The Bedouin and the Haredi

My day job brings me into frequent contact with members of other faiths, as I try to build bridges and alliances on behalf of Jewish interests. One of the first things I learned was how people with serious religious convictions have an easier time relating to Orthodox Jews – who believe in right and wrong, take Scripture seriously, and believe that G-d should be the focal point of their universe – than to non-observant Jews. I also learned – to my chagrin! – that I had an easier time making conversation with serious Christians than with my own Jewish brothers. I was still delightfully surprised by the secondt excerpt below, taken from an interview with Ishmael Khaldi on

Khaldi grew up in a Bedouin village, and used the opportunities granted by the Israeli educational system to gain advanced degrees after serving in the IDF. I first became aware of his work when he served as a deputy Consul at the Israeli Consulate in San Francisco. Without saying anything, hi very position effectively counteracted the charge that Israel is a “racist apartheid” state; when he did speak, it was with wisdom. This is how he handled the issue of present inequities in the allocation of resources to the Arab population:

“There are African American diplomats representing the United States – now there is an African American president – but that doesn’t mean discrimination does not exist in America,” says Khaldi. “It also doesn’t mean that, because there is discrimination, African Americans should wash their hands of their country of birth.”

Furthermore, says Khaldi, given that the U.S. is 234 years old, and Israel is a mere 62 (plagued by external threats, massive immigration, and internal tumult), the status of minorities in Israel is way ahead of the curve, particularly compared with the treatment of minorities in neighboring Arab countries.

But it is details of his personal journey that I found most intriguing:

Most Bedouin struggle between a desire to embrace modernity and at the same time preserve their heritage and customs. Khaldi is no exception. “In a lot of ways I am stuck between worlds,” he says. “We are a very traditional and conservative people, and it is difficult for us to integrate, particularly into modern, secular, liberal mainstream Israeli society.”
Interestingly, it is for this reason that Khaldi says he feels most comfortable in the company of religious Jews, whose culture and values tend to be much more conservative.
Khaldi recalls when he first landed at JFK International Airport, where he was shocked to be met by such a chaotic mix of people and graffiti, and cars and jet engines. “All at once, my exhaustion and anxiety broke open. I felt like the world was collapsing around me, and I cried like an orphan newborn lamb whose mother had just died,” he writes.
Then suddenly, like a bolt of lightning, he spotted a Hassid in the terminal, on the floor above him. “My heart swelled and my mood brightened immediately. I felt as if I had been lost at sea and suddenly spotted a beacon of light,” he writes. It was that Hassid that pointed him in the direction of Borough Park, Brooklyn, where he quickly found refuge with another Hassidic family.

This incident is now part of a book that Khaldi (now serving as a political advisor to Avigdor Lieberman) has written about his life’s story. It is yet another reminder of the enormous capacity for both Kiddush Hashem and chilul Hashem that inheres in a world of instant communication.

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4 Responses

  1. dr. bill says:

    I agree whole-heartedly. This phenomenon of where people are comfortable and find it useful to spend time and energy and have meaningful interaction and derive support ought to be appreciated more broadly. For example, RYYW ztl’s association with his thesis advisor or the Lubavitcher Rebbe ztl’s assumed life in the Berlin and Paris or Rambam’s interactions with Moslem philosophers, scientists and doctors is often viewed less than positively. Bedouins can find needed support in Hasidic Borough Park, just like others can find it in the Museum of Natural History or in conversation with a philosopher of another faith. There are many such stories in our literature from which we might learn positive lessons about openness.

  2. Miriam says:

    dr. bill writes: There are many such stories in our literature from which we might learn positive lessons about openness.

    Not without an important – and valuable – awareness. The Gedolim you mention undoubtedly gained something from their interactions with non-Jewish society, but only so much as it enhanced their identity based fully upon Jewish-religious values. For a Torah Jew to view the world at large with skepticism (or as you say those interactions are “viewed less than positively”) is correct – not all of it is compatible with our view, and I’m sure Rambam, the Lubavitcher Rebbe and felt the same way.

    Rav Adlerstein’s article gave me a more interesting insight: people with serious religious convictions have an easier time relating to Orthodox Jews… than to non-observant Jews. This could explain why Obama is the first US president to have more of a JStreet approach with Israel – he isn’t very religious, so he and his advisors gravitate toward those with similar sensibilities.

    I also wonder how many people are out there that have a religiously-based Weltanschauung, how many who would feel an affinity for Orthodox Jews and other G-d-oriented people. When I was growing up many of my non-Jewish schoolmates were raised with religious sensibilities but were not as active themselves. Nowadays I wonder how much of a religious basis those kids are getting.

  3. Mark says:

    Having lived outside of the Tri-State area for a good part of my adult life, I can vividly recall numerous instances where I, a clearly identifiable Charedi, have been approached by a religious Christian who desired to strike up conversation with me. Nor was their intent malicious in any way. They believe that we are special and seek our friendship and approval in return. The same is true for many non-observant Jews who were very respectful simply because I was a religious Jew. One does not experience that to the same degree in the Tri-state area, but out-of-towners will know exactly what I mean. The opportunities for Kiddush Hashem are everywhere. The streets are truly “paved with gold” if one knows what gold looks like.

  4. Raymond says:

    While embracing the new for its own sake is usually a major mistake, romanticizing traditional lifestyles can also be to our peril. There is all the difference in the world between the fundamentally morally decent ways of traditional Judaism, as compared to the idolatrous and/or barbarically murderous ways of some of our counterparts in other major, noted religions. Judaism is well worth keeping alive and well, but I seriously question the value of encouraging the more destructive of other religions to do the same.

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