In Israel, social groups are often formed by what school you attended, what army unit you served in. For example, our local hardware store owner served in the same tank unit in the Yom Kippur was as my husband did. Whenever he sees me he asks how my husband is.
But my son “Y” has “Switched sides”. He went to a chareidi (ultra-orthodox) high school, and today he is not religious at all. And he is serving in the army, something that is not standard for the chareidi orthodox.
This last weekend he was home on leave, and had several errands to run, And since he recently sold his motor bike, he was without “wheels”. So he stayed in uniform, in order to benefit from the free bus fares for soldiers.
But that same night a friend of his from high school was getting married. So he decided to go and wish the couple “Mazel Tov”, and at the same time see and catch up on his former classmates. I was also planning to stop in briefly at the same wedding, as I know the grooms mother. So we walked over together. It gave me a few minutes of private time with “Y”, a chance to ask him about his present studies, his service, etc. As we neared the wedding hall, he stopped short. “Oh my G-d, how stupid of me. I forgot to bring a kippah*.”
He is not embarrassed to be non-religious, but he didn’t want to insult anyone either. In the end he went ahead to the hall. And he enjoyed his visit with his former classmates. No one started up with him, or was upset. One adult who was connected with the school, but didn’t really know Y at all, did a double-take as he passed him, looking to see who this soldier was, but then continued on without comment.
And it just happened that this same afternoon, a woman army officer had to come see us about something, and in advanced phoned us with the following query: “Is it OK to wear a uniform in your neighborhood?” I told her that she could. I told her to expect a few stares, and added “But don’t worry, they won’t lynch you.”
Often I see that the non-religious are VERY hesitant to enter chareidi areas, afraid of being yelled at, etc,. I suspect that much of this fear is due to bad press, and that in general the reactions of the chareidim (Orthodox)are not all that terrible……
(*headcovering worn by the religious).