Our Problem With the Garin Torani? We're Jealous of Them

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New families are welcomed into the Garin Torani community in Lod, in 2012.
New families are welcomed into the Garin Torani community in Lod, in 2012.Credit: שילה אדלר

A lot of bad things can be said about the Garin Torani movement members who have moved to the geographic and social periphery of Israel – especially if you are nonreligious, educated and liberal. But the bottom line is that we must admit in all honesty: We are jealous of them.

Instead of the Garin Torani – young religious Jews who move as a group to communities in the periphery and try to introduce religious Zionist content there – we wish secular groups would move to these communities and advance Zionist, democratic and liberal values. Groups that would aid the veteran local population in adapting to digital life, infuse diverse and rich culture and know how to make demands of the local and national government to improve the infrastructure and services there.

The political bonus would be to prevent these communities from falling into the net of religious Zionism, as happened to hundreds of thousands who fell into the net of Shas. But our own, the liberal nonreligious, don’t have the desire or the energy to go and live in Dimona, Ofakim and Beit She’an and do this work there. Our dream is “relocation” – in New Jersey or Silicon Valley, not in Lod.

In the past, we had kibbutzim that sent youth movement leaders to work with the movements in the periphery. They also sent young people to do their military service in Nahal where they would set up or live on outlying outposts – some of which were turned into settlements. But in the liberal, secular sector, the story of settling the land and strengthening poor neighborhoods ended long ago. Collectivism went bankrupt, the kibbutz elites are no longer elites and the kibbutzim are no longer kibbutzim.

National fulfillment has been replaced by personal fulfillment, careerism, activism and urbanization. The extent of our periphery is a house on a moshav in the Sharon. The “Hardal” stream of religious Zionism that runs the Garinim Torani’im is just filling the vacuum created in the periphery. Some of this space was filled by the Shas movement, and in recent years it is the Garin Torani movement at the crossroads of Bezalel Smotrich and Rabbi Haim Druckman that has been doing it.

We are jealous because religious Zionism is a society that has enlisted to work together on the streets of places where an enlightened liberal, secular foot has not trodden in years. We are jealous because they have cracked the political operating system that enables them to enjoy budgets to carry out their urban community settlement. And we are jealous because we don’t have the desire to send our kids there, unless it’s just for a year of national service or as part of a pre-military academy program, and that’s only so they will contribute and benefit themselves in return – and “get to know Israeli society with all of its diversity” before they come back home.

These Garin Torani groups are not all made up of the same material. Some contribute to the social capital of the local communities and help them in various aspects of life – and there are those who create tension with the veteran population and bring in foreign values, and cause alienation. During Operation Guardian of the Walls in the Gaza Strip, it turned out that their presence also introduces nationalist tensions. An infusion of new residents was something good for local businesses, but mainly those businesses that meet the criteria of the Garin Torani members – not something that changes the city’s whole economy.

The tension caused by these groups is a result of both their influence on the local community and their access to and reliance on public resources. A secular, liberal and educated person who is interested in reducing the influence of the Garin Torani movement can act in one of two ways: Reduce the public resources dedicated to the activities of these groups, or build an alternative in the form of secular core groups that are devoted to liberal and democratic values.

But secular society, in spite of its having quite a bit of volunteerism and communal support, is not ideologically galvanized. The parties that represent this population, from Meretz and Labor to Yesh Atid and Kahol Lavan, do not go around founding core groups in communities – it’s not even on their agenda.

The voting patterns for these parties – they stand out in well-off urban areas in the center of the country, and have very few voters in the geographical and social periphery – should have convinced them to create an alternative to the Garin Torani movement.

It is not happening and all that is left to do is supervise the funds directed to the Garin Torani groups. But that is nothing but a technical solution. These parties have no ideology for establishing footholds in communities in the periphery. And as long as that’s the case, we will continue to see this reflected in the geographical segmentation of the election results.

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