Yishai Friedman

My response to Rabbi Poupko and the Dizengoff minyan critics

Aside from the few disruptors, the initiative was highly productive: many locals joined us to shake our lulavs or engage in dialogue

Yesterday, I went to accompany Rabbi Leo Dee and his small crowd of men and women to Dizengoff Circle to create a minyan in response to the Yom Kippur minyan fiasco. We did not go with an official group to create a raucous, on the contrary we were few in number. We did not block any traffic nor did we block any public spaces. We brought our own chairs and tables as to not diminish from the public Tel Aviv residents ability to use public furniture. The police advised us to fold our chairs and tables, we complied. We set up mechizot and partitions with no enforcement. We designated a men section, a female section and even a mixed section so that every person could come to where he or she felt comfortable. We likewise did not take up much public space as we were few in number, and to allow those who did not want to join us to continue on their route unbothered. We did not make much noise, nor did we treat anybody disrespectfully. In fact many locals joined us for a few minutes to shake our lulavim which we brought and were eager to share with whomever wanted.

Most locals were grateful to our openness and to Rabbi Leo’s genuine friendliness, as but a few months ago he rose to national fame as his wife and daughters were murdered just for being Jewish travelers in Israel. Rather than demanding revenge or extremity Rabbi Leo sought open dialogue to Palestinians and Jews and Israelis of all backgrounds. While I commend his courage and commitment, I hope no one else will ever rise to national fame on such horrific grounds. Rabbi Leo did not choose greatness, but it was thrust upon him, and he rose to the occasion in an almost unprecedented manner. He really has made himself a face for Israel in front of both friendly and hostile European politicians, as well as internally as a face for unity. Rabbi Leo tried to unify the religious and irreligious by his friendly style prayer in the center of Tel Aviv, in a non-confrontational manner with the aspiration of creating real unity between the social circles of Tel Aviv and the classical religious prayers with the new innovation of the three section prayer: men, women and mixed, as well as barely having a visible presence of Dizengoff Square which is roughly 2,600 square meters, and we were about 20 people men and women in total.

Such many locals joined for a few minutes each and cheered us on. Many borrowed our lulavs and etrogs for the festivities of Sukkot. It was a positive vibe. A few people chose to disturb. They sat men in the women’s section and women in the men’s section. No one joined the mixed section. We allowed them to sit wherever they wanted, as it was a public venue. These disturbed people sought to disturb, including screaming and cursing and racist slurs against us. Amongst them were a women whom I offered my seat in the men section, despite her cursing at me and acting with a lack of respect and friendliness.

Another male came to cause a negative confrontation was identified as Michael Sfard. He sat in the women’s section and loudly cursed and disrupted prayers. He did such in the name of social rights to remove the mechitza and partition. He succeeded in having the police to order a removal of the mechitza, just to have the women themselves hold it up. He wanted to liberate the women from the mechitza which he views as a social barrier, yet the women themselves wanted it, chose to stand along it and even held it themselves when we could not have it supported by cardboard boxes. He was not interested in constructive dialogue, but to make noise on the news. Similarly, a women came at the end with a siren and loudspeaker, which luckily came in the end of the prayers as she disrupted any form of productive communication from then on in.

Aside from a couple of disruptors, the minyan was highly productive. Many Tel Aviv people aforementioned cheered us on and chimed in using our lulavim. Others came to discuss core Jewish values and to open dialogue between their social justice circles and our traditional religious circles. I personally have exchanged phone numbers and set up future times for phone conversations. I am optimistic that through respect and dialogue we can gain a mutual understanding which would be a great opportunity to bridge the gaps between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in Israeli social circles. We likewise demonstrated that a public davening does not have to disturb any locals, as we did not block any traffic from cars bikes or pedestrians, did not block the square from public use, nor create any noise. We were victims by the few “social activists” who sought to use noise and cursing instead of dialogue and reason. We saw many more locals join and enjoy our initiative based on friendliness and dialogue.

For those who believe we were too confrontational in choosing Dizengoff Center shortly after the Yom Kippur fiasco — I challenge you to find a way to create open dialogue and communication. Should each circle continue to remain barricaded one from the other, across the train from each other? Would separation of circles bring peace or would it continue to harbor animosity form one to the other? Was our tiny mechitza that much of a separation or are the dynamics of different social circles across the country the much larger boundary that should be broken, before we drift into separate countries altogether as did not Northern and Southern Kingdoms during the reign of Rehoboam the son of Solomon.

For all those who think that we overstepped our boundary: Is the right to prayer not to be respected for Jews in Israel? Is it appropriate to disrupt someone else’s prayer should you believe that he should do it differently? Should Tel Aviv be able to ban public prayers which is considered religious, whereas Jerusalem should host the “Pride March” which is considered secular and contrary to many religious Jews and Muslims alike? Is there a way to allow religious and secular life in both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and to tear the social boundaries that divide us? I believe that we could overcome the few “disruptors” that seek to prevent prayer and dialogue to form a tolerant state that could accept dialogue and prayer. Those Tel Aviv locals who came to respectfully join or respectfully challenge our positions, I thank you, and believe that the prayers in Dizengoff Square were worthwhile.

About the Author
Yishai is a GIS spatial analyst for Keren Kayamet Leyisrael, to help further Jewish land ownership and development in Israel. On the side he worked as a Madrich and Rebbe for high schoolers in Yeshivat Tichonit Givat Shmuel and for gap year students coming to Israel to learn Torah before their college degrees or drafting in the IDF in Eretz Hatzvi. Periodically on Shabbatot he works as a Shabbat Madrich for the Schuster Heritage House to help spread Shabbat and Jerusalem to Jewish youth from abroad.
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