A sad Shabbat

In the synagogue on Shabbat, a day which my good friend Simcha constantly reminds me is a day of rejoicing… “u’kratem Shabbat oneg”.. call the Sabbath a day of delight… my prayers intermittently skip to recent not-so-happy incidents.

The disgraceful Rabbi Shlomo Aviner has made himself “unofficially” God’s spokesman. In his defiant claim and insult that women should not, cannot, be in politics is a reflection of the mini size of his brain. One of our greatest leaders, and thanks to God, not a haredi nudnik, was the brave chain-smoking Golda Meir who led us in war and in peace with knowledge, common sense, and Zionist passion.

Aviner’s attack on our former Minister of Justice, Ayelet Shaked is unwarranted, undignified, and un-Jewish. He joins ranks with the disgraceful Bezalel Smotrich. “Birds of a feather flock together”. I pray that those two birds will fly away and build their nests in Antwerp or Brooklyn where they belong.

My thoughts then flee swiftly to the tragic incidents facing our Ethiopian brothers and sisters. Descendants of the falasha, they are the blood of the union between King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba and have been extremely loyal to the Torah of Israel for thousands of years. Torah… written law, but not Talmud, the oral law which is alien to them.

They have prayed and dreamed of their return to the ancient homeland which they never knew. And in our lifetime, thanks to a tolerant and caring government of past years, they returned by their tens of thousands on “the wings of eagles”… the aircraft which they had never known.

I remember with great pride being on the tarmac of Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel-Aviv when planes arrived from Ethiopia carrying Ethiopian Jews, young, younger, old and very old. What a joy it was to see them descending the flights, dressed in long robes, mothers carrying infants in their arms.

They knew only one word of Hebrew. “Shalom” ! And all of us invited to witness their arrival shouted long and loud “shaloms” to them as their feet touched the tarmac.

Who, who were among us, can ever forget the site of cane-carrying elderly men bowing down to kiss the “soil” of the land of God’s promise, now fulfilled? They were led in brief prayer by their white-robed and turbaned “kesim”, their religious leaders equivalent to our rabbis. Very distinguished elders.

Over the years in Israel the Ethiopian Jews have slowly integrated into our society, one that was completely alien to their culture. They were Amharic speakers who read from the Torah not in Hebrew but in Geez.

Their youth, particularly those sabras born in Israel, are as Jewish Israelis as the litvaks and galitzianers whose arrival preceded them by centuries. They dress in the clothing of modern Israelis while many of their mothers continue to wear the long and colorful dresses, often decorated with gold necklaces matching the long gold ear-rings.

On local buses, often driven by Ethiopian men, I usually sit in the front seat reserved for elderly or infirm passengers. It happened on one occasion that two Israeli teen-agers grabbed the seats before I could reach them.

The bus driver shouted to them in Hebrew to move to other seats. The ones on which they were sitting were not meant for them. And the driver motioned to me, pointed to the now vacant seat, and said “b’vakasha adoni, lashevet: Please sir, sit down.

I replied to him with the one word I knew in Amharic.. “amasiganali”…. Thank you. He turned to me and smiled.

There are thousands of Ethiopians living in Rishon Lezion. I see them every day everywhere. They are a gentle people, proud of their ancient heritage and devoted to their Israeli children.

They are black. Not dark as Yemenites or other Mizrachim. But very black. And it is their skin color which produces much anti-Jewish reaction. Our police, in particular, are known to be racists and they are both verbally and physically abusive of many Ethiopians.

Such was the very recent and tragic case of a white Israeli policeman who shot and killed a 19 year old black Ethiopian teen-ager for a reason not yet known, not clarified, not published. The unanswered question is: why did an unarmed black Ethiopian Israeli-born Jew have to be murdered?

Did we bring them to Israel in order to humiliate or to kill them? And if the white racist policeman, now only under house arrest, will be found guilty of murder, will he get only months rather than years in prison?

Tens of thousands of Ethiopian Israeli citizens are marching through our city streets in protest of the murder, demanding justice for young Solomon. They are blocking streets, roads and highways, obstructing traffic for hours, to make their cries of pain heard and their black skin visible.

For me, it is a sad Shabbat. I think not of ancient Korach but of modern young Solomon.

If crazy Smotrich has his way and changes our democratic laws into biblical halachic laws, will punishment by stoning the policeman to death be one of the first of the new Smotrich laws?

God save us from the Aviners and Smotriches and racists among us.

Israel is the home of every Jew, white or black, male or female, religious or secular, gay or straight.

ERETZ YISRAEL L’AM YISRAEL. THE LAND OF ISRAEL FOR THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL.

God had planned it…not Smotrich or Aviner.

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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