Jodi Samuels
Author, Connector, Speaker, Advocate

Let us love and forgive

Tel Aviv hosts Pride parades, Muslim gender-segregated prayers and so much that makes the city diverse -- the tolerance ends with anything religiously Jewish
The emotions of the day 
Photo credit: Times of Israel
The emotions of the day Photo credit: Times of Israel

I have been coming to Tel Aviv for the last few years for Yom Kippur. I love the outdoor services organized by Tzohar, Rosh Yehudi and other organizations. These services attract thousands of people of different ages, at different stages, and who are religiously diverse.

I love the fact that people just show up. Some hear the singing, others see advertisements or word of mouth. Many are just walking off the beach or riding through the area and make an unplanned stop.

I have a daughter with special needs. Fasting and praying all day is hard for her. She loves these services with lots of singing and a festive feeling. Israelis regardless of background connect through the singing.

I love the fact that there are not enough synagogues in Tel Aviv to accommodate the thousands and thousands that join these services. An inviting public space is a great meeting place for so many different people.

Caila, my daughter feels totally comfortable at these services. It’s one of the few times no one stares at her, no judgment. No one cares if she sings out of tune or claps to her own beat. That’s what makes these services so special: no judgment at all. You can sit separately or together, no dress code, no one yelling at you to put your phone away. Strangers smile at each other and join arms singing the concluding songs.

As we approached Dizengoff Square, which has been at the center of a contentious debate about using a mechitza, a gender separation barrier, we could hear the music, megaphones and whistles blowing. The services were disrupted on the basis of religious coercion. Sadly many services all over Tel Aviv were disrupted.

I am sad that thousands of people simply did not experience the power of the Jewish people on our holiest day. Instead of unity and forgiveness, we had hate and violence.

Instead of dialogue and discourse, we had Tel Aviv’s Deputy Mayor Chen Arieli using these services as an opportunity to canvass for upcoming municipal elections. He was quoted as saying, “There was no mobbing, there was no violence. There were people who came to protest from the bottom of their hearts against racism and hate in the liberal bastion of our city.” Instead of showing leadership and being a role model for unity, he stoked the flames of hate.

It saddens me that we have so many radical politicians on the other side of the spectrum that too have inflamed the debate. No doubt they will use their platforms to further add fuel to the fire.

I love that Tel Aviv hosts Pride parades, Muslim gender-segregated prayers and so much that makes the city diverse. It’s sad that the tolerance ends with anything religiously Jewish.

I simply am heartbroken on the most important and meaningful day in the Jewish calendar we saw baseless hate. In a time when we need unity as we as a nation and are facing unprecedented threats, we have failed to learn from history.

I suggested to a group of random people that they come with me to The Tel Aviv International Synagogue that I work closely with. Hundreds of people kept walking in, many who thought they would attend the Neila prayer in nearby Dizengoff Square. There were just so many people upstairs, downstairs and outside. Religious, secular, Sephardi, Ashkenazi, different nationalities, young and old. So many phones recorded the shofar blowing at the end in a place where we all felt as ONE.

All that is necessary to achieve Ahavat Yisrael – love of all Jews –  is to remember daily that Hashem loves us, all of us together, despite our differences, failings and disagreements.

Hashem loves and forgives.
Let US love and forgive.

About the Author
Jodi Samuels is an author, connector, speaker, non-profit leader, world traveler, community activist, special needs advocate, wife and mom. Jodi founded Jewish International Connection in order to provide community for foreign Jews in New York, and now also runs outreaches in Israel. Jodi, her husband Gavin and their three children currently live in Jerusalem where they host hundreds of people every month for Shabbat meals and events in their home. She is the author of Chutzpah, Wisdom and Wine: Journey of an Unstoppable Woman. For more information or to book speaking engagements, see
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