Ellis Shuman

Wars of the Jews

Yom Kippur eve. At the very same hour that leftwing activists clashed with religious worshippers in Dizengoff Square, I was praying in the synagogue on my moshav. I was a secular Ashkenazi Jew standing alongside religious Sephardic residents of my community. Listening to melodies I wasn’t familiar with, I was very much out of my comfort zone, yet I felt very welcome. Isn’t this what Judaism is supposed to be like? The news from Tel Aviv suggested we are far from that.

The more I think about those events, the more I am abhorred. After the Supreme Court ruled that the Tel Aviv Municipality has the right to ban gender-segregated prayer services in public spaces, a provocateur gathered likeminded right-wingers and set up a mechitza divider of Israeli flags so that they could conduct Yom Kippur services there.

Secular vs. religious

Yisrael Zaira, head of the extremist Rosh Yehudi Orthodox group, insisted on violating the court ruling to pray in public with men and women separated. Zaira has said, “When you see the secular world, you have to think of how to change it.” Instead of allowing him to freely act against the secular world, he should be arrested for his infractions.

On the other hand, leftwingers who have played a major role in the 38-week-long protests against the government, a battle to keep Israel’s democratic values that I completely support, took the law into their own hands and clashed with the religious Jews. They screamed at the worshippers, swore at them with cries of ‘Shame!’, physically assaulted them, and spouted hatred at their fellow Jews.

Left versus right. Religious versus secular. Jew versus Jew. And all this on the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. Two wrongs don’t make a right. In these clashes there were no winners. We are all losers.

Where is the government?

You would think that in a time of clashes in our society, there would be an adult in the room to referee between the sides and calm everything down. In normal times we would assume that this role should be played by the prime minister. But these are far from normal times. Our prime minister declared that “leftists had rioted against Jews”, implying that he doesn’t consider leftists to be Jews. By siding with the rightwing extremists he brought into his government, Netanyahu has become a rightwing extremist.

There is a government outcry now, when secular Jews attacked religious Jews, but why is the government silent when religious extremists attack Women of the Wall prayer goers at the Kotel, Judaism’s holiest site? Where is the government when religious Jews attack Conversative and Reform Jews celebrating family events and prayers near the Kotel plaza?

Ask for forgiveness

We are all Jews, yet we are far from living up to what is expected of Jews.

Yom Kippur is the holiest day on our calendar, when we are supposed to come together as a people and beg forgiveness for our sins. In the violent acts we have witnessed, we have sinned against our fellow Jews, our religion, and our God. We need to ask for a lot of forgiveness.

Meanwhile, on my moshav, Yom Kippur prayers went on. I was entranced by the Sephardic melodies and customs, so different from the Kol Nidre services I have attended in the past. There are many types of Jews, with different backgrounds and customs, and yet we are all one people. I felt welcome praying on my moshav. I, too, was asking forgiveness. We should all be praying.

About the Author
Ellis Shuman made aliya to Jerusalem as a teenager, served in the IDF, was a founding member of a kibbutz, and now lives on Moshav Neve Ilan. Ellis is the author of ‘The Burgas Affair’ – a crime thriller set in Israel and Bulgaria; ‘Valley of Thracians’ - a suspense novel set in Bulgaria; and 'The Virtual Kibbutz' - a collection of short stories. His writing has appeared in The Times of Israel, The Huffington Post, The Jerusalem Post, Israel Insider, and on a wide range of Internet websites. Ellis lived with his wife for two years in Bulgaria, and blogs regularly about Israel, Bulgaria, books, and writing.
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