Speaking to an Israeli today about her experiences as a student in religion class, she noted, “We studied Tanakh every year. I remember having to memorize chapters and chapters. I still remember it to this day.” She could not remember how many years they studied Talmud: “Maybe it was just one year in high school.” She spoke passionately about how difficult it was, though. “It was so hard for me, like mathematics. You know, like making a proof.” This is the first time I have heard about the challenge of the class, at least for this woman when she was in school. A very secular woman, she sounded nonetheless pleased and proud of the requirement. When the conversation turned to religious schools, however, her attitude changed. She described one school as “religious, but good.” When I said of course the students in religious schools studied more Tanakh, she said, “Much much more. Some don’t study anything else.” She spoke about her concerns about the “very very religious” people. She noted the separatism, her perception of gender inequality, the drain they put on the society by not working and by having many children. She saved her intensity, however, for their lack of service in the army. “The religious people with the knitted kippas – they are totally a part of us. They all serve in the army, a lot in the really good units, the fighting units.” She noted that those with black kippas usually served, but not always in combat units. When she said “They are loyal” there was a lilt in her voice indicating “so that’s enough, I guess.” The implication for those who “wear the hats, or even the black coats” was clear, though she did say that only the “really extreme don’t even believe in Israel.”
She was the second Israeli I have spoken with to indicate that she thought service in the combat units was the most admirable. Another said about her son, “He grew up playing guns – we knew we were raising a soldier. When he hurt his back and could not serve in a combat unit, he was so upset. He did important, secret work in intelligence – but when his friends went to Lebanon, he insisted on going even though the doctors said that one injury could land him in a wheelchair.” While she, as a mother, thought this was too much, it was clear that in the absence of an injury she would have approved and perhaps even expected him to join a combat unit. An Israeli bumper sticker echoes this sentiment: “Battle-ready is the best, brother.”
Speaking of weapons, today I walked into a bank in a wealthy part of the city of Ra’anana. The guard stopped me and asked me something in Hebrew, and I began to open my bag for inspection – common upon entering the University, high-profile tourist areas, very big stores, and other gathering places. Instead, he shifted to English and asked “Do you have a gun?” I’m curious about the phenomenon of seeming civilians carrying pistols or semi-automatic weapons – I’ll need to read more about this.