I admit that I haven’t attended a protest for many years. I made sure to avoid rallies ever since the raging rightist protests of the 1990s, in the days before Rabin’s assassination. It may have been a type of post-traumatic response, yet it was a conscious, clearly-worded decision: I shall no longer attend protests.
Yet nonetheless, something about the current wave managed to smash this decision, so Saturday night – after Shabbat ended, of course – we packed our kids and headed to Tel Aviv in order to join the protest. Yes, despite the religious community’s debate about whether we should, and why, and when, we did not hesitate – morally speaking, we’re completely there.
After reading all the weekend newspapers, I too am familiar with the various religious arguments against joining the protest. Ranging from the arrogant self-righteousness of “you should learn from us how to live modestly” to the bogus “there’s immodesty and desecration of the Shabbat there” and the regular whining about this being a “leftist protest.” Everyone who uttered these ridiculous statements from within air-conditioned media offices simply didn’t bother to hit the streets and see for themselves.
The moment one hits the streets of Tel Aviv and approaches the protest’s focal point, it becomes impossible not to be swept away by what’s happening there - because as opposed to the atmosphere of hatred and fear that prevailed in rightist protests of the past, this protest is swept by a wave of love. Without being cynical I can say that I was touched to the point of tears, standing at the sweaty intersection of Kaplan and Leonardo da Vinci and hearing the repeated chants: “The people. Demand. Social justice.”
All the chants, signs and slogans were in favor of justice, equality, compassion and fraternity. And anyone who says these are hollow slogans and clichés apparently did not listen to the exact same words read Saturday morning in the timeless, mythical speech of Prophet Isaiah at the synagogue. These are the words that we, members of the religious community, forgot a long time ago, because our lexicon only includes Eretz Yisrael and settlements. These are the only issues that prompt us to demonstrate in recent decades.
We only care about settlements?And you know what? I came up with another reason why the religious community is scared to join this protest. It’s because we may discover that someone wrested away what used to be ours for so many years – the concern for the people of Israel, the values, the sacrifice and the dedication.
We may go out there and discover that everything we told our young people in recent years, about us having a monopoly on high-minded youth, was a crude lie. We may discover that the secular public did not go morally bankrupt, as we are accustomed to saying with more than a hint of arrogance, and that while we slept or guarded some remote outpost on a hill someone else took up the role of moral leader.
Thousands of youths wearing blue shirts are leading the struggle; hundreds of thousands of reservists carrying Israeli flags are demanding modified priorities. They are placing a mirror in front of our face and in fact asking us a question: Where are we in this moral battle? The answer is not particularly flattering for us.
Indeed, there is something outrageous about women with strollers that cost thousands of shekels and an iced-coffee in their hand protesting the cost of living. Yet as Maimonides said, we must accept the truth from whoever utters it and address the issue and not the person who speaks of it.
And so, you can sit at home and whine about that sign, or this chant, or one’s stroller. You will justify your decision to stay at home to yourselves and to your religious neighbors and pat yourselves on the back. You will again leave the stage for Rabbi Benny Lau and Rabbi Yuval Sherlo, who as usual step up in the face of the archaic religious consensus. However, in that case you will miss out on this era’s great spiritual effort and see how we, the religious, may no longer be a part of it.
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