Dressed in black pants and a white shirt, with an army-issued gun slung over his shoulder and a gun barrel that lines up with his tzitzit, Yehuda does not look like a typical Haredi youth. It’s also true that nice Haredi boys don’t order hard liquor in Jerusalem cafes at midnight. So the 19-year-old asks for ice cream instead and devours it hungrily.
Right now, Yehuda is in need of something to settle his stomach. He is preparing to plunge into a subversive dead-of-night operation in the Haredi community. More than two months after an election dominated by the issue of military enlistment for Haredi men in Israel, the controversy has reached a fever pitch. Negotiations continue over the shape of Israel’s next government, which may decide what policy the country will adopt toward the virtually blanket exemption the Haredim receive from mandatory national military service.
But for all the buzz, there is no national discourse. Instead, there are two almost entirely separate discourses on the issue. And Yehuda means to change that.
In secular society and the secular media, the subject is called the “sharing of the burden.” In highly insular Haredi society and in Haredi media, it is referred to as the “decree of destruction.”
Now, Yehuda and a year-old cloak-and-dagger cell of 20 activists have managed to accomplish what a frenzy of research and proposals by think tanks and Knesset members has failed to do. His group, which calls itself Haredim for Jewish Unity, has raised the pro-draft viewpoint in the heart of the Haredi community, in its own language and using its own unique means of communicating ideas.
In this story, the names of Yehuda and the Haredim in his group have been changed, at their request, to ensure their privacy due to the retaliation they fear they might otherwise suffer.
Parked near the cafe where he eats his ice cream, Yehuda and three allies sit in a hired car with a trunk full of pashkevils — wall posters through which rabbinic judgments and other important information are publicized among Haredim. In a community where the Internet is banned, the pashkevil is the closest thing to a Facebook message.
Like the messages on its digital counterpart, the pashkevils, too, are posted on walls and quickly devoured by the public. But while pashkevils normally declaim the edicts of rabbinic leaders, those in this car trunk brazenly challenge their pronouncements by advocating army service.