I spent shabbat in Nof Ayalon, a small yishuv affiliated with/attatched to the hesder yeshiva Sha'alvim. In many ways, it's quite the idyllic small town, straight out of a 50's sitcom, with its special Orthodox twist- children wandering the streets in gangs, making up their own fun as they go along; the streets flooding in a single sudden gush when the shul lets out; neighbors whose homes you will wander in and out of; stands where you can hitch a ride without having to worry.
I can't decide whether I could possibly live in a place like that. On one hand, I feel as if it's the sort of childhood that I ought to give my future kids, in terms of innocence and camraderie and nurturing environment and so forth. And certainly, it would place me firmly in a religious setting of my own, where there would be plenty of opportunities and inspiration for shiurim, chesed, and the other sorts of activities that work best in a communal setting.
But even for the single shabbat, I found that it stifled me. Like living there would crush my illusions of individuality. How can you feel like a person when everyone you know goes to the same shul and has the same interests and everyone's kids go to the same school and the same s'nif and have the same beliefs. You come out of shul with everyone else and walk home to your identical shabbat table with the same divrei torah sent home by the same teachers and your children rush off to the same pe'ulot as you clear your identical table and go to take your identical nap.
And it's not just a matter of not feeling unique. It's the very fact of all the homogeneity. What would it be like to spend your entire life among people whose ideology completely coincides with your own? Can what you do even be called thinking after a while, or is it just the communal brain swinging into the obvious, universal conclusion? Never to have your ideas challenged, never to have to accomodate another point of view- couldn't it make your personal conscience shrivel up and die entirely? And even if you were fine, what would it do to your children to never have to struggle with anything they ever thought, to have every idea implanted and reinforced by the fact that everyone they know thinks the same?
I guess the reason that I'm so worried about this is because of last year's anti-disengagement activism, which was so unanimous in certain groups that it seemed nothing short of indoctrination. I mean, does anybody know of a B'nei Akiva kid who supported disengagement? Is such a thing possible? What, I wonder, would have happened to a kid who happened to think that disengagement was a good idea? Would they have been ostracized, pressured, ignored? Or are their minds so thoroughly homogeneous that it would have been impossible for any of them to have thought such a thing? I know that it sounds patronizing to assume that they didn't all just happen to reach the same conclusion, but I don't think that the argument was so one-sided that no reasonable person could have reached a decision opposed to the concensus. And so I get kind of scared when I go to places like this yishuv, where everybody agrees and is friendly and nice and small town and religious (but not the wrong kind of religious) and holds the right views and so forth. Maybe people need constant friction in order to really think, let alone grow.