Last Saturday, the day before Yom Kippur eve, I attended the demonstration in Jerusalem in front of the President’s Residence. It was a respectful and welcoming demonstration of pluralism, with participants including both religious and non-religious individuals from various backgrounds. But little did I know that 24 hours later, on the holiest day of the year, religious extremists (connected with the coalition) from outside Tel Aviv would see it as their mission to disrespect the public space in Dizengoff Square. They insisted on erecting a Mahiza during the mass Kol Nidre prayer, in direct defiance of the Israeli court’s ruling. Unfortunately, both the municipality of Tel Aviv and the police stood by and enabled these actions.
The Orthodox Jewish religion in Israel has made it impossible for me, as a non-religious woman, to feel welcome in religious rituals and ceremonies. The only period of time that I ever felt comfortable around religion, was when we lived in the US and were part of Conservative congregations. We were there for 14 years, and every holiday we attended Shul. We were active in the congregation, and the synagogue was like our second home.
Sadly, this sense of belonging was not replicated in Israel. Upon our return, it became clear that things here had not changed for the better, quite the contrary, and especially now I feel alienated to my Jewish religion.
So when Ya Ya Fink, one of the leaders of the protest, invited everyone to a public prayer at Habima Square, I knew that he meant everyone. From the first moment, there was a feeling of compassion and inclusion. Ya Ya started the event by emphasizing that in Judaism, the attitude towards others and minorities should be one of full equality. In the last 9 months (since the new government took office and the Judicial overhaul), 188 Arab citizens were murdered. So before the start of the prayer, there was a one-minute silence in memory of those who were killed.
The main message of the entire event was to “love thy neighbor as yourself” because this is true Judaism. It is so human and basic, yet apparently it needs to be reiterated again and again. I was truly pleased that I attended the mass prayer because, for the first time in many years, I felt proud of my religion and connected to that part of my identity.