Orly Erez Likhovski

Repairing What is Broken

Since October 7th and the ensuing war, our hearts are heavy with grief and sorrow for all the pain and suffering. There is no doubt that one of the main reasons of the catastrophe we are in the midst of is religious fundamentalism and extremism. We oppose Jewish extremism which threatens progressive Jews, LGBTQ, Palestinian citizens of Israel, women and others, and we champion a different kind of Judaism, which believes in equal rights for all, regardless of race, religion or gender.

June has been an especially busy month for our struggle. Two weeks ago, we marched in the Jerusalem Pride Parade. Ten days ago, during Jerusalem Day, we marched in an interfaith march for tolerance, human rights, and peace, as a counter march to the racist and violent Flag March. Last week, we celebrated Shavuot, marking the day when we received the Torah at mount Sinai, which we believe is a Torah of “Love thy Neighbor” and of extending a hand to the stranger, the orphan and the widow.

Last week, just before Shavuot, Pride month and Jerusalem day merged together, as we challenged another attempt to crush liberal values in the name of Jewish extremism. The Tower of David museum in Jerusalem holds regularly cultural events in the museum. Last month, it agreed to host an LGBTQ party called Tipulei Harama— a name which is a play on the Hebrew phrase for the dangerous idea of conversion therapy. A contract was signed, hundreds of tickets were sold, dozens of artists (such as DJ’s and musicians) were booked. But then, ten days before the event was scheduled to take place, the organizers of the party were informed that a few rabbis had written the mayor calling him to cancel “this display of obscenity”. The mayor pressured the museum to cancel the event and the museum’s executive director conceded, fearing a cut in municipal funding. She tried to blame the police for refusing to allow the event, but the police had approved the event subject to a few safety conditions.

The party organizers – a group of young and impressive Jerusalemites, approached IRAC about the cancellation and we filed an urgent court request on their behalf. The court hearing, held just a day before the event, was very emotional. The executive director of the museum insisted she is pro-LGBTQ but refused to hold the event, despite repeated requests by the judge to reconsider her position and despite the clear violation of the contract. Eventually, at 7:30 pm on Thursday the judge gave a decision, which accepted our request and ruled that the event must be held as planned.

On Friday I attended the event.  It was so moving to see the court victory materialize before my eyes and to witness how we managed to prevent homophobic religious extremists from forcing their values on the struggling and embattled liberal public in Jerusalem.

I just finished reading an excellent book by psychologist Eran Halperin on how to combat hate. He writes that our biggest problem is that liberals do not always present a clear  counter vision to those who promote hate and extremism , but instead try to understand and accommodate the extremists, thus legitimizing them. This is precisely what happened when the Tower of David museum, which is supposed to be a liberal institution, caved to the pressure of homophobic extremists, instead of standing up for the values of equality and pluralism.

During Shavuot, it is customary to hold a tikkun – which means a Torah study late into the night, reenacting that moment when we received the Torah at Sinai – but tikkun also means repair, as in tikkun olam, or repairing the world.

This event brought together everything that happened over the past two weeks –Pride month, Jerusalem Day and Shavuot. If we want Jerusalem to be an inclusive and tolerant city for all, rather than a city of zealots, we must work constantly for its tikkun.

Today, when so much around us feels broken, we are even more committed to tikkun, to repairing and mending what is wrong. We will not stay silent in the face of injustice. We will continue to repair what is broken and turn Jerusalem into the city of justice we believe it is meant to be.

About the Author
Orly Erez Likhovski is the Executive Director of the Israel Religious Action Center, the legal and public advocacy arm of the Israeli Reform movement.