone survey and it turns out that the vast majority of families here are comfortable declaring the secular kindergarten route but adopting the mixed ideology.  Progress!

 

Last night, it got ugly.  The municipality turned down our request. Apparently, this proposal has never been made, and therefore, there is no precedent for a secular kindergarten to be of “mixed” ideology. De-nied.

 

Seventeen parents, three administrators and separate parking for the egos, all in a crowded basement conference room at 9pm. As we filed in, someone I didn’t recognize grabbed my shoulder and invited me to sit next to her, so we could “band together.”  I happened to be wearing a tank top, and it didn’t occur to me until an hour later when epithets began streaming from her mouth that she had identified me as a secular “ally” in the fight against “them”.  Why must it always be “us” vs. “them”?  If I had the balls, which I didn’t, I would have turned to her and pulled a Tonto.

 

Quickly, it became clear that if we wanted a mixed kindergarten, it had to be categorized officially as “religious”. Tensions rose, and so did tempers.

 

“You want to topple everything I stand for!”
“You want to take over!  I won’t allow it!”
“Hateful!”
“Manipulative!”
“Biggot!”
Arse!

 

Truthfully, it scared the hell out of me, and I left (read: ran away) after about 90 minutes of watching indignation seep from every corner of the room.  These are people who have lived side by side – some of them – for 2, 5, 10 years. This was tearing our community apart.

 

I returned home to discuss the nightmare with the aforementioned underpants-wearing hubby.  We both work from home, and are potty training our youngest, so to be fair, most of our family is often pantsless.

 

His view: It would be one thing if the kindergarten was going to really, honestly be mixed.  But the second a religious kindergarten is opened, the secular families won’t send there, the religious will max out the opportunity to push limits, and everything will be separate.  We cannot possibly send our son to a religious gan where all his friends go to shul together, and he’s the odd man out going to the beach on a Saturday.  Once there is a religious gan here, it opens the gates for a strong religious community. More of them will come. Blink twice, and we will be back to the skirt steak nightmare.  No, thanks.

 

My head swam with visions of having to pack our things and flee our community once it’s ultimately taken over and the moshav becomes religious. Like what happened in Ramat Eshkol when it went charedi.  Ok, I said, you’re right – we can’t do that to our kid.  It’s not right. Decision made.

 

6am the following morning: I went for my usual run.  I use my running time to process thoughts, compose blogs in my head, and make decisions (I call them “running revelations”.)  Under the Matisyahu + endorphin induced calm, I thought more clearly. My oldest went to a mixed kindergarten.  She knows how to bench after a meal and is still happy to eat a cheeseburger. Who cares that the kindergarten wouldl be officially categorized as religious?  I’m going to get hung up over which sign hangs at the door? Doesn’t that make me a hypocrite?  I was comfortable with the idea of a mixed gan under the secular system – suddenly, I’m opposed?

 

This is the same group of parents who fought tooth and nail for a mixed gan under the secular system, but failed.  They are not zealots.  Our kids play together in the park – I’d know if they were hatching some secret master plan to prohibit miniskirts and inspect my home for bacon.  They have enough religious families here; they could have easily established a religious gan a year ago should that have been their agenda.  But it’s not – they want a mixed kindergarten, and community, and life, just like we do.

 

They sent us a form this morning to establish a mixed kindergarten under the religious system. We signed it, sending a message both to our neighbors and to the municipality: We will not be governed by labels.  Call it whatever you want, we are going to prosper by educating our children. Together.