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Shtisel Visits Robinson’s Arch for a bit of Mayhem

A parable.

One Shabbat morning not long ago in New York City, a group of young Haredi boys, teens, and young men stampeded into the sanctuaries of Temple Emanuel and the Park Avenue Synagogue where a total of three b’nai mitzvah were taking place. They ran around the two sanctuaries shouting epithets such as “Nazi,” “shiksa,” “Reform” (in spite of the fact that only one the two synagogues affiliates with the Reform movement), and blowing whistles to interrupt the service.

One of their numbers grabs a siddur from the hand of a worshiper, tears it up and blows his nose into the shards of a page. This disgusting act is caught by someone’s phone video and is uploaded it to YouTube for the world to see. Police are called but have strict orders not to interfere as long as there is no physical violence involved. And so this madness continues for a while until the Haredi children tire of this vulgar action, leaving the synagogues and walk back to the hole they came from.

Can anyone in their right mind imagine something like this occurring on a Shabbat morning on the East Side of Manhattan or anyplace else in the US?

***

I laughed and cried with the characters in “Serugim,” the Israeli TV show that focused on the modern Orthodox community in Jerusalem. And surely I was one of the worldwide audience of “Shtisel” fans that provoked a third season which we are all awaiting with bated breath. That show, especially, taught us about the human, loveable side of the Haredi community. When they laughed and cried and had problems with their mothers, we could laugh and cry along with them. They had normal lives just like we non-Haredi types. Surely, we could be entertained by the depths of their humanity and love them…even as in the real world they may not love us so much.

And that’s the problem, of course. They don’t love us so much. It appears that the Haredi community rather hates us. A lot. They think we’re goyim, shiksas, Nazis. Oh my God, they think we’re Reform.

My fantasy above imitated real life in Israel. Just last Thursday, we witnessed a recent explosion of the hell of Haredi hate when a real and not imagined triple bar-bat mitzvah held at the Robinson’s Arch near the Kotel, where non-Orthodox Jews can pray was interrupted by a gang of primarily livid Haredi boys, teens, and a couple of near-grownups, who came down from preparing to interrupt the monthly Rosh Hodesh observance led by Women of the Wall. They screamed, blew whistles, cursed. They called them shiksas and Nazis. They called this group of Conservative Jews “Reform,” I guess the worst insult they could think of and somehow parallel to “Nazi”. One fellow ripped a siddur apart and blew his nose into the shards. They failed to stop the ceremonies, but these thirteen year old b’nai mitzvah and their many guests had to suffer through all this immature madness.

I mean, look. I can kind of understand why the Haredim oppose mixed minyanim at the Kotel. Somehow, somewhere well beyond the scope of my rational comprehension they believe in Israel that a man standing next to a woman saying “God has no bodily image—Yigdal”, is a cosmic insult to the Master of the Universe who incorporeally fumes at the sight of men and women worshipping side by side. It is, indeed, such an abomination that it’s a mitzvah to shout curses at such people, to blow whistles at such people and blow their noses into their prayerbooks in order to interrupt their worship. God’s name is so defamed by a woman reading from the Torah, say, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” that something called the Liba Center run by one Rabbi Oren Henig organizes the monthly response to the Women of the Wall’s Rosh Hodesh service.

So horrible is this Liberal Jewish activity in the minds of Rabbi Henig that he plans the extraordinarily rude behavior bordering on but not usually achieving violence (so well trained are these interlocutors)  month after month. Only in Israel. (And what, friends, by the way, do you think would really happen as in my opening scenario should a service in Temple Emanuel or Park Avenue Synagogue both in New York City be interrupted by a gang of Haredi thugs shouting, blowing whistles and blowing their noses into their prayerbooks? It’s a rhetorical question, folks; no answer required.)

After some crafty investigative work, I have uncovered what happened to the young fellow whose snot blessed that siddur at the Robinson’s Arch when he came home for dinner that night. Here’s the transcript.

Tata Klein: Shloimie, I saw the YouTube video of someone who looked like you blowing his nose in a prayerbook that contained the name of the Ribbo Shel Oilam. It looked a lot like you.

Shloimie Klein his voice quiet as if concerned as to his father’s response: Yes Tata, that was me.

Tata Klein, waiting four beats: Oy Shloimie, Shloimie, haven’t I taught you better than that?

Shloimie: But Tata…

Tata: You should have thrown those filthy pages on the ground, stomped on them and then set them on fire. What’s the matter with you?

Voice softening:  Still, you did a big mitzvah, Shloimie, and you’re all over YouTube to boot. This Shabbos you get an extra portion of cholent.

Shloimie smiles.

Sorele Klein, Shloimie’s younger sister: Can I come with you next time?

Tata and Shloimie together: No!

And so it goes with living with the Haredim in the Holy Land. The three famous no’s.  No mixed seating. No women reading from the Torah. No blowing one’s nose into the shards of a prayerbook (though stomping and burning are to be encouraged).

What a people we are.

About the Author
Phil M. Cohen is a rabbi, author, novelist with interests in bioethics, Israel, fiction, Bible, and Jewish thought. His novel Nick Bones Underground won a Finalist award in the category of Debut Novel from the Jewish Book Council..

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