Why political action is the path to fix that which was broken
My community has sinned. Despite all the care we have for one another, despite the years we have supported one another, the events in Tel Aviv and our reactions to it shocked us all. Even in the context of this past year.
My friends who live secular lifestyles were furious by the aggressive secular reaction. My friends who keep Shabbat and define themselves religiously (as I do) were furious at the missionaries and the Hilul HaShem – desecration of the Eternal Name – they caused. We were all furious. And yet, we are all responsible.
We are all responsible because this tear in our fabric started on our watch. The missionary Jewish organization bussing men and women from outside the community into neighborhoods to organize prayers according to their tradition did so because we’ve turned a blind eye to years of similar activity. The Tel Aviv locals who hold the value of equality holy and objected to gender segregation, who went to court for a ruling, and who exploded in a spasm of protest when that ruling was not respected did so because we have asked them to prop up the Orthodox monopoly over holiness for too long.
As a religious Jew myself, one who lived and prayed in Tel Aviv for over a decade, I can tell you there are over 500 Orthodox synagogues across the city, all on public land. There is no justifiable reason for the missionaries settling in Dizengoff square other than to carry out a symbolic act. I can also tell you that it is a time-honored Israeli tradition to have children ride their bikes and picnic across the town in public squares, even if one or both or neither of their parents fast. It is completely justifiable that a community would want its public space to be available for its children given the plethora of religious options, and to object to missionaries who come from without to force people to act differently within.
And yet we were furious, are furious, because we focused our debate on the justice of the moment, as opposed to the injustice of the political system that caused it to happen. All of us focused on the pain, as opposed to its origins. All of us focused on the recounting of our sins, as opposed to the path to repentance.
It is time to talk repentance.
Repentance begins on Yom Kippur by recognizing that even those sins we did not commit are ones we need to account for. In this case, the only way for us to do so is politically. This Yom Kippur demands we recognize that the winner-takes-all clash of truths we’ve enshrined in Israel’s political system has brought us to a breaking point. As one of the most centralized political systems in the OECD, as a body politic who has given over its soul to an increasingly Orthodox religious establishment, we have institutionalized coercion.
By accepting that the secular are expected to put their right to gender equality beneath the desire of the Orthodox to segregate the genders, we have empowered coercion. By allowing municipal budgets to be controlled by a central government created through a coalition of ideological parties, we have greased the wheels of coercion. By asking non-Orthodox Jewish communities worldwide to support Israel while trampling on their rights to Jewish expression, we have justified coercion.
Repentance begins by rejecting coercion by coming together around a new vision: a state where each community has the right to determine how it expresses itself in its public spaces. A state where no community can impose itself on another against its will. A state enabling the independence of our People in all its diversity in our Homeland.
If you, like me, were shocked and pained by the clashes of Yom Kippur, it is time to become politically active. It is time to speak up, to break the myth of left versus right, of secular versus religious, and instead to recognize that the call of the hour is to fight coercion through independence. The call of the hour is to join others to stop a coalition seeking to increase its grip over power, to increase its ability to impose its will, even if we may agree sometimes with the outcome of that power. The call of the hour is to replace our autocratic political leaders with a new movement that is dedicated to enabling us all to live our values in public and in private.
May we come to hear the calls of protests on Yom Kippur as a prayer to be answered by a commitment to build an Israel that frees communities to live their truths without trampling others. Let us legislate and write unto our hearts that it is up to our communities to decide what is right to do in their public spaces. Let us learn from this Yom Kippur to fix our broken State by raising up political leaders to enshrine our freedom to be who we are.