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Rabbi Leo Dee shoved during Sukkot prayers in Tel Aviv

"Tel Aviv must not become a dangerous place for the traditional religious and ultra-Orthodox public," said Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich.

Rabbi Leo Dee speaks to reporters in Efrat, April 10, 2023. Photo by Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90.
Rabbi Leo Dee speaks to reporters in Efrat, April 10, 2023. Photo by Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90.

Rabbi Leo Dee, who lost his wife and two daughters in a terrorist attack in April, was intentionally barged into by a passerby while praying at Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv on Thursday morning.

The passerby was caught on camera walking into Dee as he prayed in public with a lulav and etrog—palm fronds and a citron—a key ritual of Sukkot holiday, which runs from Sept. 29 to Oct. 6 this year.

The British-born Dee, who lives in Efrat, impressed Israelis with his faith and steadfastness after the murder of his wife and daughters, garnering national and international headlines for his message of unity in the wake of the deadly April shooting.

On Sept. 10, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen appointed Dee to the post of Special Envoy for Social Initiatives.

Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir expressed shock at the footage, saying he had ordered police to “act decisively” against religious intolerance.

Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the Religious Zionism Party, warned that Tel Aviv must not become a dangerous place for religious Jews.

“Leo Dee, who mourned his wife and daughters several months ago in a murderous attack, was attacked only because he prayed in Tel Aviv,” said Smotrich.

The city “must not become a dangerous place for the traditional religious and ultra-Orthodox public. The responsibility rests in the hands of [opposition leaders] Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid. The protest has become a protest against the tradition of Israel. It’s dangerous. Stop,” he added.

Thursday’s incident comes after the Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality on Sept. 28 revoked religious nonprofit Rosh Yehudi’s permit to hold public events in the city during Sukkot.

The decision followed a protest by radical secularists who forcefully prevented the group from holding an gender-segregated outdoor Yom Kippur service.

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai had previously barred gender-segregated services in the city, despite such separation being a staple of Orthodox religious services.

When Rosh Yehudi created a makeshift barrier of Israeli flags, dozens of protesters—some wearing T-shirts reading “Democracy” and others clad in the attire of the anti-judicial reform protests—pulled the flags down and removed plastic chairs organizers had set up, preventing the service from taking place.

Protesters also hurled abuse at the worshippers—many of them wearing prayer shawls—screaming “not here” and “see the face of evil.” Some of the protesters can be heard in video footage of the incident uttering racial slurs about a new immigrant from France as scuffles broke out between the sides—all on the holiest day on the Jewish calendar and at the culmination of the High Holidays.

The event made national news as it touched on the country’s religious-secular divide and came amid heightened tensions over the government’s judicial reform plan.

The protests against the Israeli government’s judicial reform legislation , mostly comprising secular Israelis, have been going on for months. Many of the protesters claim they fear Israel will turn into a theocracy if the Supreme Court loses power.

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