Monday, November 30, 2009

Pluralism in Israel: Taking to the Streets

Here is an update received today from the Israeli Religious Action Center:

For background see: Woman wearing tallit arrested at Western Wall
The Israeli Religious Action Center
Secular Jews protest at ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem demos

Nofrat Frenkel’s arrest for wearing tallit at the Wall was the last straw. Last week, more of you read and forwarded our newsletter than ever before. You were thoroughly outraged – and rightly so. And just two nights ago, on this past Motzei Shabbat, Jerusalem’s progressive community also decided things had finally gone too far. It was time to react.

Months – if not years – of rising tension between the Haredi community and the rest of Jerusalem, from last summer’s Karta parking lot riots, to three Shabbat protests at Intel in just as many weeks, (to say nothing of last week’s arrest at the Kotel) culminated in a 2,000 person peaceful protest against religious coercion of any kind.

2,000 people – it might not sound like a lot, but in a country smaller than New Jersey, in our little Jerusalem, 2,000 people is huge. The protestors stretched from Kikar Paris, where the protest began, then marched up King George Street, filled the pedestrian walkway of Ben Yehuda, and overflowed Kikar Zion. There were signs, songs, and speeches – including one from Nofrat Frenkel.

The protest brought out a diverse crowd organized by the Forum for Free Jerusalem: Reform and Conservative Jews, secular Jerusalemites, city councilmen, and members from the Jerusalem Open House. In a special nod to Nofrat, the Masorti movement had made bumper stickers which read: “hakotel l’culam/n” – the Wall for everyone – which means women as well.

It was a protest not only against religious coercion, but FOR religious pluralism. It was inclusive, non-violent, and, notably, took place after Shabbat.

Last week, forty women were prohibited from reading Torah at the Wall. Forty women, and one arrest. This week, 2,000 people showed up to prove that what happens at the Wall affects the rest of the city.

And read Nofrat Frankel's own account - from the Forward:

Every morning, since I was 15, I have worn a tallit for prayer in my home. During my army service, I was forced to swallow many negative comments by other soldiers who prayed in the army synagogues, some of which did not even have a women’s gallery, because female soldiers never set foot in them. After leaving the army, I began to visit the Kotel every Rosh Hodesh. The atmosphere at the Kotel, the feeling that all those women praying around me were also turning to God and pouring out their hearts to Him, inspires me with the joy of Jewish fraternity. Here is one place in which, shoulder to shoulder, all the hearts are calling to God. more

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