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Eli Paley: What’s Next: The Future of Israel’s Haredi Community

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SUMMARY

In this episode of the 18Forty Podcast, we talk to Eli Paley, the publisher of Mishpacha magazine, about the role of Haredi society at this pivotal moment in Israel’s history.

As we emerge from a time when Israel’s Haredi and secular cultures have experienced an upswell of unity, the Jewish People will move forward (in some way) forever changed. And Eli Paley is particularly equipped to understand the segments and the wholeness of Israeli society. In this episode we discuss:

  • What comes next as we rebuild as a more cohesive nation?
  • Can we reimagine the relationship between Haredi and secular Israelis?
  • What unique contributions does Haredi society offer to Israel?
Tune in to hear a conversation about the transformation and rebirth that Israel is undergoing.
Interview begins at 12:09.Eli Paley, an alumnus of the Chevron Yeshiva, is owner of Mishpacha Media Group and publisher of the Mishpacha weekly magazine for the Haredi and Dati sectors, in Israel and abroad, in Hebrew and English. He is a businessman and social activist, and is chairman of the Paley Family Foundation which supports and promotes Torah centers and social initiatives in the Haredi community. He is a member of the Jewish Funders Network and is active in several philanthropic organizations.

References:

David Bashevkin: 
Hi friends, and welcome to the 18Forty Podcast, where each month we explore different topic balancing modern sensibilities with traditional sensitivities to give you new approaches to timeless Jewish ideas. I’m your host, David Bashevkin, and this month we’re continuing our exploration of the war in Israel. This podcast is part of a larger exploration of those big, juicy Jewish ideas, so be sure to check out 18Forty.org, where you can also find videos, articles, recommended readings, and weekly emails. For all our Dr. Malka Simkovich fans in the 18Forty community, we have some especially exciting news for you. Starting December 24th, you can join our newest book journey with Malka Simkovich, on what is the essence of anti-Semitism. You’ll read three books, attend live sessions with Malka, and have weekly discussions boards to really dive into this subject and master it.

It’s really working with Malka’s expertise to understand the history, the fundamentals, and the core characteristics of anti-Semitism. It’s really going to be something incredible. You have until December 20th to sign up on our website. That’s 18Forty.org/simcovichbookjourney. Simkovich is spelled S-I-M-K-O-V-I-C-H, book journey. 18Forty.org/Simcovichbookjourney. It’s $18 and 40 cents a month, and it’s an amazing opportunity to support our work, while immersing into the world of books and ideas. Thank you to our sponsor, for Book Journey’s Morty and Shana Jacobs, who dedicate this book journey for the merit of you and your loved one, for without your participation, we’d just be book wandering. I’m so grateful to my friend, Morty and his wife Shana, for their vision, friendship, and partnership on this incredible book journey. I hope you join.

It was only a few days, if not maybe a week or two into the response to the horrific tragedies of October 7th, that people began to wonder or almost plea out loud, “How can we continue this upswell of unity and togetherness that we are seeing in this moment?” There is this instinctive feeling that we want to capture these feelings and these moments in a bottle and make sure that they never disappear. The truth is, these questions about, “What is next? What is coming next?” are sometimes really hard to approach altogether, because we don’t change the future by insisting upon it in the present by saying, “Okay. Let’s make sure that we stay this unified right now.” We’ve been in such moments baefore, unfortunately, and we know that very often normalcy begins to descend, and a lot of the cohesiveness that we have felt in these moments can very quickly dissipate and disappear.

We’ve already begun to see some erosions of that very strong core of unity that everyone has felt, and I thought that in this moment it’s worthwhile taking a step back and really asking, “So what is next?” and what we’re trying to do here on 18Forty for the next few weeks is asking that question, “What’s next?” to really understand, in the aftermath of this generationally challenging, shifting event that is October 7th, this horrific massacre, to begin to wonder how can we rebuild in a way that is stronger and even more resilient? There is an op-ed that, when I was studying my year in Israel and ueshiva, which was a year after September 11th, I studied with somebody named Eitan Epstein who’s a dear friend, somebody who I’m in touch with.

He’s doing really incredible work with adult education. He has this program to push people to learn five minutes of Torah together. He’s a Ramaz graduate, and he not only was my roommate my year in Israel, we also studied Musar together. We had a short, I think it was like 20 minutes, where we would learn Jewish ethics together. We studied Mesilat Yesharim, the work of Rav Moshe Hayyim ‎Luzzatto. He showed me an op-ed that he read. It has stayed with me ever since. This is more than 20 years ago. It was published in the New York Times on January 6th, 2002 by Maureen Dowd, and it’s an article called “Mirror, Mirror of The Fall,” and it’s about this question that America was asking in the aftermath of September 11th.

She begins with, really, what I think is a very poignant skepticism about declarations of how much we have changed, and people walk around now, we’ve changed forever. This is what she writes. “Through many decades, Americans were on an odyssey of self-discovery. As a woman told a man at a party in a 1991 New Yorker cartoon, ‘I don’t know anybody here but the hostess,’ and of course, it continues jokingly, in a deeper level, myself. Since September 11th, our long voyage of personal awareness has only intensified. Every day we check our image looking for ways, big or small, that we might have changed. We ponder if the changes are good or bad. We puzzle over whether the president has metamorphosized. We palaver,” a great word, that I’m not certain what the definition is, “We palaver about how the country has been transformed.”

Then, in the middle she says something that has stayed with me ever since. She writes as follows, “Our obsession with how much we’ve changed simply shows how much we’ve stayed the same. We keep superimposing the epic narratives of a heroic transfiguration on a president who is doing fine without it. Boomers keep trying to draw the President into their navel-gazing, even though he has never been emblematic of his generation and has always regarded introspection as psychobabble. George W. Bush reacted with impatience the other day when asked, yet again, if the verbal autumn had changed him. ‘Talk to my wife,’ he said. ‘I don’t know. I don’t spend a lot of time looking in the mirror, except when I comb my hair,’” and the op-ed, as skeptical as it ends, really ends on, I think, a very powerful note.

