Those who don't live in Israel, especially non-Jews, have a hard time to realize how profoundly Israeli Jewish population is divided between the religious and the secular. The differences are felt acutely by pretty much everyone. I sensed it very powerfully when I began wearing skirts and long sleeves (which is typical for religious women) - the entire attitude of people surrounding me has changed. Those who used to be friendly, became suspicious. Those who previously avoided looking at me, suddenly treated me as "one of us". Men will also be labeled accordingly, if they are wearing a kippa.
And I'm not even going into the sub-divisions of which kippa that is, its material, size and color, whether the man is wearing a traditional black suit and hat (diagnosis of the secular population: "complete religious freak") or just normal everyday clothes (diagnosis: "slightly tweaked in the brain"); for women, length of skirt; whether a woman is also wearing stockings and a wig, or a head scarf or hat (if she is married), and how many hairs are sticking out.
The secular Jew is largely a modern phenomenon; if you are a young Jew in your 20's or 30's, your great-grandparents most likely were religiously observant - which cannot be said about the generation of our grandparents. My grandmother married a non-Jew, which would have sent her parents to the grave if they hadn't already been murdered in the Holocaust by then. The next generation retained only a vague consciousness of their heritage - mostly thanks to rampant anti-semitism which wouldn't allow them to forget they are Jewish. From what I've observed, the almost complete detachment from tradition is stronger in the Ashkenazi Jewish population than in the Sephardi, Yemenite or Ethiopian communities.
In no other place, at no other time there had been greater antagonism than right here in the modern state of Israel, between those who debate on the laws of a Sabbatical year and those who eat shrimps in a restaurant by the sea; those who keep the day of Shabbat holy, and those who drive to clubs and bars on Friday night; those who pray three times a day, and those whose foot never stepped in a synagogue; those who won't remain alone with a woman they aren't married to, and those who initiate a gay parade in the holy city of Jerusalem; those who love and welcome big families, and those who look with disgust at a family with ten children; I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture.
Of course, it doesn't boil down to mere differences. There are many secular Jews who know far less about Judaism than some of my non-Jewish readers here. If you haven't lived in Israel, you'll find it hard to believe the amount of ignorance, suspicion, myths, unjust criticism and even downright hatred, which is directed by the secular population towards the religious.
Examples? I have too many to share them all. Just a few tidbits from what I personally heard: "religious people are brainless robots"; "religious people get married without any affection, simply in order to breed"; "religious women are nothing more than baby machines"; "large families are a drain on society"; and my personal favorite, "Torah scholars are useless". It's beyond sad how some Jews treat their own heritage with such contempt. There is even a small community of people who shriek hysterically about how circumcision, entrance into the covenant of Abraham, is a capital crime against humanity and should be outlawed. Ironically, often those same people depart for a year or two of "soul searching" in the Far East, where they sometimes become the most enthusiastic followers of exotic religious cults.
Not long ago, I happened to read an article about breastfeeding on one of the Israeli news websites, which mentioned a dry statistical fact that religious Jewish women breastfeed at higher rates and for a much longer period of time than their secular counterparts. You cannot imagine how many hateful reactions this simple statement produced! Starting from "of course, they don't mind being enslaved to a screaming baby" to "ministry of health shouldn't be so encouraging towards breastfeeding, you see how those parasites are late in returning to work and prefer to sit on their rear end and breastfeed all day long."
I must say I was amazed how, of all things, a discussion about breastfeeding could be a source of such open hostility. Not to mention the degree of ignorance displayed; one woman actually referred to primary milk as "clostridium".
Others are simply confused about their identity. They are proud of being Jewish, but afraid to take the plunge into religious observance. They are plagued by difficult questions, such as - when we talk about "preserving the Jewish heritage", what do we mean? What, ultimately, is the source of our ownership over the land of Israel? What will I say if my child wants to marry a non-Jew one day?
All of this leads to the inevitable conclusion that the secular Jew, the Jew who denies his heritage, is an empty cell. The Torah has sustained us, as a people, a nation, a community, since Mt. Sinai and until today - and nothing else ever will.