Glimpses At My First Protest In Israel

I went last night to the much-covered protest in Beit Shemesh.

Honestly, I’m not much of a protest person. I prefer personal, rational, civil discourse. Nonetheless, without protests and big to-dos, I know it can be almost impossible for a cultural upheaval to take place.

I got to the protest an hour late (bad traffic). But things were only getting started when I got there.

I was pleased to see that speakers came from all sorts of places along the religious spectrum: secular, Reform, Modern Orthodox, and even Ultra-Orthodox.

The message everybody gave was essentially the same: we’re not going to take it anymore. Beit Shemesh cannot be a place where an aberrant Ultra-Orthodox Jew feels at home to drive other Jews out of town. If you spit on one little Israeli girl, then you are spitting on the entire nation.

The mother of Naama Margolese spoke briefly at the rally, and, following her, 8 men spoke and concluded each speech with the lighting of one candle on a Chanukkiyyah that was on the stage.

After these 8 men spoke, we finally heard the voice of a woman again–Opposition Leader Tzipi Livni. But, until she spoke, the crowd was pretty restless. There were many murmurs about haddarat nashim–“the exclusion of women”–coming from the event organizers themselves! Why weren’t the women speaking?

Slowly but surely, the crowd began to shout for “Nashim al habbamah!” (“Women on the stage!”). This chanting went on so long and so loudly that I couldn’t hear most of the final few male speakers. Once Tzipi Livni took stage though, a hush fell over the crowd (and so did a lot of shushing).

In deciding whether or not I wanted to go to the rally at all, I questioned whether or not I could bring anything to the crowd. Fortunately, I did! I brought 3 stickers from the Masorti Movement that looked like this:

It roughly translates into the following:

May no one ever shut your mouth in the name of the Torah! “All the women emerged after her with drum and dance… Miriam called to them, ‘Sing to the Lord!'” Exodus 15

The message is a little long, but pretty empowering.

I gave out one sticker to a little girl who saw me holding these stickers. Passing by me, a middle-aged woman asked me for a sticker too. Envious of her friend with the sticker I distributed, another young girl asked me for the sticker. So did another one, but I was out of stickers!

In the absence of enough stickers, one of the girls held up her sticker, and her friends took out their phones to shoot photos of this sticker that was even cooler than I expected!

Growing up as a Conservative Jew in the United States, I was often told that Israelis have never heard of the Masorti Movement. Yet, I cannot counthow many times I heard the speakers at last night’s rally say that Beit Shemesh–and all of Israel–must be a safe home to secular, Reform, Masorti, Modern Orthodox, and Ultra-Orthodox Jews!

I don’t know how much Israelis know about Masorti Jewish living, but it seemed pretty clear to me that thousands of Israelis actually do know that Masorti Jews exist. And not only that, but those girls thought that Masorti made some cool stickers.

Finally, I must stress that nearly every speaker acknowledged that the Ultra-Orthodox Jews who spit on other Jews, who actively call for the segregation of women from men, and who make Israel look bad are in fact not representative of the entire Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. Ultra-Orthodoxy should not be equated with tendencies towards hateful actions and attitudes.

I must say that I was impressed by the amount of nuance in the speeches delivered last night. I joined with thousands of people who called for the end of hatred, segregation, and elitism. We all called for diversity and love in a Zionist state.

We asked that the pietists and the atheists live side by side alongside everyone in between, and that none of our beliefs and actions ever lead to the pain of others: that we never spit in the face of our neighbor, the face of our people, and the face of ourselves.

We’re not going to take it.

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About jonahrank


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