She says, “The revolutionary change would be if we stopped trying on identities and decided to keep one, stopped wondering what we’re like on the inside, and looked outside ourselves. The reality of ground zero renders all discussion of the unrealities and surrealities of our culture moot. We’re casting about for an external statement about the effect of September 11th on us, when the truest response is silence. Anyone who’s truly changed doesn’t wonder if they’ve changed.” What a sentence. “Anyone who’s truly changed doesn’t wonder if they’ve changed. By constantly checking our emotional temperature, we keep the endless self-hyphenating loop going, self-admiring, self-denigrating, self-regarding. The only real change would take place if we removed our fingers from our pulse.” Now, I don’t know if she’s correct or not.
I tend to believe that we need a little bit of both. We need some kind of self-reflection, where we actually put our finger on the pulse, and then we need to give some space to allow for that organic transformation of a society, of a people, of the very transformation of Amcha Yisrael and Knesset Yisrael, the Jewish people themselves, for a moment to step away from that obsession, and really realize that there are moments where our obsession with how much we’ve changed simply shows how much we’ve stayed the same. That is why I’m trying to navigate both, to give us moments where we can have organic transformation, and also moments where we put our finger on the pulse and start to wonder what are the processes and questions we need to confront in order to have that sustained change?

There are many areas and aspects of the Jewish people and Israeli society that we need to be asking these questions. I think one of the largest questions that people have been quietly wondering, if not very much out loud, is the relationship between Israeli Haredi society and the secular Israeli society, the relationship between the parts of Israel that are deeply committed to long-term learning, long-term, Talmud Torah, who study in kollels. These people I consider, not I consider, these people are my family, and I don’t mean in the conceptual sense. This is my sister, this is my brother-in-law, this is my nephews, and at the same time, also wondering, do the events of October 7th, are they so urgent that perhaps now is the exact right time to step back and wonder, “Do we have processes in place to reimagine what the relationship between these two societies actually is or perhaps can be?”

I’m a big believer that, as important as slogans and pictures of Haredim or Hasidim, barbecuing for soldiers, and as moving as it is to see soldiers davening together at the Kotel, next to Haredim, that is simply not enough. That is not a process. That is not a vision for a new relationship. I am not equipped to answer any of these questions, but I know people who are, many of our listeners may know that, in a previous life, I was a writer for Mishpacha Magazine, which has both an English magazine known as Mishpacha, as well as a Hebrew weekly that circulates, primarily serving the Israeli Haredi community. While I worked at Mishpacha, one of the things that I’m so incredibly grateful for is part of the Mishpacha family, which really is a family.

These are relationships that I still have, that are still very much a part of my life, and are very much misunderstood by those who maybe are not a part of that segment of society, looking from the outside inwards, is that these are some of the most thoughtful people I’ve ever interacted with. At the head of Mishpacha Magazine is really a visionary, named Eli Paley. Eli Paley is the publisher of Mishpacha Magazine. His family has been in Israel for just about 100 years. They predate the state. He identifies as a part of the Israeli Haredi community, and all of his work in Mishpacha Magazine has been messaging and creating media for the Israeli Haredi community. So when I had the opportunity, and I am so grateful for Eli Paley and his incredible work, to speak with him and ask him some of these questions, “What is next for the Israeli Haredi community?” I not only jumped at it, but I jumped at it with a tremendous amount of privilege and gratitude for his willingness to speak on this.

Because aside from his work in Mishpacha Magazine, what really animates him is this question. He has a machon, an institute for Haredi society, that has been asking these questions even before October 7th, and is now re-approaching them with even more urgency, with even more thoughtfulness, with even more care. So wherever you are on this question, if you think that everything needs to change, if you think that nothing needs to change, wherever you are vis-a-vis this question, if you look at yourself as a part of the Israeli Haredi community, if you are asking these questions with urgency, I can think of no better voice with more sensitivity, somebody who isn’t insider but who partners and builds coalitions both on the inside and the outside, somebody who really has been occupied with this central question for many, many years, and has done incredible work in this area.

I would ask you to open up your hearts, because he jumps over some of the superficial points of unity, and I don’t mean to dismiss them, but I think we both agree, and when I say we, I mean Eli Paley and myself, that this is not yet the answer, but the answer, We have the momentum and we have an opportunity to really confront and embrace the opportunities of this moment, to really think about what it would mean to have that cohesive society, where everyone is contributing in different ways for the overall needs, not just of the state of Israel, but almost, more largely, that transcendent body of Knesset Israel, of the Jewish collective Jewish people, which is always at the heart of what animates my thought vis-a-vis the state of Israel as the embodiment, so to speak, of Knesset Israel. It is really our absolute privilege and pleasure to introduce our conversation with Eli Paley. How have the events of October 7th affected the Haredi community in Israel?

Eli Paley: 
It’s definitely a moment of change, not just for the Haredi society, for the entire Jewish society, not just even in Israel. I think what we see right now is a big sense of unity, of achdut. It’s the first time that I’m witnessing the fact that Haredim feel comfortable to appreciate the soldiers who are sacrificing their lives for the people. For years, it was a big tension to discuss this issue and to see that this is happening, I think that everybody’s sharing a sense of, something is happening to the Jewish people. It’s not an issue of the state of Israel. It’s not an issue of a narrative, “Yes, army. Not, army.”

It’s something that’s relevant to all of us, and I think that what I’m so happy to see that it’s mutual, meaning not just that they see that Haredi start to feel comfortable to speak in a very warm way about the soldiers. You see the fact that there is hundreds of Haredi who are going to make barbecue and to sing with soldiers, and I know that some people were laughing and said, “Okay. They’re fighting when you’re doing barbecue,” but I think that we have to appreciate, because it shows and it expresses a real sense of belonging. We want to be part of them, not because we think that we’re not doing the right thing. Most of the Haredim that I speak with, nobody thinks that maybe they have to change. Instead of going to Yeshiva, they have to go to the army, but to feel that, “Yes, we are partners. We’re together,” and I’ll share with you, David.

