We Should Beware of the Jewish Brotherhood

Jews and Arabs still get along in Haifa. But if the ultra-Orthodox are taking over the city, the good relations between Jews and Arabs may also be at risk.

The year was 1945 and my father, Sgt. Joseph Weiss, was at the end of a very long stay at the Augusta Victoria hospital in Jerusalem, after suffering a serious injury in a battle fought by his battalion in the British army. It was already known that most of his huge ultra-Orthodox family in Czechoslovakia and Hungary had been was killed in the Holocaust, but he remembered that in Jerusalem, in the Ungarin houses in Mea She'arim, he had relatives.

One sunny Shabbat he took a bicycle and rode to the neighborhood for a visit, his hand still entirely bandaged. Youths in the neighborhood stoned him, the relatives scolded him for not wearing a skullcap and my father - a yeshiva graduate who had left religion, become a Zionist, immigrated to Palestine and wanted to fight Hitler - cultivated an abhorrence of Jerusalem that lasted until his dying day. To him it resembled a stronghold of "strictly religious, fanatical and parasitic haters of Israel," or a "safari." He chose to move and went to live in Haifa, a city that was then free, multinational, and which, over the years and to this very day, is still considered by many to be the most sane and secular city in Israel, because it even has buses that run on Shabbat.

For a while now readers have been writing me that the neighborhood where I grew up, Neveh Sha'anan, which had a clearly middle-class, blue-collar character, is becoming more ultra-Orthodox. In the Neveh Sha'anan of my childhood there was only one religious school where boys and girls studied together in the same classes. Today, the high school where my brother studied has become a yeshiva. The building where my family lived has mostly ultra-Orthodox residents. The last time I visited the area I found out that the entire street we lived on, which was once called "municipal employees' housing," has become an ultra-Orthodox area.

It's all a matter of demography, and there's no one to blame for it, but something essential has changed in the relations between ultra-Orthodox and secular Israelis around the country. So much for Jerusalem, which we gave up on a long time ago. We also conceded Beit Shemesh, and never had hopes for Bnei Brak. But we were so preoccupied with Jerusalem and the southern towns that we forgot about the rest of the country.

Once when skullcap-clad people who combined Torah with work were just called "religious," without reference to the sort of materials from which their head-covering was made, and only extremists like those in Jerusalem were called "strictly religious" or "Israel haters" - we, in Haifa as well, could return the glares of the strictly religious boys who spoke Yiddish and had long earlocks, who gazed at us with anthropological interest from behind the fence of Vizhnitz yeshiva as we walked barefoot from Neveh Sha'anan, through Geula Street, where the yeshiva stood, to the pool.

We were their safari, and they were our zoo. Secular people, by the way, were called "free" then. But where has this freedom gone today, even in Haifa? The buses still run on Shabbat and the beaches are full, but what began as one small yeshiva, in an area that was once completely secular, has already spilled over into the whole area. From two large neighborhoods with a tiny ultra-Orthodox island in their midst, parts of Hadar and Neveh Sha'anan have become secular fringes of what is becoming one large ultra-Orthodox enclave.

Jews and Arabs still get along in Haifa. But if the ultra-Orthodox are taking over the city, the good relations between Jews and Arabs may also be at risk. Instead of worrying about the Muslim Brotherhood in the Arab states, we should start fearing the Jewish Brotherhood that is about to take over, and start acting accordingly.