Over 200 people, many of them young Haredi community leaders, gathered Monday, January 20, for the second of this year’s Bimat Mandel forums at Mandel Leadership Institute – this one on the Haredi community. The group discussed key issues confronting the Haredi community, including its approach to secular and university education; medicine; the Haredi family; and the role of the community and alternative approaches to it.
"We want to remain loyal to our heritage – and out of that loyalty to bring about a renewal," said Naomi Perl, director of the Mandel Programs for Leadership Development in the Haredi Community and organizer of the event, which also included leading academics and other members of the Mandel community.
Panel participants comprised Haredi professionals who are practitioners in the fields of education, medicine, and Jewish thought, and heads of nonprofit organizations. Some of them are qualified and serving rabbis; all have hands-on experience with the needs and challenges facing the community. Subjects raised in the discussions included dealing with cancer in the Haredi family; coping with sexual abuse; pregnancy testing; providing an outlet for emotional expression within the classroom; how Haredi parents deal with their adolescent children; improving the outdated secular studies curriculum in Haredi schools; overcoming the stigma of studying at a college or university; and how to build more diverse, less coercive, Haredi communities in Israel by drawing on the Haredi experience abroad. One panel presented Haredi approaches to the "big questions" of Israeli society, such as the Arab-Israeli conflict and issues of social justice.
"This is a great opportunity at the Mandel Leadership Institute to build a house of study where we can debate, for its own sake, our collective future," said Dr. Eli Gottlieb, director of the Mandel Leadership Institute, under whose auspices the program for leadership in the Haredi community was launched. Certainly, the impression was that the debate was far more significant that for the sake of debate alone; the presentations demonstrated that something truly important is taking place in the Haredi community.
Professor Moshe Halbertal, a faculty member at the Mandel Leadership Institute and professor of Jewish Thought and Philosophy at Hebrew University, summed up what he viewed as the emerging principles in the renewed relationship between the Haredi and the wider Israeli communities. The first principle is tolerance and non-coercion, particularly keeping religion out of legislation; the second, an ethos of joint responsibility for the future of Israeli society; and, finally, work -- returning to a situation in which members of the Haredi community are financially self-reliant.
"It is as if the next great wave of Aliyah to Israel will be of the Haredi community," said Perl, the conference organizer and herself a leading figure within the Haredi community. She believes that there is "a dynamism and energy" within the Haredi community today which is spilling over into the greater Israeli society and will make a great contribution to it.
"There is an inbuilt tension between renewal and change on the one hand and loyalty to our values and society on the other. This is our workspace... [to create] a shared future for Israeli society."