At the beginning, I saw there is a big action. People wants to go to the south, to the north to dance with the soldiers. Seriously, if we believe so much in Torah learning, so maybe what we should see is more people who will give more hours, and then I realized that it’s not really to measure it by all the importance of what you’re doing. It’s really what the sense that you’re trying to express, and I think this is an amazing shift that people feel comfortable, but it’s also mutual, David, because what you see is also from the other side, so much appreciation for the Torah world. You see commanders who are saying, begging you, “Please, David, for us, pray for us. We need you. We need you in the yeshivas. We need you, the religious people.” There is endless stories about this, and I think this is really a platform of a new conversation between Haredim and non-Haredim.

David Bashevkin: 
It’s really remarkable, and you’ve been at the forefront of a lot of this change. Most know you, those who know you usually associate you with Mishpacha Magazine, where I wrote for many years.

Eli Paley: 
We are missing you. We are missing you, David.

David Bashevkin: 
Once you’re a part of the Mishpacha family, I’m always in touch with the whole chevra, and it really is a family, but those who know you really well know that your real baby is not Mishpacha Magazine. It is the Machon HaHaredi. It is an institute that is really trying to examine the role and place of the Haredi community in the larger Israeli society, and you’re exactly right, the way that Haredi community has mobilized, specifically, the civic organization. When you think about ZAKA, when think about the ambulance services that have taken place. Even Hatzalah.

It is absolutely remarkable, but I want to come back because it is a third rail topic, and there are a lot of third rail, the expression, we can’t talk about it. It’s hard to talk about. I want to talk a little bit about army service, and specifically what your vision is, because there is bubbling up. In a time of war, what are you going to do? Is there a plan? Are there leaders who are getting together, who are trying to re-examine the relationship of the Haredi population with the overall defense needs of the state of Israel?

Eli Paley: 
Yeah, absolutely. First, let me share with you a scoop. We’re just releasing a new survey that we just got the results today, and our team is working to analyze the data, but the amazing number that we got is the 29 percent of the Haredi population across the board, it’s like it’s 500 interviewers from all spectrum of the Haredi world are supporting in integrating Haredim into the army, and 5% out of the 29, which is 20% more, it used to be before the war 24%, and now 5% declare that they changed their mind after the war. So you see a trend or some new willingness to take part in this. The challenge is really, today, how we can take this good moment and a very special moment to create something that will last for long-term. Now, let me share with you a little bit what was the problem until today and why I’m a little bit more optimistic.

David Bashevkin: 
Yes.

Eli Paley: 
For many years, I was very concerned about this issue for two reasons. A, we know that one of the main thing that caused tension between Haredim and non-Haredim in Israel was the army. Even though that I really believe that the role of the Torah world is no less crucial for the future of the Jewish people than serving the army, and by the Haredi perspective, as long as the army can manage without those voices, so we don’t have other people to feel the Yeshivas, so we have to make sure that we will do the best we can. I once heard from Moshe Mordechai Farbstein, the rosh yeshiva of Hebron Yeshiva.

He spoke to a delegation that I brought to the yeshiva, and he said, “Yes, you bear in mind, at the end of the day, the amount of people are sitting, learning Torah, as a percentage of the Jewish people, are very, very low percentage.” You are asking us, among the Haredim, but from the Jewish people, I don’t know how many we have today, 14 million or 15 million, how many really people we have sitting and learning around the world? So always the issue was that Haredim said, “Listen, we see our role to make sure that the Jewish mission, the Jewish legacy will continue by having the issue. As long as the army is managing without Haredim, we’re okay with it.”

That was one aspect, but the other problem was, and over the last two decades, I did many efforts in different forms to try to bring this conversation, including in the Tal Committee over 20 years ago, that I came there to testimony and to give some directions. The issue was the following, and especially at least in the last 10 or 15 years. When I spoke to people from the army, from different think tanks, about Haredim, I heard usually the same answer. They said, “Listen, we don’t need you, Haredim, in the army today. The army, right now, the demographic is growing, and as everybody who is familiar, know that in the past 10 years the army was struggling with how can they decrease the length of the service, instead of 36 months, to make it 28 and even less?”

So the issue wasn’t demographic. By the time that the army is trying to shrink and trying to reduce the amount of people, still the conversation, “Why you, Haredim, are not participating?” came. I’m not saying that it’s not an issue, because yes, it’s an issue, because if I’m sending my son and to rescue his life, so I’m expecting other people to do the same, but I’m just saying that it’s not a conversation about security needs. It’s a conversation about some other values, which are very strong and valid values, but it’s not a conversation about security. The answer I got from people was the following, “We don’t really need you, Haredim, in the army. We don’t even want you to participate in the army, because if you, Haredim, will come in big numbers to the army, you will change-“

David Bashevkin: 
The character of the service, the character of the army itself.

Eli Paley: 
And especially that it’s not a secret that in the past 10, 15 years the army is moving in a very progressive, liberal way. Just recently, a year ago, we heard from Rabbi Yaakov Bennett, the rosh yeshiva from the Gush Etzion, who said that they are starting to have a real issue with sending their kids to some of the units because of the mixed gender service. On one end, the army is becoming more reflection of the trend of the liberal, progressive way so, “We don’t need you, Haredim. It’s enough what we have with the yeshiva boys from the Hesder yeshivas. We don’t need you, but at least go do national service.”

And always, I was trying to explain to my friend, “That’s really humiliating, because if you are telling Haredim, ‘Listen, we need you. We need you, because we need you to save our own lives,’ so that’s a conversation that for sure we have to respond.” But you’re saying the following, “We don’t really need you, the security, but we don’t know what you’re doing there in yeshivas. I don’t know. You’re reciting Tehillim, whether you’re dancing the entire day, so at least let’s do something meaningful.” I have nothing against national service. It’s great, whoever does it, and I appreciate. I really appreciate. You see great young, especially with the Dati Leumi. You see girls who are doing an amazing work, but to come to the Torah world and to say, “We don’t need you for the security, but do something to serve the nation,” it’s humiliating.

David Bashevkin: 
It’s humiliating to the Haredi world, because in their mind and self-conception, they’re already doing national service. Their national service is studying Torah and preserving the Jewish character of the state of Israel.

Eli Paley: 
And much more.

David Bashevkin: 
Correct.

