Just hours away from Tisha B’Av, when we mourn the destruction of the Second Temple and all the tragedies that befell the Jewish people in history and recent times, we seem more divided than ever.
Daily protests outside the Prime Minister’s residence, the Knesset, in Haredi neighbourhoods and around the country have descended into chaos and anarchy.
It’s almost ironic that even at the height of a complete lock down, the right to protest was one of the remaining freedoms that wasn’t curtailed. Imagine the pain of those forced to pray without a minyan, couples forced to limit family members to attend their weddings, and those unable to attend funerals of their loved ones. Imagine the pain when they saw frequent footage of large crowds of protesters – no matter the cause – and often ignoring social distancing or mask wearing directives. Anyone objective would look at this and say that those three groups had just as much right to hold larger events (while adhering to Health Ministry directives) or demand that the protests be limited equally. But they weren’t. The right to protests was left untouched.
The government is trying to avoid a full lock down, but with many differing interests and no clear direction, it is becoming hard to avoid this disastrous outcome. Turn on live Knesset broadcasts and witness a soap opera of ministers who are supposed to be running our country bicker and threaten each other. And once they do decide on a direction it often gets overturned by a committee or stalled in Knesset voting. Even the nomination of the desperately needed Corona Czar became a farce, exposing the tug of war between the Health Minister and the Prime Minister.
With the high numbers of infected, protests have amplified in response to the repeated closures of various sections in the economy. The protesters include, among many, social workers, small business owners, Haredim, owners of gyms, swimming pools and restaurants, teachers and those protesting for and against the Prime Minister.
The right to protest cannot be denied, but they have gotten out of hand. Acts of violence towards other protesters, innocent passersby, and against the police, along with a complete disregard for local residents and their families, or adherence of social distancing or mask wearing, is a recipe for disaster.
One incident stood out. The topless lady standing on top of a Menorah near the Knesset. She was a social work student.
She was quoted as saying “Maybe now if I take off my shirt somebody will care about the social workers, it’s meant to change perceptions.”
In Rome, you will find the Arch of Triumph, constructed in 71CE and depicting Jewish captives carrying the looted golden vessels of the Temple (including the Menorah). These were taken out of Jerusalem following the Roman destruction of the Temple which occurred on the 9th of Av. Reading Josephus Flavius’s account of that day, he wrote about the many Jews who literally jumped to their fiery deaths in a desperate attempt to put out the flames engulfing the Temple. That’s how precious the Temple and the vessels were.
Yet I wonder if this student who posed topless on top of the Menorah has ever read Josephus’s account of Tisha B’Av? I’d like to believe that had she done so – perhaps she would have thought about a different way to amplify her protest.
This student, whose cause was just, failed completely. She managed to personally hurt every single person who has any respect for Judaism – religious or not. The act of standing topless above the Menorah, which represents one of the Holiest items in the Jewish religion, is an act which could have been easily (and likely was) carried out by the Romans thousands of years ago or the Nazi’s (who burned down Synagogues and carried out depraved acts against Jewish symbols) in more recent times. Let me clarify though. I am comparing only the act and its symbolism – not the person.
I guess in modern times we just call these types of protesters – anarchists. Emotion aside, how is this behaviour supposed to bring people to support her cause? Attention yes, support no.
The social workers’ protests are valid and deserve to be heard and supported without question. While medical staff have been heroes on the front lines along with MDA, the IDF and many others, the effects of the lock downs and isolation meant social workers are more essential than ever. They are literally saving lives.
I do not believe that this student, who carried out a terrible and offensive act, is a bad person. However, a social worker needs to be especially in tune to people’s feelings and sensitivities. She needs to realise how offensive her actions were and then focus her life on helping people.
This incident showed the danger of turning a worthy and just protest into a self-defeating cause. See the Black Lives Matter protests which spiralled into anarchy and chaos. It’s hard to support a cause when it ends in looting, violence and anti-Semitism.
Peaceful protest should be the priority moving forward. We can have our differences and disagree with one another, but at the end of the day we are brothers and sisters, so let’s at least try and unite on the things we do agree on.
We all agree that we want to protect our elderly and vulnerable from Corona. We all agree people shouldn’t go hungry. We all agree people should be able to work and earn a livelihood with respect. We agree on much more.
The current government is simply a manifestation of a population of divided voters. But they did come together and are functioning. Not very well – but things are slowly getting done. Protesters are being heard and positive change is coming.
Let’s unite in solidarity and help improve the situation for ourselves and others. The first thing we can do is start by wearing our masks properly and socially distancing to save lives. The more we follow the guidelines, the more the economy can reopen – giving us all a chance to gain our livelihoods back.
On the Mincha afternoon prayer on the eve of Tisha B’Av, we don’t say Vidduy (confessions of our sins, usually said on weekdays and not Festive days and Shabbat). This is because when the final redemption arrives, Tisha B’Av will revert to a joyful festival. Let’s do what we can for it to happen this year!