Jeffrey Schrager
Jeffrey Schrager

I’m sick of Ben & Jerry’s

The Second Temple Period street running along the Western Wall (Kotel). The Ezrat Yisrael is located to the left of this picture. Source: Wikimedia Commons
The Second Temple Period street running along the Western Wall (Kotel). The Ezrat Yisrael is located to the left of this picture. Source: Wikimedia Commons

I don’t know anyone who likes Ben and Jerry’s as much as I do. One of my proudest achievements is convincing a traveling Ben and Jerry’s truck to come to visit our school’s campus and distribute free samples of two “experimental” flavors. I even once had the book club I organized read The Inside Scoop, Ben and Jerry’s “biography,” complete with a celebratory ice cream party at its conclusion. 

The timing of the now infamous B&J announcement seemed almost intentional. One imagines future generations listing as one of the Tisha B’Av tragedies, the B&J’s board meeting in which they decided on boycotting Israel complete with vivid accounts evil schemes designed to undermine Israel’s right to exist. The word I used, perhaps hyperbolically, to describe myself when I read the news was “broken.”

But if anything has broken me it is the response of the wider Jewish community to the announcement. I think of myself as a Religious Zionist (no political affiliation implied). In America, I suppose I would be labeled Modern Orthodox. Most of my friends fall somewhere to the right or left of those communities with a healthy margin for error. The last four days have seen my various news feeds, not to mention Jewish media outlets, packed with outrage, fury, and general hysterics at an ice cream company’s decision to stop selling their delicious products in Israel. Friends have shared low hanging memes of B&J flavors with anti-Israel names along with pictures of Ben and Jerry’s coolers emptied of their wares. 

Contrast this response with the deafening silence following the utter tragedy that took place this Tisha B’Av at the feet of the Temple Mount. A group that I would imagine also identifies as Religious Zionist, or Harda”l, Hareidi Nationalist, stormed the Ezrat Yisrael egalitarian section next to the Kotel Plaza, set up a mechitza, and read Eicha. As an egalitarian service tried to read Eicha led by a woman, they hurled insults, preventing a community’s mourning for Jerusalem. This story broke me, and I have yet to recover. 

One important detail discussed even less than the tragedy itself: The platform that constitutes the egalitarian prayer area overlooks the excavated Second Temple Period streets that formed an important pedestrian interchange. Pilgrims could ascend to the Temple via the stairway supported by “Robinson’s Arch” or hang a right, entering through the Hulda Gate on the Southern Wall of the Temple Mount. Up until Tisha B’Av in 70 CE, standing on that platform (had it existed) provided a vantage point from which an observer could witness the bustle of the Jewish People excitedly purchasing sacrifices and other goods in the shops below, then ascending the stairway for an encounter with God. With little difficulty, we can imagine Jewish soldiers running to and fro preparing for the fateful assault that would destroy our Temple. 

From that same platform, one can also see a heap of enormous stones hurled from above by Roman soldiers, shattering the pavement below. I’m always struck by how badly the Romans must have wanted to destroy us. These stones must have taken dozens of legionaries to displace, and their fall did nothing to undermine the structural integrity of the Temple Mount as a whole. It would seem they tore apart this wall brick by brick for sport or perhaps to send a message. You lose. We win.

What brought this tragedy to pass? Chazal and the Jewish historian Josephus are in agreement: Jewish infighting. For our Sages, it was “baseless hatred.” Josephus refers to the phenomenon as a civil war. In either case, the threat from within was considered more damaging than from without. The invasion of the Ezrat Yisrael was one in a series of provocations on the part of those who claim to be the guardians of the Kotel. This incident, for me at least, was different. Tearing siddurim is horrifying. Shouting curses is astonishing and painful. But bullying Jews who have come to mourn the Temple on Tisha B’av, overlooking the physical consequences of sinat chinam? I can’t move on from imagining what it must have felt like to be an earnest worshiper come to join the Jewish community in mourning only to feel alienated, exposed, and despised.

What happened at the Kotel may not have been a crime in the legal sense, but it was most certainly a sin and without question harmed the Jewish People. I am under no illusion that any of the perpetrators will read this and regret their actions. That’s not my goal. The rest of us, what I must hope is the silent majority of the religious world, cannot ignore or remain idle. An outrage was perpetrated in our holy city and ours is the onus to speak out and repair the breech. 

Many don’t approve of the Ezrat Yisrael’s existence. Some feel it profanes the space to have egalitarian prayer associated with the Kotel. I will not argue that point one way or the other. Right now, the only thing we should consider is the pain inflicted on other Jews. Some leaders, notably Rav Medan from Har Etzion and Rav Melamed from Har Bracha have lent their voices to highlight this moment’s challenge in different ways. For me, those voices, though appreciated, serve to accentuate others’ silence. 

If we can manage to sustain outrage for four days (and counting!) over an ice cream company announcing they will stop selling their wares in part of Israel, how can we not speak about other, more serious problems. BDS is absolutely an important issue, but BDS attempts to destroy our bodies. I fear incidents like that on Tisha B’Av tear at the very heart and soul of the Jewish people. Remaining silent now is the real betrayal of Israel and Jerusalem. I, and we, can live without Ben and Jerry’s. We must not accept living in a world where Jews can spiritually assault other Jews.

About the Author
Before moving to Israel with his family, Jeffrey Schrager was the Middle School Judaic Studies Coordinator at the Akiba Academy of Dallas, TX. He has developed curricula, particularly for teaching Tanakh and Jewish genealogy, and has published several articles on Jewish education. He is also the founder of L'dor Vador, an organization promoting the use of Jewish genealogy in education and a professional genealogist.
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