Eli Paley: 
And much modern national service. Why we’re doing it? We’re not going to make anything for living. We’re not going to college. We’re really sacrificing something meaningful, because we believe that this is our mission. So you’re telling us, “I don’t know what you’re doing, guys, but please go to Yad Sarah. Help some elderly people to walk the street.” Again, not because it’s not good to do, but to ask a yeshiva bochur to close his Gemara and to go to do national service.

David Bashevkin: 
It’s a misunderstanding of what he’s doing while the Gemara is open.

Eli Paley: 
Open, and that’s exactly what I was trying to explain to my secular friends over the time. I said, “We have to have a different conversation, and the only way you can have the conversation is if we can start by each side should appreciate and understand the values and the contribution of the other side. You can’t come to the Haredi society to speak about army by saying, ‘You are doing nothing. Now let’s talk about the army.’” And army, no matter what you’re doing at the army, I don’t know what, but at least you are in the army, Haredim can’t appreciate it, and it’s not a conversation.

It’s not a healthy conversation, and it’s not a productive conversation. What I was trying to push in every opportunity that I had, first, we have to start the conversation by each side, should appreciate and really appreciate what the other side is doing. Haredim shouldn’t say, “Ah, you are going to the army because everybody goes to the army.” No, people are going to the army are making a choice, and you should be grateful for it and you should be appreciated, and you don’t have to be afraid to say, “Great, thank you.

We appreciate. Yes, you’re doing great things,” and at the same time, it doesn’t mean that saying thank you, I appreciate you, or even by saying Mi Sheberach, you’re meaning that you don’t appreciate the Torah world.

The other side should come to the conversation, “Okay. We understand you Haredim. You have priorities. You are ready to really devote your life for Torah, for the Jewish people, because you believe that you’re doing something that is a national mission. It’s a historical mission, but how can we work together, that the needs of our community and the unity of the community will we work?” So this is the direction that I was trying to push. By the way, especially in the last year with the big tension with the judicial reform, I was involved in some conversations in some discussion group with some of the leaders of the protest, especially from the high-tech. That was the conversation. I said, “Listen, we are here to live together. We will stay here. Nobody’s going to disappear. Haredim are here to stay, and I know that some of the fear is because you see the demographic is changing-“

David Bashevkin: 
Sure.

Eli Paley: 
“… And if by 1980, Haredim were 4% of the population, today there are over 13% of the population,” and talking about elementary schools, so every fourth child in the first grade today is a Haredi child.

David Bashevkin: 
Wow.

Eli Paley: 
Okay, so you don’t have to be paranoid to ask, “Okay. If this is demographic, how this is going to look like?: But let’s work in a way, in a respectable way, and without outcoming and saying, “Okay. The truth is by us,” meaning being a good citizen, meaning to serve the army, and if you are not, so you are delegitimizing your values and your society. I think this is, David, what we saw in October 7th. You saw the huge contribution of the Haredi civic society. You saw the Mesirut Nefesh, and I hear from my friend. I said, “Okay, finally. Always, we spoke about Haredi and said, ‘Oh, Haredi. We saw what they did,’ so we start to appreciate Haredi.” Yes, ZAKA and Ichud Hatzalah is not the entire Haredi sociey, but this is really an initiative, and it just one out of many amazing initiatives. I’m always saying that the Haredi society is a startup nation in social innovations. You see, Yad Sarah … with the kidney transplant.

David Bashevkin: 
Ezra LeMarpeh. I always need to mention that, because my father’s an oncologist, he would always get on the phone with Rabbi Firer, who’s a rabbi. My father’s a serious oncologist, and Rabbi Firer would sometimes call my father to give my father recommendations about the latest drugs and the latest, because it was an organization started within the Haredi community, Hasidic Haredi community, that was helping medical referrals. It’s top-notch in the world.

Eli Paley: 
Absolutely, and there is so many like this in many areas, and I think this is what the Haredi society can contribute to the Jewish people. We have so much to offer in terms of community models, and chesed models and organizations and, I said, not just people who have goodwill to help. Really, initiating ways. Ichud Hatzalah, the fact that they rescue so many people comparing to MDA, has to do with their very unique and innovative methodology, how they’re operating. What’s the difference between a very established institutions, like MDA, and a very broad civic society organization who has all over, with a quick response, with the very unique way to interact in these cases?

And I think this is a good beginning of a conversation, because I’m not saying, “Ah, so you are going to the army. We have ZAKA and Ichud Hatzalah, and so we solved the problem.” We didn’t solve any problem, because we have to have a serious discussion, and especially after October 7th, what exactly needs to be done in order to change a, the security of Israel, but as I mentioned earlier, it’s not any more the conversation of narratives, IDF versus yeshiva. Once the framing, and this is what I was trying to do in the past year, I just sent you a presentation about the new initiative that I’m working on.

David Bashevkin: 
It is remarkable, and it details, in this presentation, not what needs to change, but what are the opportunities of this moment? Meaning, how can this conversation move forward, so it’s not this ideological illogical stalemate, but we’re actually moving forward in the conversation? Why don’t you say it in your own words. You told us what it was like, and kind of the conversation pre-October 7th. What are the new opportunities? What’s the vision for what could change or what could be transformed post-October 7th?

Eli Paley: 
So I think by reframing the conversation around, first, about security, everybody agrees that once the conversation is about security, and by the way David, for years I was telling people, if real serious people will come to Gedola Yisrael, and we will put in front of them the challenges, say, “Listen, those are the threats. We have Iran, we have Lebanon, we have Hezbollah. These are the manpower that we have, and we need you,” I said, I’m not sure what the answer will be, but for sure it’s going to be a different conversation, but there was never this conversation.

What we’re trying to do right now is we created a steering committee with leaders from the top positions in the army, the home front, 80 to 100 unit, and some other units, and people from think tanks like INSS and others, Eyal Hulata, that was the former head of the Israeli Security Council, and first to analyze what are the real needs. I’m not here to say, “Okay. Where can we put Haredim? Do you have some room for Haredi in your unit?” This is not my business, okay? And I know that people are very excited to see that there is few hundred Haredi now that join the Army. Again, it’s nice doing barbecue for soldiers. It’s nice, because it shows that you really care.

