An Open Letter to Nir Barkat and City Officials of Jerusalem

Marching in the Jerusalem Pride Parade, with a sign that reads “Freedom for all of us” in Hebrew and Arabic, July 21st 2016 (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

To Mayor Nir Barkat and Other City Officials,

I write this letter to you today with a heavy heart, as I look around me and see what has become of my beloved Jerusalem. Where Jerusalem, the current capital to both Israel and many diaspora Jews alike, has been conquered from under you, by a politically-motivated, vulgar Rabbanut, and their militia of Haredi men who slowly make life intolerable for all those who are unlike them. I write this letter to you because I face an awful disappointment on many fronts, ranging from your petty consolation to the Haredim by not attending the recent Pride Parade, to my recently being attacked while praying at the Kotel.

I write this letter to you as an observant Jewish man who was attacked in the men’s section of the Kotel prayer space. I was amid the Shacharit Amidah, tefillin on, wrapped in my tefillin, to be approached by a condescending young Haredi man, who put his hand on my podium and got uncomfortably close, interrupting me mid prayer, especially Shemoneh Esrei (A clearly assur action as per the halacha, for example, see Siman 102 of the Mishnah Brurah, or the Rambam’s Tefillah 5:12), to scold me because my kippah was on “incorrectly”, namely that it lay slightly to the side of my head as opposed to straight on top.

After telling him to leave me alone, another man, this one much older than the last, asking if he can “fix my kippah”, to which I shook my head no and motion to him that I was amid prayer. This man then continued in his attempt to wrestle the kippah off of my head, while the other Haredi worshippers looked on, either smirking or emotionless as I was accosted. A few days earlier than this I was harassed by worshippers amid the very same Shacharit Amidah for having my hair back into a bun, being told “You should be ashamed of yourself, your hair makes you look like a woman”. I did not walk into the space wearing improper clothing (In fact I was wearing a white button down, jeans, and dress shoes), I was not wearing a Nashim HaKotel shirt (regardless of the fact that there shouldn’t be a problem with this anyway, whether we agree with their confrontational actions or not), I was not conducting myself in an improper manner, I am a dati man, in the men’s section of what I find to be our holiest site, and I was attacked amid my prayer.

I walked away asking myself each time, “How can this have been allowed to happen?”, and a few days later, when you issued your statement about the Jerusalem Pride Parade, and as I watched the news and saw the overturning of Yesh Atid’s education reforms, I was very clearly given my answer. It’s because the current political climate in Israel enables these people into forming mobs, which bully those unlike them out of power. When you refused to march with the Pride Parade activists so as not to “offend the sensibilities of the religious inhabitants of Jerusalem, and harbor mutual respect”, when a member of the same community you defended murdered a sixteen year old child, Shira Banki, in your city just a year before, you have simply allowed for the Haredim to continue their existence within the status quo, and proved to them that they could bully the mayor into not appearing at an event with which he holds solidarity. You showed them that they are stronger than you, that you would bend to their will. When the laws would would have forced Haredi schools to institute a curriculum which incorporated basic understandings of math, literature, and English were recently overturned by the current coalition, as per the demands of the religious parties currently holding seats (a motion largely pushed by Aryeh Deri of Shas), we showed them that they had the power to bully the government into accepting the status quo. The coalition showed them that their ignorance is permissible.

Shira Banki, in a picture dated November 16, 2013, taken from her Facebook page.
Shira Banki, in a picture dated November 16, 2013, taken from her Facebook page.

There the answer came to me, they attacked me, because they hold the power. I was attacked at the Kotel because the site truly has become theirs, all because of the pandering and lack of strength of the politicians currently in power. And no one helped me, because you enabled this. A short while ago, a friend asked me if I would ever step foot into an Ultra-Orthodox synagogue, to which my response was a dry joke, “I go to a Haredi synagogue all the time, it’s called the Western Wall!”, but evidently my joke holds much more truth than I would have wished.

When the city of Jerusalem was under attack, in a wave of stabbings at the hands of terrorists, you stood firmly against their actions, and even wrestled one such terrorist to the ground yourself. With the money, business and technology incentives, and progress you brought to Jerusalem early in your career, individual activism increased tenfold, because the citizens began to feel like their voice actually mattered. The world applauded you, I applauded you, holding you on the pedestal as a hero and true defender of a free Jerusalem. But in truth, our only enemy is not wayward Palestinian teenagers who stab us in the name of an Intifada, it is our very own brother Jews who would relinquish our freedoms and return us to the era of Medieval history, where homosexuals are seen as abominations, where it is normal to stone a man who does not keep Shabbat, and where a man slightly different than their conformist sea of white shirts and black pants is subject to physical attack at the Kotel, all in the name of holiness and pure intentions. Those whose grandparents were Anti-Zionists, and many of whom refused to come near the Kotel a few generations ago, now have control of it. Those who let brave Jewish men and women, who were needless to say, secular, liberate the city of Jerusalem in the Six Day War, swooped in once the hard work and bloodshed was finished, and immediately began their campaign of conquering every square inch possible.

So I ask you now Mayor Barkat, and the respective politicians of the Jerusalem municipality, will you be the heroes and defenders of Israel that we championed not so long ago, or will you be the politicians who stepped aside, and let these power-hungry Haredi gangs who have no concept of Ahavat Yisrael, make a monopoly of Jerusalem and create an inequality never seen before?

I hope your actions will speak on behalf of the former,

Peter Moshe Shamah

About the Author
P.M. Shamah studied at Rutgers University, and has family heritage in Israel/Palestine for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Shamah is currently working on several essays, potential books, and thesis work pertaining to Israeli Politics & Minorities within Israel
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