Thankfully, Its Boring Again
March 18, 2021
Rabbi Yitzchok Landa
About five years ago, my second grader taught me an interesting game—and a lesson about life.
We were living in Eretz Yisrael at the time, and a new charedi political party was founded by one of the generation’s undisputed gedolim. The party, called Eitz, was in direct competition with the established party led by Ashkenazi gedolim known as Yahadus HaTorah, or Gimmel. Reaction from the general public to the new party was, shall we say, less than flattering.
Keeping pace with the general public consternation regarding the new party, a game was played in schoolyards of Yerushalayim’s foremost chadarim, including the one my little boy attended. The game was called “Eitz and Gimmel.”
Play began with the choosing of teams, which was accomplished by a countdown, followed by each of the tzon kodoshim shouting either “Eitz!” or “Gimmel!” to identify his party affiliation. That bit of politics resolved (in the age-old tradition of shouting—how else?), the fun could begin in earnest.
How was the game played? Simple. After a “one-two-three-go!” the Gimmel team surrounded the Eitz team, screaming insults, gesticulating wildly, and hurling all manner of foul invective at the hapless Eitzers. Perhaps a bit of pushing and shoving was added for good measure. The fun continued until one group tired of it, and the children moved on to something else.
All in a good day’s play.
This article is not about Israeli politics or chinuch. It’s about our children’s involvement in politics.
Unlike its American counterpart, political maneuvering in Israel has long fascinated even the most serious bnei Torah. Their lives were directly and immediately influenced, al pi derech hateva, by the somewhat comical antics of the politicians. And we had achos b’veis hamelech—there were Yidden in the halls of power—serious, bearded, frocked yerei Shamayim working in shtadlanus with the blessing, encouragement, and guidance of gedolei Yisrael.
By contrast, the American kehillah of bnei Torah had largely avoided becoming emotionally enmeshed in the sordid and tawdry world of politics. Most of the issues were largely theoretical to us, and any impact was usually trickle-down, if any, and hard to pinpoint. One had to strain to see a connection between the pompous bombast of those who loved power and one’s own actual fortune. The personalities involved were a parade of names and attitudes foreign to our own culture, and their behavior even more so. While shtadlanim worked hard to develop necessary relationships with the reshus, most of the community were grateful to be uninvolved, uninformed, and unconcerned.
To be sure, a percentage of the community always followed the news closely, but it was perhaps more of a source of entertainment and distraction than something about which one cared deeply. The children, for certain, were mostly sheltered and shielded from politics.
Something about the former President’s style, or lack thereof, of governance and politics triggered a deep reaction within circles that never before cared about Washington or its headlines. Bnei Torah spent far more time discussing the President, his enemies, the liberal press, and the Beltway circus in the Age of Trump than in most other times.
While that may have constituted bittul zman for the adults, as regards to our children it was something far more menacing. In the most recent election season, children as sheltered as four-year-old girls were chanting anti-Biden slogans and repeating the standard three-men-walk-into-a-bar jokes. The urgency and fandom felt by their parents, as well as their deep investment and worry, clearly impressed the children, and they were only too excited to get involved.
You see, for children, it’s all a big color war. There are teams, winners and losers, groups to love and hate. There’s even red and blue. Politics and elections triggered their innate sense of competition, except that this was way more fun—because Mommy and Tatty were involved too! The endless pageantry and politicking was the ultimate game, one that swirled their world in its wake, one that seemed so real, one that adults played as well.
Children love to compete. The world of professional sports is a vicarious competition for fans. While that distraction may be wholesome and even welcome for many, it is ultimately meaningless. For this reason, most mature adults, particularly within our community, eventually outgrow whatever interest they may have had in it. We would consider it strange to be emotionally involved in the moves of a particular sports franchise during the off-season or to be glued to the latest sports report on the radio. After all, supporting a team is not much more than liking anyone who wears particular clothing and uniform—i.e., being a fan of laundry.
But in truth, politics is more of the same. The illusion of meaning and import is more insidious, more pernicious, and harder to see through, but it is an illusion just the same. We may lose sight of the fact that it is all a game, but our children never knew it. Hardwired to territorialize and be clannish, they quickly get sucked into the opinions of their parents and become extremist about them. In no way is that healthy.
While we may mourn the departure of a president whose policies regarding Israel and other issues dear to our hearts resonated with our own, for this we can at least be grateful: politics has again become boring and meaningless, and we can get back to the pursuits that really matter.
As we move from Purim to Pesach, we shift from the time encapsulating the lessons of Hashem’s ultimate control of world events to the time that reflects on His protection of us throughout the generations. And we can settle back on our pillows on the Seder night, secure in the knowledge that win or lose, blue or red, D or R, Hakadosh Baruch Hu matzilenu mi’yadam.
Rabbi Landa is a rav, rebbi, and writer. He has served kehillos in Eretz Yisrael, New York, and New Jersey; taught limudei kodesh and chol to elementary, mesivta, beis midrash, and college-level students; and written extensively about the weekly parshah, halachah, and hashkafah. He has also served as a kiruv director, program director for a special-needs camp, JLIC director at Rutgers, and chaplain.