A lot of internet space has already been dedicated to yesterday’s annual Jerusalem Day flag march (specifically, how Jewish Israelis act as they march through the Arab Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem). This is not one of those blog posts.
This is my experience of protest: our kids are insane.
I don’t mean they’re this-will-make-a-great-story insane. I mean they’re this-will-end-terribly insane.
A little background: As a result of the recent history of disrespectful and violent behavior not being prevented by police, a movement has emerged in favor of changing the path of the flag march to avoid the Arab Quarter. That movement protested at the corner of the flag march yesterday, as the march proceeded on its regular path.
A little more background: I wear a hat over my kippah in public because I don’t like the political and social stances that are socially attributed to it. I felt comfortable removing my hat while joining the protest against the controversial route. I thought onlookers would work out that I was religiously observant and socially aligned with the protesters. I wasn’t the only one. I’d say 4 or 5 out of 100 demonstrators wore modern-orthodox Jewish head-coverings. I think I was, however, the only one that stood at the front.
We stood by the side of the road, behind our barricades, chanting things like, ‘end the hate,’ and ‘don’t cause another destruction, end the baseless hatred.’ My sign read, ‘Jerusalem: Not Silent Against Racism.’ Sometimes I held it silently. Sometimes I joined in the chant. Sometimes I danced to the beat of the drums being played. Fairly innocuous, no?
Not surprisingly, some participants of the flag march detoured to scream and dance before us as a counter-protest. Sometimes I sang with them (we also believe that Israel should exist; I have no problem with singing, ‘the Nation of Israel lives’). The march, and the members who spent some time along our barrier, seems to have been made exclusively of dati-leumi (national religious) students (either school or university), often led by a teacher.
Surprisingly, the marchers took issue with me personally. They cursed all the activists as a group but my presence made them decidedly angry.
They called me an embarrassment. They were furious and confused when I sang along with their cry of, ‘We love you God.’ They chanted, ‘take your kippah off,’ as if my becoming secular would make my actions incorrect instead of offensive (would they feel as betrayed if I had worn a streimel?). They asked me to take stock of my company: hairy dudes with uncovered heads.
So I hugged those hairy dudes. I see it as a religious duty to stand with those who strive for racial and social equality. (When Rav AJ Heschel marched with Martin Luther King Jr he said that he was praying with his legs.)
TLDR: I held a sign denouncing racism, and was therefore scolded for being a disgrace to my religion (by the religious-nationalist movement in which I was raised). Insane.
One high-school girl made a sign in response to mine which read, ‘to hate Arabs is to have good values.’ I was overcome with joy when the boy next to her (another counter-protester) told her that the sign was stupid, and to put it away.
To the dati-leumi camp: find that guy and listen to him. Make him a teacher at his school.
Things are looking up. Just a few years ago, this same counter protest attracted 20 people, whereas yesterday it attracted 100 or so. Just a few years ago, the protesters were beaten. Yesterday, we were protected by a line of police and soldiers who were polite, direct, and mostly silent. Thank you to them.
Before the kids who yell at strangers grow into the voters who ignore them, we need to convince our teachers to run some programs on ‘diligent inquiry’ (social due diligence) and appropriate reaction.
אלו ואלו דברי א-לוקים חיים
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