Civility, Yes. Civil War, No!

I started writing this piece right after Yom Kippur. The subject is so painful to me that it has taken me almost two weeks to complete it. My heart is heavy and my mind is still in turmoil. Nevertheless, my two cents:

I am writing to plead for people on all sides to take a deep breath and take stock. To my fellow protesters, I say: Yes, remain vigilant; remain resolute in our objection to corruption and abuse of power. But no to civil war. We are not here to fight with our fellow Jews over what it means to be a Jew. We are here to fight for the right to live together in peace, despite our differences of opinion. This is the meaning of democracy. And democracy is what we are fighting for.

Like many other secular Jews around the world, I fast on Yom Kippur. I fast not out of religious obedience, not because a rabbi or a holy book told me to. I fast because of thousands of years of tradition. I fast because this is a link to my people, my identity. When I fast, I turn off my electronic devices. No phone, no computer, no television. It’s a spiritual, physical, and digital detox that I’ve enjoyed since long before the word detox came onto our radar. My fast day is a time for quiet meditation, a time to reflect, recharge, and renew.  Of course, our Jewish religion is not the only faith to dedicate certain days to fasting and reflection. But this is the tradition I belong to, and I am thankful for it. My Yom Kippur is a day of peace and calm.

And so it was that this Yom Kippur I was blissfully unaware of the raucous conflict going on just 5 km (about 3 miles) away from my front door, at Dizengoff Square. I learned of it late on Monday evening when I turned on my devices. I was angry and appalled. Watching the scenes of shouting, pushing, and shoving, I felt nothing but disgust and shame. I am disgusted by the blatant and cynical use of this holy day by a Messianic organization officially dedicated to hadatah –  “religionification”,  i.e., converting secular Jews into practicing, orthodox Jews. I am also disgusted by the behavior of my own comrades, the pro-democracy protesters, who played right into the hands of the organizers by pushing back – literally.

The “Rosh Yehudi” organizers were trying to provoke. Sadly, the people on my side of the issue fell into their trap. This resulted in dramatic scenes of secular Jews shouting and even pushing orthodox Jews on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year. Never mind that this dramatic, made-for-media event was organized and carefully staged by the orthodox side. The visuals were clearly in their favor, by design. Ironically, the only ones filming the events were the secular participants and passers-by. And so it was that the side without the smartphones and cameras managed to manipulate the other side into producing perfect content for their purposes. And they used this material gleefully to claim that we, secular Jews, are antisemitic.  This is nonsense. But in today’s world of social media, truth matters far less than stunning video clips and soundbites.

You shall not separate us. Drone photo courtesy of Black Flags Protest Movement. Used with permission.

The theme of last week’s protest at Kaplan was clear: You shall not separate us.

This will be week 40 of the Kaplan protest. I have been fighting religious coercion in this country for over 40 years. I share the anger of my fellow Israelis threatened by messianic evangelists who target us, the secular majority in this country. I am painfully aware that this threat is gaining strength daily, as the Netanyahu government grants more and more concessions to the ultra-Orthodox fanatics in the ruling coalition. Yes, our liberal, secular way of life is threatened. No, we should not respond by disrupting prayer services. This is not the way to further democracy and freedom.

I was gratified to see the statement calling for nonviolence issued by the leaders of the protest movement right after Yom Kippur. Here’s a partial translation of that statement:

“We all suffer from the events of Yom Kippur. We call on all our friends to remember that we are one people. Even when it’s hard, we bite our lips. We strongly condemn any use of violence. We will not act violently and we will not raise our hands against our brothers and sisters. We will not seize the role of police or court even when the heart is aching, and certainly not on Yom Kippur, the day that unites us all… We must find a way to live together out of a place of respect for all in a Jewish democratic state in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence. We will continue to believe it is possible.”  Amen.

The author at Kaplan in homemade teeshirt and cap, simple message.

Right after Yom Kippur, I began decorating signs, hats and tee shirts with the words, Respect and No Civil War. I now march around Kaplan wearing my heart on my sleeve – actually all over myself –  a poster girl for harmony. My message is: Fellow citizens, my fight is not with you. My fight is with the politicians and others who abuse power. I beg my fellow protesters to avoid the traps set by others who wish to set us against each other. Let’s be civil, respectful, and tolerant. Yes to civility. No to civil war.

About the Author
Nili Bresler is an active member of Israel's pro-democracy movement. She is a business communications coach with experience in management at multinational technology companies. Prior to her career in high-tech, Nili was a news correspondent for the AP. Nili holds a degree in International Relations from NYU. In her spare time, she manages communications for the nonprofit, NATAN Worldwide Disaster Relief. Nili made aliya in 1970 and lives happily in Ramat Gan.
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