Joshua Weinberg

The Ides of Iyyar

Iyyar, so far, has been a tumultuous month. On Rosh Hodesh Iyyar, just 11 days ago, the world witnessed something that could only happen in Israel. After 26 years of holding monthly minyanim at the Kotel, the Women of the Wall were finally able to recite that day’s reading from an actual Torah scroll. This is something that the rest of the world takes completely taken for granted, yet it caused those who claim to uphold the Torah to react violently.

Alden Solovy, who helped pass the Torah from the men’s section to the women’s, recounted his assault:

“I was stomped on in the stomach for helping to provide a Sefer Torah to women at the Kotel and for stepping in as a line of defense against physical violence directed at the women. The violence was instigated by “sadranim” – ushers at the Kotel – who attempted to enter the women’s section of the Kotel to take the Torah. One of those men gave [my friend] Charlie Kalesh a head injury…

Although a policeman witnessed the assault on me, the man was not charged. The man who assaulted Charlie was not charged. Charlie was charged with disturbing the public order. As far as we know, no one else – neither the sadranim, the man who assaulted me nor the mob – have been charged.”

Let’s pause for a minute and zoom out to look at the absurdity of this situation. What happens in everyday non-Orthodox life – one person passes the Torah to another – results in violence and arrests of those passing the Torah, not of those who attacked them. I guess those who claim to uphold the Torah might benefit from a refresher course.

A few days later we mourned for our fallen, and then celebrated independence. Israel has been a state for 67 years, which lends a great deal to celebrate. The miraculous story about everything that Israel has accomplished is nothing short of that, yet we are quickly reminded that many view the 67 years since ’48 through the lens of the 48 years since ’67 – as the fires of Israeli Independence Day barbeques were smoldering, the government is still building settlements.

This month of Iyyar will also see the completion of Netanyahu’s coalition with a likely 22 person cabinet and shockingly few women. United Torah Judaism’s Moshe Gafni will be chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee, and UTJ’s Meir Porush will be deputy education minister. The champion of today’s settler movement, Naftali Bennett, will likely control the shaping of young minds in the Ministry of Education.

Does all this worry you as a Diaspora Jew? If it does, then what are you going to do about it? You could make aliyah, form your own political party and jump in to the ring. You could invest a boat-load of money and buy your own newspaper to influence public opinion. But if neither of those solutions fit you, then you could, at the very least, simply exercise your democratic right and vote in the World Zionist Congress elections.

It will take you just 3 minutes and $10 and your vote will help influence policy and budgets, but it is about so much more. Today is the last day!

As we near the Ides of Iyyar, many in Israel celebrated Yom Herzl on the 10th of Iyyar, just two days ago. 118 years since Herzl convened the first World Zionist Congress, his voice and vision are needed now more than ever. It was Herzl who, in envisioning the future Jewish State, very clearly articulated:

“Shall we end by having a theocracy? No, indeed. Faith unites us, knowledge gives us freedom. We shall therefore prevent any theocratic tendencies from coming to the fore on the part of our priesthood. We shall keep our priests within the confines of their temples in the same way as we shall keep our professional army within the confines of their barracks. Army and priesthood shall receive honors high as their valuable functions deserve. But they must not interfere in the administration of the State which confers distinction upon them, else they will conjure up difficulties without and within. 

Every man will be as free and undisturbed in his faith or his disbelief as he is in his nationality. And if it should occur that men of other creeds and different nationalities come to live amongst us, we should accord them honorable protection and equality before the law.”

Now, let’s make this happen.

Vote for the party that champions Herzl’s vision of freedom and equality, tolerance, and democracy, and let’s change Israeli society and the Jewish World.

Happy Iyyar.\

About the Author
Rabbi Josh Weinberg is the Vice President for Israel and Reform Zionism for the URJ, and President of ARZA, the Association of Reform Zionists of America. He was ordained from the HUC-JIR Israeli Rabbinic Program in Jerusalem, and is currently living in New York.
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