The more I mull over the results of yesterday's elections, the more i realise just how much was lost.
Had Eli Cohen won, he would, by his actions over the next 5 years of office, have shown Charedim that they have nothing to fear from living under a non-charedi mayor. Through his even-handedness in allocating resources, his respect for Torah and for Heaven, chareidim could gradually have learned that they had nothing to fear from a mesorati sephardi Jew. With violent extremists reined in, chareidim along with datiim and chilonim would have lived with more fear of Heaven than fear of their neighbour. Beit Shemesh could have become a model of peaceful co-existence, where charedi, dati, chiloni, masorati, ashkenazi and sepharadi and everything in between lived according to their own minhagim and rabbanim, but without fear of the Other.
We had the opportunity, yesterday, to open up a whole new chapter in Israeli history. We could have begun a period when, slowly, with trepidation and uncertainty at first, all sects and swathes of Jews could have discovered that different viewpoints need not lead to war. If Beit Shemesh had chosen differently, we could have had a mayor who would do the best thing for all groups within our divided little town, and slowly, each group would have come to feel valued and respected and accepted. And all the rest of the country, whose eyes are on us already, would have seen that a sepharadi masorati mayor does not have it in for chareidim, and would have seen that each group begins to feel secure despite the disparate nature of the town, that different types of Jews really can all live together in the same town, that violent religious extremists can be stopped without punishing their peaceable fellow ideologues. And across the rest of the country, chareidim would not fear moving into a dati-leumi neighbourhood, and dati-leumiim would not fear when chareidim did move in, because they would all have seen that it is possible for them to co-exist without the one group swallowing another.
And at a time when the Shaked law was just passed, when chareidim call other Jews amalek, and chilonim call chareidim parasites, and datiim think that everyone else just wants their children to risk their lives, we more than at any time before need somewhere to show us all that we don't have to fear. I do not exaggerate when i say that, had Eli Cohen won last night, it would have made a difference not just to Beit Shemesh, but to the whole country.
And i am all the more sad that this opportunity was thrown away. It won't come around again.
Instead, chareidi leadership has shown its most corrupt side. It has demonstrated that it believes it may lie, cheat, threaten and blackmail in the name of Torah, and through its victory, it believes that more than ever. It has shown no consideration for either the law or for their fellow Jews. It has taken talmidei chachamim and used them as - not a shovel, but as a carrot and a stick, to achieve their own ends. Even the extreme kannoim, who had a certain consistency in refusing to ever have anything to do with the State, have shown that they too have no ideals - when pressured enough, they too will vote.
And I am so disappointed in my fellow anglo-chareidim, who (by and large, this is drawn with a blunt pencil), let them, and let themselves down immensely in the process. I speak not about those who, out of their own consideration, concluded that Abutbul would be the better mayor. I believe they are in the minority amongst his voters. I am thinking instead about those who in all naivete and pashtus obeyed their rabbis and closed their eyes to what stared them in the face. Those who truly believed that they were voting for yiras shamayim, for Torah, for their children's Jewish future. Their naivete, trust, and peshute emunah (not a typo) was misplaced and, in my non-halachic opinion, halachically wrong. They bought into the Israeli-chareidi model of believing that one must follow the opinion of the 'gadol' in all things regardless of circumstances, and accepted that chareidi leadership is worth deceit and fraud. At a moment when the corrupt streak running through chareidi leadership could have been checked, the anglo-chareidi world gave them a mandate to continue to bludgeon, browbeat, blackmail and bribe their way to power l'shem shamayim. Oh, the irony.
When Eli Cohen lost the election last night, it was more than clean streets, pre-planned infrastructure, and responsible leadership that went with him. It was the chance to change the face of the whole country, at a time when tensions have never been higher.
It is for this, that I mourn.