David Bashevkin: 
No, but this is much bigger. This is about a population. This is about a demographic. What is your, again, we’re still in the stage of dreaming. Yeah, what’s the methodology?

Eli Paley: 
No, no, no, no. Not a dreaming. We are already taking off. We had a kickoff meeting last week, and the idea is, again, the following. We have to sit together. By the way, this is something that I started to do much before October 7th. I told you that I was involved in a team of some of the leaders of the high-tech protest, the leaders from the high-tech in the protest, and we start to have the conversation for the day after. That was long before October 7th, but we said, “Okay. Now we are fighting, and we’re afraid that maybe we’ll have a civil war, whatever, but let’s think what will be the day after?” We’ll have to bring together all the pieces, and we’ll have to think about our future, and we’ll pick up four areas that we think that we should really build a new way of thinking and a new strategy.

One was economy and employment, which is a big issue, how the economy is going to look like with all the demographic change. The second is education, and again, it’s another big debate about education and Haredi. It’s not just about secular studies, yes or no. It’s a different philosophy. We have different philosophy about education. The Haredi system is not just offering more limudei kodesh and lesslimudei chol. We understand differently the mission of education. We understand differently the portrait of the alumni, the graduate, what kind of alumni we want to have, and this is the way we’re measuring our success. I think it’s about time to have this conversation. Yes, we have a model. You have a very successful model. Let’s work together and see what we can contribute.

The other was security, and this is what we’re focusing on right now. Long ago, I started to have conversations with Ofer Shelah. He used to be, by the way, the second person in Yesh Atid with Yair Lapid, but he’s one of the top experts in Israel in the defense and security, today is a senior fellow with the INSS. We started the conversation, how we can really analyze what are the real needs of the Israeli security, what are the real needs, and where are the areas that we believe we can get a significant contribution from the Haredi population? We marked up three main areas. One was technology, okay? We know it’s not a secret. That was even before October 7th, that the army, generally, in the world, but especially in Israel, needs more and more people.

And the technology is becoming more and more sophisticated, and this is an area that we believe Haredim can contribute, and it’s a win-win. It’s a win-win because Haredim can get an opportunity to get a good training and opportunity to get experience, and then to work, to join the workforce with an experience. This is an opportunity not just for Haredi men. Today we have one amazing program, Haredi Men with 80 to 100 unit. It’s an amazing program that we got mainstream Haredi people, ages 21 to 29. 120 of them went to like 6 months training before the army, and then they’re going for 2 years as a citizen without uniform. But working for the army, getting experience contributing to the security of Israel.
This is a new model. It took us few years to convince the army to adapt a new model, but it works. I just want to share with you that now, right after the war, they’re going to start the second cohort, and they got, again, over 2000 applications, but this call is going to be, instead of 120, close to 300 new people. The army is ready to accept thousand Haredim a year. That’s a change. That’s the traumatical, but not just men. Few years ago, we started to build together, with the leaders of the high-tech industry and the army, a new syllabus for Haredi seminaries, that the girls will be trained in a very high level in the specific professions that they have opportunity and future in the defense industry and in the 80 to 100 unit, and today already there is 100s of Heradi girls in real serious positions in 80 to 100 unit in OFEK in the air force by the police, by the Mossad, and this is an amazing opportunity.

David Bashevkin: 
It’s remarkable, and you’ve really called a great deal of attention to this, how under-tapped the female population within the Haredi community, women within the Haredi community, who are achieving just incredible things in academic achievements. They’re really, in many ways, ahead of a lot of the testing of the rest of society. I know you sent me some data on that, sure, and that’s important to note.

Eli Paley: 
David, I just want to add, I sent it to you the last results of the piece, but I met today with a senior manager from The Open University. They have around 3000 Heradi students, and I was amazed to see. He showed me the statistics, but he said the average Heradi students is getting few more points than the average secular. So even in the academia, Heradi are showing their skills, and they’re taking very seriously.

David Bashevkin: 
You said there are three areas where you see opportunity for revisiting integration. I’m not sure what the right word to use is.

Eli Paley: 
Or contribution.

David Bashevkin: 
Contribution. Number one, you said, again, was security.

Eli Paley: 
Security in the areas of technology.

David Bashevkin: 
Technology.

Eli Paley: 
So I’m saying already we have pilots. We have proof of concept.

David Bashevkin: 
Sure.

Eli Paley: 
What we have to do is really to analyze together what are the forecasts, what are the needs? And really, based on this, to build a scale, the existing programs, and build some other similar programs. The other area is definitely, this is something that we are starting to work before the war, but after October 7th, it’s definitely became urgent, which is the home front. There is no question that, especially after the war, we will have to rewrite the whole strategy of how to protect the home front, if in the past we understood and we know that the battlefield, that especially in the Middle East, you see that the main war is not in the battlefield. The main war is missiles, but now we saw that it’s not just about missiles.

How can we protect from what we were witnessing in October 7th, what we’re witnessing in Shomer Homot, and there is no question that we will have, you see right now, so many initiatives. The police is starting to train people to get guns, and encouraging people to get revolvers and weapons, and there is no question that the army will have to recruit tens of thousands of new people to train them to became home front fighters, not just serve at the home front unit, meaning to have people to be trained, to be armed, and to protect the cities in the border and in the entire country. This is a great opportunity, and so we have people from the home front unit and part of our steering committee, and we want to gather to analyze the new need. Here is where, again, Haredim can contribute, because we are talking about a, a need that needs to be done very much within the community.

David Bashevkin: 
Local level. Exactly.

Eli Paley: 
In a local level. Here, your main service can be that you are trained and you are part of what we call ready to react in a case of emergency, and whether Army is going to find another 10,000 or 20,000 people, now leave aside yeshiva bochurim, leave aside even the kollel, but we have close to 90,000 Haredi working people, ages 25 to 50, who are great candidates for this program. So we want to go together, and again, David, this is the key, meaning to come to Haredim and say, “Okay. Please go to the home front.” If they’re not convinced that this is something that it’s really needed, said, “Why should I?” But for me, there is so many problems. Now everybody’s scared. Everybody understand that we have to do something, so we’re going in two directions.

