My career as a TOI blogger began in January of 2016, when I flew to Tel Aviv from Newark via United Airlines. Beginning in 1996, my deep family roots in Israel led to the blessing of owning a home in Jerusalem which grounded me as an Israel activist. So it was that I made that flight several times a year. This particular trip, however, had no other agenda than being a Grammy to Shira and Molly. Even Rosh Hodesh Shevat with the Women of the Wall was yielding to babysitting my granddaughters. However, the One Above had other plans for me on that trip as I was thrust into the role of an activist on the airplane. Like Rebbetzin Renee Rabinowitz, z”l, I was confronted by Haredi men who sought to impose their rules of strict gender discrimination on an airplane. I stood up to the leader of this sizable group of Satmar Hasidim when he asked me to swap seats. It happened both coming and going. And this was after 6 years of trying to wake up American Zionists to the dangers to religious freedom in the Jewish State as a result of the imbalance between the State and Religious Authorities in modern day Israel.
Since Thursday night, I have followed the news and commentary from Israel with a broken heart and a sense of profound anger that this tragedy happened. Everyone knows this was a tragedy waiting to happen at a place where the State Authority has been pushed aside by the Religious Authorities. Everyone knows that the Religious Authorities are overempowered because Israel’s political system is a parliamentary democracy. Yes, Ben Gurion entered into the status quo arrangement with the Religious Authorities at the time of the founding of the State. However, over time, the political power of the ultra-Orthodox parties in Israel’s parliamentary democracy, grounded in the status quo arrangement, has created a great imbalance in the power of the State and Religious Authorities. I encountered that imbalance of power at the Kotel, where my right to religious expression was violated. The Kotel, like Mt. Meron, is under the supervision of the Religious Authorities. The courage of those Haredi leaders who are recognizing that something is terribly wrong here is commended.
Sitting here in Beachwood, not surrounded by the human suffering of the tragedy and the trauma, I can’t help but see what is so obvious. Perhaps it takes distance and a bit of courage to speak the difficult truth. The truth is that the status quo arrangement has resulted in a great tragedy on Mt. Meron. It is time to change the status quo. I call upon the Change Bloc to change more than leadership but to change a fundamental imbalance in Israel’s political system and civil society. It is time for a governing coalition that does not overempower the ultra-Orthodox. If Israel is to develop into the vibrant modern Jewish democratic State all passionate Zionists long for, She must wake up to this hard truth. In a modern democracy, even one made up of 4 different Tribes, there can only be one State authority.
As a lyricist, I turn to words to help me process difficult truths at difficult times. It is in that spirit that I close this blog with a poem, just as I did that very first one on January 21, 2016.
On Lag BaOmer in the Holy Land, disaster unfolded because They demand
to live by their own rules. The tools They use to get their way
have now resulted in utter dismay as Am Yisrael grapples with great grief and this fact,
that in the modern Jewish State only one authority can act on behalf of all.
The country is burning, heed Mt. Meron’s call.