Stephanie Z. Bonder

Sinat Hinam on Kol Nidre

Tribe Tel Aviv prayer before the protesters arrived. Shanna Fuld (far left) Rabbi Jonathan Feldman (middle)
Tribe Tel Aviv Kol Nidre service before the protesters arrived. Shanna Fuld (far left) Rabbi Jonathan Feldman (middle) (via Facebook)

Sinat Chinam – Baseless Hatred on Yom Kippur

(This post was written before the war started. More to come on that.)

Now that we are concluding the Tishrei Holidays, I have a great deal to digest. As a Jewish educator and former day school teacher at Golda Och Academy, a Solomon Schechter Day School, as well as an advocate for Israel and Jewish causes through my volunteerism with Hadassah and the Jewish Federation of Greater Metrowest, I am constantly searching for answers and understanding relating to my Judaism and my Jewish Peoplehood.

Here in America, we are divided. People are spewing hate against each other, and it is affecting our daily lives. In Israel, society is going through the same vitriolic divisions. One side of the divide is promoting a vision of democracy that claims to give equality to all, while the other side wants to promote their own views of a Jewish state, reflecting their own religious ideals. Both sides march with flags, but they don’t have the same audience. The protests have gone on for over 39 weeks demonstrating remarkable sustainability and perseverance.

On Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year, in the Jewish homeland, in Tel Avivi, the first Jewish city built in the modern Land of Israel, Jews were aggressively attacking other Jews with words and actions. They were shouting, screaming and physically destroying the space where other Jews were praying. When the organization Rosh Yehudi was denied permission to have segregated prayers, they decided to be creative. They were breaking the law, however, they thought they could work around the ruling by creating a pseudo-mechitzah of Israeli flags hanging between the men’s and women’s seats. According to a report in Times of Israel, the police had approved their divider since it was not standing on the ground, but hanging from a bamboo structure. They thought that choice of a divider was safely getting around the city and Supreme Court decisions against having a mechitzah. Instead, it set the stage for extremely hateful behavior by secular Israelis against religious Israelis.

The truth is, in my opinion, many Israelis don’t practice their Judaism until the High Holidays, and if they decide to practice, they prefer traditional Orthodox prayer settings. This might not be my personal practice as a Conservative Jew from NJ, but this is what is often found in Israel. The outdoor prayer service was not a forced segregation, as this was not a mandated prayer service it was a voluntary gathering. When the protestors came to disrupt the prayers, they came not just with slogans and intent to stop “religious coercion”. They came to tell those Jews who wanted to pray outside together, that they didn’t belong in Tel Aviv. They didn’t want them there and they should go back to where they came from. That language is not usually used by a Jew against another Jew.

The Rosh Yehudi prayer service in Dizengoff center, was not the only prayer service that was disrupted. Protestors who saw groups outdoors praying went to disrupt wherever they thought a traditional service was being held. Tribe Tel Aviv, an organization founded by Olim to support Olim as they transition into Israeli society, had prepared to hold their annual Kol Nidre service in HaBima Square. As they were preparing for their service, which was a traditional Orthodox style service with a mechitzah, they did not learn that all segregated prayers were banned from public spaces because the decision of the Supreme Court came on Sunday afternoon, and Kol Nidre started at just about the same time.

The protestors came to disrupt their service as well. Although they had a mechitzah, there was mixed seating on both sides. Once they learned from the shouts of the protestors, that the mechitzah was banned, it was removed, (by the protestors). Unfortunately, the protestors continued to harass the participants and were not letting them continue with their prayers. It was Kol Nidre and in HaBima Square, a place of peace, secular Israelis were screaming at Olim Hadashim and telling them to go back where they came from. These protestors were telling Olim Hadashim that they don’t belong in Israel. It is difficult enough to get settled in a new country, with a different language and a different social identity. Olim come to Israel to be part of the Jewish country, to be part of this crazy Jewish experiment in creating our own homeland so Jews can feel safe and feel like they belong. The protestors in this case went too far. In their zealous efforts to stop traditional prayer, they went so far as to focus on alienating those Jews who are coming to Israel to live their full Jewish lives and support the State of Israel by becoming part of the State of Israel. To me, the ones who should be ashamed were those protestors. “Busha!” “Shame on you!” How dare you decide who belongs in the State of Israel, the homeland of all the Jews.

Perhaps I took this too personally. My daughter made Aliyah last year. I want her to be safe and I want her to feel comfortable praying however she sees fit. She made Aliyah because she believes in living in the Jewish homeland where she can be Jewish in her own way. To me, if I don’t condone Haredim excluding me and the way I practice Masorti/Conservative Judaism at the Kotel, how can I accept secular Jews attacking traditional services at a communal Kol Nidre service? Public displays of Judaism shouldn’t be attacked at any time, but especially on Yom Kippur, the opponents to religious traditions, should show some grace, some chen, just as I expect ultra-Orthodox Jews to respect me.

Whether we live in Israel or not, Israel is the homeland of all the Jews. Sinat Chinam was part of the reason the second Temple was destroyed, we can’t let it destroy our modern homeland too.

About the Author
Stephanie Z. Bonder is a proud Jew and lifelong Zionist. Stephanie studied at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem for her junior year abroad and is currently pursuing her masters in Jewish Education at the Hebrew University Melton School of Education. In her volunteer hours, she is on the National Board of Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America where she currently serves as Chair of the Speakers Bureau and team member of the Education and Advocacy division. Stephanie teaches teens and adults on Jewish Peoplehood, Zionism and current events in Israel through her involvement with the Jewish Federation of Greater Metrowest and her synagogue, Congregation Agudath Israel. All of her blogs are her own personal opinions and do not represent the organizations with which she is affiliated.
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