A, we initiated together, with Hashomer HaChadash, which is an amazing organization in Israel, and together … some other philanthropists … an initiative who is recruiting Haredim to protect their own neighborhoods, very similar to what you see in some communities to protect shuls, to protect neighborhoods. We already recruited over 1000 Haredim who are trained by top experts to became and to guard, to protect the areas. It’s called Mishma. We hope to get tens of thousands of Haredi volunteering, and this is mainly to take care about their own neighborhoods.

Then, we have to fill it with the other parts, that people will be trained seriously in the army to became real fighters, because we understand that it’s not anymore enough that you will have a revolver if you have to deal with terror in the professional level that we’re witnessing right now. I think this is an opportunity, and again, David, this is the key. The key is, first, we have to really find what are the real needs, not how can we get more Haredim to go to the Army, but how Haredim can really contribute something meaningful. This is the way, a, that they’re protecting themselves, b, they have a way to do something meaningful, and the third part is, as you mentioned, is the civil society. This is, again, something that we wrote a research about it by the COVID.

The Haredi society has an amazing civil organizations, as you mentioned, there is Ichud Hatzalah … So many. Now the challenge is how the security system, the defense system, can really rely on them, meaning not just that we know that there is thousands of Haredim in Ichud Hatzalah. Can we really map what are the needs at the home front and how, in a day of crisis, chalila, in the day of emergency, these thousands of Haredim can become part of the power and the resilience of the State of Israel? So this is three areas. I believe that, over time, we set up a steering committee with top leaders from the industry and the security think tanks, but we believe that the potential is really to talk about tens of thousands of Haredim getting involved in different ways.

David Bashevkin: 
And really contributing.

Eli Paley: 
Really contributing.

David Bashevkin: 
Exactly. I’m curious what you see, if at all, differences between the reaction of the Haredi community in Israel versus the yeshiva community in America, and I really want to highlight what I have noticed. In the Haredi community in Israel, there is a sense of urgency, what you would say l’maisa, where this is our homeland. I’m seeing almost a shift, where my nephew is an Israeli Haredi. My sister also writes for Mishpacha. She’s a really Haredi writer for Mishpacha, and I know my nephew, they were born in Israel. They grew up in Israel, not like my sister.

She moved when she was 19, but my nephews that grew up in Israel, they don’t want to live anywhere else. They don’t want to live in America. They don’t want to move to a different country. What I’ve noticed in some ways, and correct me if I am wrong, a lot of the conversation or some of the conversation in America is still about kind of the religious ideology of Zionism itself, “Do we believe in the State of Israel?” and that’s an old conversation that took place over 100 years ago, an antagonist between Herzl, the leaders of secular Zionism, religious Zionism, and non-Zionists in the yeshiva world. I believe in Israel, they don’t have the luxury to continue a almost hashkafic conversation because-

Eli Paley: 
It’s existential. It’s existential.

David Bashevkin: 
It’s existential, and the country that we belong to is the State of Israel. It’s Medinat Yisrael. They don’t even talk about it like Eretz Yisrael, euphemisms, like this is where I was born. I would almost go baby step further and say the flag means more to my nephew, an Israeli Haredi, than the flag, it doesn’t mean that much in America, in the kind of the yeshiva community. There’s still battles, “Hatikvah,” and a lot of nationalist stuff, that makes again the American Yeshiva community maybe more uncomfortable, because it is still a battle in ideology rather than existential, “This is my home. This is where we live.” I want to know if you think that I am correct on this, and number two, I want to hear from you what differences, if any, I could be totally wrong, you’ve noticed between the Israeli Haredi community and the Yeshiva community in America.

Eli Paley: 
I am more familiar with what’s happening in Israel, and I’m watching a little bit what’s happening in America, and especially what happened with the big rally.

David Bashevkin: 
Sure.

Eli Paley: 
And on one hand, you saw a big participation of the Haredim, and on the other end you saw last minute that some of the Gedolim were uncomfortable with the situation, so I agree with you. I agree that the new conversation is, I won’t say that in Israel, Haredi now have no problem with the Medinat Yisrael, and they are going to embrace their flag. It’s still a conversation. It’s still a tension, and really, the future, the only way that I can see that we will move on is if each site will come and, with a very respectable way, as I mentioned in the past, I see, from what you’re saying and also from some conversation I have, that some of the people in America, especially in the yeshiva world, still looking at the old battle between Zionism … so it was many people in America really believed that the state of Israel is really trying to kidnap Haredi boys from yeshiva and to take them to the army.

So maybe this is once you are not very, very close, but I just want to say, and this is something that I learned over time, it’s true that we see it in a more broader way, and we see that the big picture of how we can live together, but the fact that people are sensitive about this issue, it’s really something that we have to take into account, because we didn’t overcome yet the tension between the Zionist ideology, or today maybe it was replaced, instead of Zionist ideology, with liberalism, progressive, and all the other new modernity challenges. I learned, over time, that Haredi have a good sense to see where there can be some issue. The way to address it is not to say, “Okay. Come on.”

David Bashevkin: 
“Come on. Get with the program.”

Eli Paley: 
You say, “Okay. Let me understand your concerns. Okay, let’s see how can really make sure that your concerns will be taking seriously?” Meaning, if you are afraid that we will, I don’t know, encourage Haredi to go to the home front, maybe it can have some impact on the yeshiva boys. I don’t think so. By the way, I think the opposite. I think that the way to convince Haredim to do it is saying, “We all want to make sure that yeshiva boys won’t go, but we understand that there is need for more Haredim,” so we are the one who want really to go to allow the Yeshiva boys to stay. And again, I’m saying to some of your people, I believe that some of your audience more belong to the more Modern Orthodoxy, and they’re looking at Haredim and say, “But guys, what’s going on with you?” and I’m saying that we have to learn also to appreciate the concerns, and we have to address them in a respectable way, and said, “Okay.” We’re not saying, “Oh. No, no. It’s irrelevant.”

