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April 23, 2014 | 23rd Nisan 5774

Community II

February 29, 2004
Marc Rosenstein

“Do not bring any and every man to your home…” [Apocrypha, Wisdom of ben Sirach 11:29]

When we decided to make aliya in 1990, Shorashim was a moshav shitufi of about 30 families. The community was run as a pure democracy, one vote per adult. All earnings went into the common fund, and families received a house, a monthly living allowance based on number of children, and various other services like health insurance, child care, etc. It really didn’t seem strange to us that before becoming members we would have to pass the following stages: a preliminary visit, a week-long trial residency with work, an interview, psychological testing, a vote of the membership to accept us for a year’s probation, and a vote to accept us at the end of that year, by a two-thirds majority. Nor did we give much thought to the fact that the whole process was predicated on our being married, Jewish, and under 40 (actually, we weren’t under 40, and a special vote was required to waive that requirement in our case). After all, there was nothing out of the ordinary about Shorashim’s demands: the constitution was a standard document used by virtually all other such communities in Israel (except that on a kibbutz, singles are also accepted).

Then we privatized, disbanding the collective; we were no longer economically interdependent. Thus, the extreme care in selecting prospective members began to seem a little exaggerated. Nevertheless, as we learned from the endless stream of house-hunting young families driving in on Saturdays, looking for a modest suburban life style, if we let down our guard we could easily be overwhelmed with people who found our attempt to be a liberal religious community simply a nuisance. What would become of the special shabbat atmosphere? The communal holiday celebrations? The sensitivity to different people’s different religious needs? The strong sense of community that meant so much to us? And so, while the procedures were made less draconian with privatization, the basically exclusive nature of the community remained in place.

Twice in the past 14 years a family did not pass their admission vote. In one case, the they had made it clear that they were not “joiners” and that they were not going to be involved in the religious, cultural, or social life of the community; in the other case, many neighbors had concerns about the family’s internal problems becoming a burden on the community. Both left hurt and angry.

In the past few years, several families have taken other communities to court over such rejections; in one case, it was an Arab family, where the reason for rejection was their ethnic identity; other cases have involved personal rejection decisions. In all of them, the courts struck down the admissions policies as discriminatory. Many people argue that to force a rural settlement to accept anyone who applies – and especially, to accept Arabs – will mean the end of the Zionist settlement endeavor. And certainly, if a group of people established a community of a particular character, it seems somehow unfair for them to be helpless to prevent that character from being submerged or subverted.

And yet, Tami and I are finding that what seemed obvious to us 14 years ago seems a little bizarre today. Growing up as Jews in the United States, exclusionary communities were an anathema. How could we take them for granted as part of the Israeli landscape? As we have matured – along with Shorashim – and Israel – we find ourselves questioning the previously sacred assumption that a homogeneous community is a value that overrules individual freedom. It is a vexing dilemma: what price will we pay for opening the gates? What price will we pay for not opening them?

 

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