Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Tensions among Jews in Jerusalem

[This may be the only posting this week as I am out sick. Check back at the end of the week. Thanks]



A coalition for Jerusalem

The good news is that the hastily organized, barely advertised, after-Shabbat rally against ultra-Orthodox religious coercion in Jerusalem swelled to several thousand participants by the time it peaked in Zion Square. Unfortunately, such numbers fall woefully short of ensuring a city whose ethos needs to be tradition and tolerance. The demonstration was supposed to bring together secular, Reform, Masorti and modern Orthodox Jerusalemites. But while there was a scattered representation from progressive Orthodox quarters, the middle-of-the-road kipa sruga crowd was mostly absent.

Part of the problem, we suspect, is that Jerusalem is a small "c" conservative city. You won't draw the multitudes in defense of a woman's right to wear a tallit - even in the public plaza adjacent to the Western Wall - probably because many Jerusalemites are culturally Orthodox even if non-practicing.

Moreover, last night's rally featured both Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz and Meretz municipal council member Pepe Allalo, thus signaling that this was a protest not just for people opposed to haredi bullying, but for those who also champion religious egalitarianism and gay rights.

The modern Orthodoxy are willing to take ideas from the outside world, perhaps interpret Halacha in a more broadminded way, but this does not connote laxity in observance on a drift on core tenets. Granted, theologically progressive Orthodoxy is pushing the envelope on women's participation at gender segregated services. At the end of the day, however, Orthodoxy is not egalitarian and simply cannot embrace homosexuality as being on par with heterosexuality.

That being the case, it would be more practical to pursue a broad-based Zionist coalition aimed at bringing together socially conservative Jerusalemites, the modern Orthodox along with progressives of various stripes to campaign for:

• Protecting mixed and secular neighborhoods from haredi encroachment, while lobbying for non-luxury housing construction that caters to these demographic groups;

• Demanding an equitable allocation of municipal resources especially in education, religious services and culture;

• Insisting on an absolute respect for the rule of law.

One can oppose haredi bullying without ridiculing other aspects of the community's lifestyle and without seeking fundamental changes in the religious status quo at the municipal level.

Disgraceful haredi behavior generates headlines, tarnishes Jerusalem's image, and propels the occasional counter-demonstration. But it is the methodical wielding of haredi clout and patronage that has left this city increasingly insular, close-minded and parochial. This reality begs for a wall-to-wall Zionist coalition.

In a sense we're really asking: What will it take to get rabbis of the caliber of a Michael Melchior and a Benjamin Lau off the dime? They may not march for egalitarianism, but will they stay home even as family style seating at national ceremonies for new olim at the Western Wall becomes de-facto forbidden? Will observant Jews of good will support the demands of Masorti and visiting US Conservative Jews for 24/7 free access to Robinson's Arch?

BY COINCIDENCE, Saturday night's anti-haredi coercion protest marched past the Great Synagogue where, on the first anniversary of Mayor Nir Barkat's stewardship at City Hall, he sat in dialogue with Jerusalem Post editor-in-chief David Horovitz.

Barkat made a generally favorable impression as someone who does not court confrontation. He is committed to growing jobs and oversaw a successful summer of culture in the capital, other tensions notwithstanding.

Barkat senses that the outflow of kipa sruga Jerusalemites is ebbing, citing an increase in the number of national religious youngsters in the schools set aside for them. He also notes that there was no decrease of enrollment in secular public schools.

The mayor thinks of himself as a CEO more than a politician. He's proud of the fact that he does not wheel and deal. Unfortunately, the mayor's lack of political acumen - especially in dealing with the volatile haredi community - has cost the city dearly even when, at the end of the day, the collective interest wins out. We trust that Barkat will come to appreciate that running this city requires him to hone his political acumen so that he is not repeatedly blindsided by controversy. He needs to keep lines of communication open with the rabbis, politicians, mukhtars and neighborhood activists who can help him head off trouble as he implements his agenda of jobs, housing... and tolerance.

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