Michael Boyden

They Just Don’t Get It

There is a Hebrew film-strip that has gone viral on the digital media. Everyone needs to see it in order to understand what happened in Dizengoff Square on Yom Kippur when residents reacted to the mechitzah erected to hold gender segregated services there.

This is not about tolerance, but goes much deeper. Rosh Yehudi, the organization that erected the mechitzah, argued that, if Muslims could put up a barrier on public land, then why shouldn’t Jews also be allowed to do so? Those who ask such a question either don’t understand what is going on here, or are pretending not to do so.

In principle, there ought not to be any problem about worshippers holding segregated services on public land. However, that is not the issue.

Secular, chiloni Israelis are not just angry but jittery, because they see the rug being torn from beneath their feet and they have had enough.

The film-strip expresses their concerns unambiguously and suggests that what people need to do is to “zoom out” and look at the bigger picture of what is happening in our country.

Its contentions need to be heard by all those who are concerned for the future of our nation.

What happened at Dizengoff Square was not a spontaneous gathering of local residents, but was organized by Rosh Yehudi, which brought in religious settlers from the West Bank for the purpose, and whose leaders have repeatedly declared that they “are proud of their efforts to make people religious”. One outraged resident said: “They want to repair us as though we were broken.”

They declare that “Dizengoff will become a centre for Torah study”. Their purpose is, as one of those who opposed them put it, “to take vengeance on the chilonim and turn our children into religious Jews”.

Some years ago, Bibi said that the Left had forgotten what it meant to be Jewish. Now he is suggesting that they aren’t even Jewish. “The government is treating us as though we are not part of the nation.” We are “not part of the people but we pay for them”.

“10 billion shekels are allocated to religion, which is more than the entire social services budget.” “A further 100 million shekels for machers who arrange draft evasion.” “400 million shekels in food coupons not for the poor but for the charedim.” “Who pays for all of this? You!” “You contribute and contribute to the country, and they treat you as though you were the enemy and it is your values that need to be corrected. We’ve had enough!” “You need to be sensitive to their needs, but they don’t have to be sensitive to yours.”

The film-strip is full of resentment but also of anxiety. Chiloni, liberal Israelis fear that their world is being destroyed and overrun by an ultra-right-wing government that includes both charedim and messianic zealots. Not surprisingly but sadly, a recent Channel 13 survey reported that 28% of Israelis are considering leaving the country.

Rather than leaving the country, they need to take it back from those who are destroying it.

One such spontaneous reaction is that of a group of residents in my town, who approached me as the rabbi of Kehilat Yonatan, the Reform congregation in Hod Hasharon, with a request to hold egalitarian hakafot on Simchat Torah as an expression of their wish to take back their Judaism from those religious extremists and messianic zealots who believe they hold a monopoly on it.

About the Author
Made aliyah from the UK in 1985, am a former president of the Israel Council of Reform Rabbis and am currently rabbi of Kehilat Yonatan in Hod Hasharon, Israel.