For several weeks now a commercial has been running on TV channels 10 and 22, selling “an Israeli Friday.”
What is an Israeli Friday according to the commercial? It is a Friday night family meal with Kiddush. What does the commercial show? First it shows a totally dysfunctional secular family, with two children eating cornflakes, one little boy taking a computer keyboard apart, the father of the family reading a newspaper, and the rest of the family busy playing with their smartphones.
In the next scene, all members of the family is all dressed up for Shabbat with white shirts and blouses, sitting at the table, and the father is blessing the wine.
The message: drop your empty life and return to tradition – national religious tradition.
An Israeli Friday is only that practiced by the national religious. Over two million Arabs, over one million immigrants from the former Soviet Union, several hundred thousand haredim (ultra-Orthodox), not to mention secular Israelis, are not really “Israeli” – even though they are a majority of the citizens of Israel. They are some sort of amorphous “other.”
At first I was convinced that the commercial – part of a campaign which according to reports cost NIS 5 million – was produced by one of the NGOs that receive government financing to make us all (Arabs excluded) more “Jewish.” But when I delved a little more deeply into the matter I discovered that the campaign, reportedly initiated by Rabbi Haim David Kobalsky from Bnei Brak, was produced with the financial backing of a group of secular businessmen, followers of the rabbi, who is considered a spiritual teacher by many influential secular figures.
Well, I am still not convinced that at least part of the money didn’t come from the government, through the infamous “Directorate for Jewish Identity” (see my article on the directorate of March 9, 2014).
Let me make it quite clear: I have nothing against traditional Friday night meals. In fact, whenever I am invited by one of my religious friends to attend such a meal, I am delighted. However, as an atheist this tradition is not part of my everyday life.
When my children were small, Friday night meals were festive occasions, sometimes attended by guests, with good food and good conversation. Togetherness was naturally part of the occasion, but we used to all sit around the table for supper also on weekdays, so there was nothing unusual about that. In other words, we were not a dysfunctional secular family that needed to be saved from itself.
In fact, what is wrong with the family in the first half of the commercial is not the absence of a white shirts and blouses, a traditional meal and Kiddush, but its dysfunction as a family.
Incidentally, while a majority of religious and traditional families are perfectly fine, exemplary citizens, there are families that hold Friday night meals with Kiddush – even religious families – that are also dysfunctional, or totally lacking of any real communication between their members.
There are also traditional and religious families that sit together every Friday night for a meal with Kiddush, from which abominations like Yigal Amir and Dr. Baruch Goldstein emerged. I am sure that the “Lehava” hoodlums also sat at Friday night meals with Kiddush before going out to burn classrooms in bi-national schools, or to terrorize Jewish women who fell in love with Arabs – as if there are no Jewish women in Israel living with “kosher” Jewish men who abuse them physically and mentally, and need to be saved much more urgently than Jewish women who have chosen Arab spouses. In addition, all the Jewish women murdered in Israel by their spouses in recent decades were murdered by Jewish men, some of whom insisted on traditional Friday night meals with Kiddush.
I MUST say that the first time I saw the TV commercial I was reminded of several National Religious party election campaigns from the past, which also made frequent use of the image of fine religious families, opposite images of drugged delinquent secular youngsters – as if all seculars are totally shallow, valueless drug addicts, whose only salvation is Jewish tradition. I always watched these campaigns with total disgust, wondering why I was expected to look up at religious families whose religious beliefs I do not share, while they look down at me for no better reason that I am secular, as if I and my like were damaged goods. A great recipe for unity. At least Naftali Bennett understands that you cannot bring about unity by badmouthing seculars, and is likely to have several secular candidates in the list of Bayit Yehudi.
And as to drugged delinquents, social workers in Jerusalem can tell you that (sadly) they have under their care quite a few youngsters of religious (national and haredi) background who are delinquents, and even drug users. Their families, with their Friday night dinners and Kiddush, frequently renounce them, and simply leave them to be cared for by the overly-stretched social services.
If indeed there are secular businessmen behind the current “Israeli Friday” campaign, I would like to ask them: “If you are really secular you must certainly know that secularism is not necessarily a recipe for dysfunction and degeneration, just like keeping the 613 mitzvot is not a guarantee for functionality and harmony, so why besmirch a whole community of which you are allegedly members? And if you are not really secular – why pretend to be?” And another question: “If you have NIS 5m. to spare, can’t you find a more worthy cause to spend it on?” Oh well, this isn’t the worst commercial on television these days trying to sell us goods that we don’t necessarily want.
The writer is a retired Knesset employee.