It is relevant. We have to make sure that we’re taking your concerns seriously, but let’s work together to see how we can really build, because at the end of the day, we have a crucial rule for the future. I’m saying about us, us is the Torah world. We have a crucial rule about the future of the Jewish people. We have to be proud of it, not just because we want to be nice. We have to make other people to really appreciate and love Torah, and we have always to be with open ears to see what are the concerns of our brothers. I think this is the way to reduce maybe some of the concerns and said, “Okay. We have a mission. It’s not just about why should we care about the way that they’re looking at us? No, we should care.” By the way, in the survey I shared with you, we saw that there is big percentage of Haredim who said, “Yes, we care about the way that we’re perceived by the other people,” which is a good step to start this kind of conversation.

David Bashevkin: 
That is remarkable. It’s not that we don’t care how we’re seen. We do care. We don’t want to be seen as, God forbid, leeches or not doing anything, not contributing. Every community wants to feel like they play a role in building up society, and you don’t want to be seen. It’s important to emphasize they do care. I know my nephews care. I really do know that. My biggest question, I’m looking at your steering committee, it’s absolutely remarkable. Am I allowed to say some of the names on your steering committee?

Eli Paley: 
Yeah.

David Bashevkin: 
You have, the first name is Eric Fingerhut, who’s the one who ran the rally. We had him on as a guest two weeks ago on 18Forty. You have names from across the spectrum of American and Israeli society, all sorts of different affiliations. What I have always found remarkable about you is that you were born in Israel into the Israeli Haredi society, and you have always seen things differently. You’ve always looked a little bit broader. You’ve always had, not just a diplomacy, but your heart, your sensibilities are able to communicate with extraordinarily wide audiences, and you can sit together with incredible coalitions. I want to know, what is the secret of your relationship to the state of Israel, to Zionism, meaning you have something different. You were raised in a different way. Something must have contributed to the way of how progressive, forward-thinking, not progressive in the American, liberal sense, but you’re always asking, “What is next? How can we make it better? How can we uplift all the boats that exist in Israel?” and I wonder what you contribute that to.

Eli Paley: 
It’s interesting. It deserves a long conversation, because I have to speak about my roots and my father and my family, but I grew up in a family from my father’s side, my grandfather and my great-grandfather came to the state of Israel, to the land of Israel, not the state, to the land of Israel in 1924.

David Bashevkin: 
Wow.

Eli Paley: 
From Slabodka to establish the yeshiva in the city of Hebron. My family were part of the funders of the Hebron Yeshiva until the big massacre of Tarpat in 1929, and I’m always telling people that I see that our family mission was a mission to build Torah in Eretz Yisrael. So even before they established the State of Israel, we came here to continue to make sure the Torah will flourish. I grew up in a family, especially my father, that devoted all his life to really to help people to take care about the small issues like Agunas, but also about Klal issues. So I think it mainly comes, on one end, from my understanding that we’re not living just for ourselves, meaning I don’t have just to care about how Haredi society can flourish.

I see that we have a crucial role in the big spectrum of the Jewish people, and I have no problem to see myself affiliating with the State of Israel, even though that I’m Haredi and my kids are going to Haredi yeshivas and went to the Haredi system, but I always say that I have two big loves. I have big love to my community and my society that I grew up. I have a big love to the State of Israel that I’m living with, and I don’t see any confusion by having these two identities, because I am very Haredi by my identity. I’m always telling you that I’m celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut, the Independence Day, since I got married, but I’m not saying Hallel. I’m just, as another Israeli, it’s a day of miracle. It’s the day of the state.

So over time, I think this is also the way that my kids grew up, with very strong leg of Haredi and Torah identity, but with a very strong sense of really understanding that we have a role in the big picture, and you can’t have a role in the big picture of the Jewish people without being connected to the people. I saw it as part of my mission also in Mishpacha. Mishpacha is not just a publication. Mishpachais really a voice of the Haredi society, who really try to elevate the society, who cares about the society, but at the same time also see ourselves as the window to other people to look at the Haredi society …

By the way, this coming week, the cover story of this coming issue is an interview … about the amazing work that they’re doing now for Klal Yisrael, for soldiers. There is 1500 Haredi women who are going every Erev Shabbat, from Kalin, Chassidishe ladies, to bring cake, challahs, and letters to the wives of soldiers. This is an amazing, and I heard from the Rebbe’s house that the reason why he agreed to do it, because he said, “I want to push the rest of the Haredi people to take this responsibility,” so if I may say something personal about myself, that I’m always living with a sense, not just about what we have to do to make sure that our community will succeed. How can we really elevate our society, and how can we really create a sense of responsibility by the rest of the society?

The same as I told you about people that, always, I’m sharing the same concerns with them, always when I’m speaking to secular people, I never undermining their concerns. When they’re asking about Haredim, by the way, I’m never trying to win a debate. I’m giving a lot of interviews in the media. And the key always, I’m trying very carefully to listen, not to the question that the guy is asking, to the, what really is his stomach? What really bothers him? I’m trying, instead of answering the question, answering the concern. This is usually what I’m doing when I’m having conversation with people. By the way, even over the time of the judicial reform, I had plenty of conversations with the tough leaders of the protest. I even spent one Shabbat in Caesarea. I was asked by a friend of mine that hosted 130 leaders of the protest, including Shikma Bressler and Dan Halutz, 130 people.

And he asked me to come to stay Shabbos in Caesarea, because they have to be the entire Shabbos, because they had a meeting, Shabbos morning, to speak about the protest, and he want me to have the conversation with him. I was ready to go very far in having a conversation, but always, I’m standing very strong with my identity, with my values, but with enough modesty and with enough sensitivity to listen to the other people’s concerns. You can’t just say, “Ah, you are a leftist. There are people who are sacrificing their lives for the security of Israel, people who build the Israeli industry and high-tech,” so yes, I disagree with their perspective, but at least you have to show that you care about their concerns and you are ready to address their concerns. If you ask me, what’s the key of the way that I’m operating, is really always to be sensitive enough to listen, and to really try to bring people together in a way that will bring Kiddush Hashem.

