Updated: Jul 12, 2022
I am grateful that the media is covering the story of the thugs who terrorized the egalitarian worship space on Thursday, June 30th. Every story I have read says that the haredi hooligans disrupted three B’nei Mitzvah services. But the truth is that far more than three families had their simchas marred by these thugs.
That was only Act I.
I was there for Act II.
I am a recent Olah from NYC. I am also both a rabbi and a cantor. Last fall a lovely family from Santa Fe, NM asked me to officiate at their son’s Bar Mitzvah in Jerusalem. This was one dedicated kid as the only time we both could get on Zoom together was at 7:30am his time (5:30pm my time), before he left for school!
On the morning of the Bar Mitzvah, I was to meet the family at the Dung Gate at 8:45am and guide them into the prayer space for the service. I knew it was Rosh Chodesh and that there likely would be anti-WOW violence on the main plaza, but I had some crazy idea that the small platform, run by the Masorti movement, would be a safe and holy place.
I just could not, in my wildest imagination, have envisioned the outright terror that greeted us as we tried out best to assemble in a corner of the platform. Whistles. Screams. Hand-written signs of pure hatred. I pulled the family together and explained…..but they were absolutely horrified.
It seems we arrived at the tail-end of Act I.
When we arrived, Anat Hoffman was there, arguing with a police officer. The three families that you have probably read about had an 8:00am time slot for their service. There was a bit of a calm as they were leaving, but then it got ugly again as a tour guide lost his temper. I wasn’t paying close attention as I was trying to keep my family aside and away from the crowd as it got uglier and uglier.
Did the police do anything? Sometimes, if we pleaded loud enough, they formed a line between us and them, but, other than that, not a thing. They stood. Silent. They wouldn’t talk to us. They wouldn’t act.
Act II was in full force and those haredi kids – KIDS – weren’t going anywhere.
I decided that I could not just stand back. So, I put on my tallit and my kippah and I stood tall against the throng of boys – BOYS – who were wishing me and my
family burn in the ovens of Germany.
I engaged one of them, looked at him with a loving smile, and sang softly to his face: ”Amar Rabbi Akiva, V’ahavta L’rei-acha K’mocha, Zeh K’lal Gadol BaTorah.” Rabbi Akiva says, love your neighbor as yourself. That is the greatest rule of Torah.”
He just stared. And then he went to harass the other families.
Next to me was my cantorial colleague from Boston, Cantor Louise Treitman. She was there to celebrate her granddaughter becoming a Bat Mitzvah.
Across the platform were two or three other families, also huddling. Also mortified.
And then, wonder of wonders, at about 9:40am, a police captain showed up. And I don’t know how he, alone, could make it happen, but the hooligans and thugs in all kinds of Jewish orthodox garb, were led up the stone stairs, and away from the area.
We finally were able to have our service and it was particularly joyful, singing Hinei Ma Tov U’ma Nayim together with the family from Boston.
I have been pondering a response ever since I got home. I read all the articles, all the denunciations. And they all covered Act I. But no one noticed Act II. No one reported that it affected far more families and B’nei Mitzvah students than three. There were at least 4-5 other families on the platform with us for Act II.
And what have these families learned during their time here in Eretz Yisrael? That other Jews hate them? That when they come to the land of all Jews, some Jews might not be so welcoming? They may be reviled and berated and spat at and screamed at? How shall we rabbis and cantors teach our students to love Israel when families are going home with stories like this one?
I can only pray that the memory of the Bar Mitzvah service will far overshadow the vile hatred that preceded it. I pray that all the other memories of their trip around Israel implants that special seed of Ahavat Yisrael in them, like coming to Israel has done for millions of families and Bnei Mitzvah students and teens and adults who preceded them.
And I pray that, come November, when there is yet another election, that the government will finally get some beitzim and say, enough. All Jews matter.