David Bashevkin: 
Eli, It is such a privilege, and really, there’s a great optimism I feel. I generally try to be positive, but it’s been hard the last couple of weeks, and speaking to you particular gives me a great deal to be optimistic about. Really, on a very personal level, when I walked into Mishpacha Magazine the first time, I did not look Haredi. I’ve never pretended to be Haredi. You and the magazine were of the most welcoming institutions I’ve ever been affiliated with, which is why I always say, with pride, that a part of my professional life is being a part of the Mishpacha family.

Eli Paley: 
David, looking forward. Looking forward to see you back.

David Bashevkin: 
It’ll happen again. I always end my interview with rapid fire questions. My first question is, I’m curious if there are specific books, I know you probably read more in Hebrew, and it’s fine to give a Hebrew recommendation, but specific authors that helped inspire your vision of what Israeli society could look like? Are there specific thinkers, scholars that resonate with you, or it could be seforim, that resonate with you, of what we could potentially achieve together?

Eli Paley: 
One of the people that I really appreciate, and I like to have conversations with him about the vision, is Professor Moshe Halbertal. I believe that you know him.

David Bashevkin: 
Sure.

Eli Paley: 
Yes. We’re very good friends. So he’s a good chavrusa, that I like to discuss with him this kind of issue, and again, he represents someone that is not from our sector, but he really is a visionary who have a Torah background and is a real scholar. I like the chavrusawith him, so if you ask me, I can’t quote a specific book.

David Bashevkin: 
That’s a great answer. The next time you’re in a room with Professor Moshe Halbertal, please make sure to call me. I’m curious if somebody gave you unlimited resources, allowed you to go back, or go for the first time, I’m not sure if you ever went, to university to get a PhD, to get a doctorate, what would you want to study?

Eli Paley: 
Jewish history.

David Bashevkin: 
Is there a specific period of Jewish history?

Eli Paley: 
Yes, I have a degree in the Talmud and Jewish history from the Hebrew U, and I started to, by the way, to do my master degree by Professor Halbertal, especially in the past 15 years, that I’m very much involved in the issue of the Jewish people, I feel that it’s called Haetah Chadashah, the modern history of the Jewish people. Especially in the last 300 years, it’s still something that fascinating to me, because every conversation we have today is part of a very long, at least the 300 years of the Enlightenment and the all-new ideology, and you see conversation about army, education, and secular studies, so this is the area that A, I did some progress in this and if I’ll have the time and opportunity I believe that I’ll get back, specifically, to this area.

David Bashevkin: 
I would love to see it. My last question, I’m always curious about people’s sleep schedules, especially yours, who get so much done. What time do you usually go to sleep at night, and what time do you wake up in the morning?

Eli Paley: 
Very regular, around 12 o’clock at night, and I waking up around seven, close to seven. Regular schedule.

David Bashevkin: 
Eli Paley, it is such a privilege and pleasure to speak to you today. Thank you so much for the time. It was impromptu, and I am so, so grateful to you, and hope we get to greet each other in person soon. God willing, in Israel, thank you again for your time today.

Eli Paley: 
Thank you so much, David, for surprising me. Thank you, and Hanukkah Sameach.

David Bashevkin: 
I give Eli Paley such a tremendous amount of credit for being willing to wade into the hard questions of transformation. Transformation is never easy. It is more than a picture. It is more than a viral moment about people in arms and dancing together, barbecuing together. As beautiful as those moments are, it is only a window into a much larger opportunity, and I deliberately use the word opportunity, because confronting these concerns head on, as difficult as they may be, as painful as they may be, as disruptive as they may be, underlying it all is really the joy of rebirth, of reconstruction. It is what the Jewish people have always celebrated. The Jewish people, if you look at our holidays, almost never celebrate building. We only celebrate rebuilding.

We don’t have a holiday to celebrate our initial entry into the land of Israel. There’s no biblical holiday that is celebrating that. We don’t have a holiday that explicitly celebrates the construction of the Beit Hamikdash. Our holidays are about rebuilding, about in the ashes with the shattered remnants of a vision, and taking them together and rebuilding something new. I can think of no issue that has animated Israeli society and the Jewish people more than the divide between secular and ultra-Orthodox culture in the land of Israel. There’s a book that came out exactly 20 years ago, in 2003, called Real Jews: Secular Versus Ultra-Orthodox: The Struggle For Jewish Identity In Israel. It’s written by Noah Efron. It’s a book that I read a long time ago, but he does not mince words about how serious and how existential this divide is.

I think, if you’re willing to read that book and you’re interested in exploring this question, instead of approaching it with frustration, instead of approaching it with distance, I think this moment gives us an opportunity, gives us the momentum to re-approach it with excitement, with creativity, with vision, and that’s everything that I heard from this conversation with Eli Paley, and he is always looking for partners to build broad coalitions. If you ever hear him on the news media, and that’s why I asked him, he’s really able to speak to anybody because he’s not willing to just rest on platitudes. He’s not willing to just say, “Oh. Unity. Let’s keep this going forever.” He knows that Unity requires work. He knows that Unity requires effort.

He knows that Unity requires coalition and asking sometimes very uncomfortable questions about our priors, about our earlier commitments, and the fact that we have leaders like Eli Paley, who are willing to approach these questions on the terms based on the priors and the commitments that animate each segment of our beautiful people, the Jewish people, each segment of Israeli society, gives me a tremendous amount of comfort and hope, and I hope it’s that comfort and that hope that you walk away from this conversation as well, so thank you so much for listening. This episode, like so many of our episode, was edited by our dearest friend and colleague, Denah Emerson, who has been doing literally incredible work for months on the 18Forty Podcast.

If you enjoyed this episode or any of our episodes, please subscribe, rate, review. Tell your friends about it. You can also donate at 18Forty.org/donate. It really helps us reach new listeners and continue putting out great content. You can also leave us a voicemail with feedback or questions that we may play on a future episode. That number is (516)-519-3308. If you’d like to learn more about this topic or some of the other great ones we’ve covered in the past, be sure to check out 18Forty.org. That’s the number 18, followed by the word, forty, F-O-R-T-Y.org, where you can also find videos, articles, recommended readings, and weekly emails. Thank you so much for listening, and stay curious, my friends.