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SUKKOT 2023

Tel Aviv bars nonprofit’s Sukkot events after public fiasco on Yom Kippur

The decision came after secular protesters forcefully prevented Rosh Yehudi, an outreach group, from holding a gender-separate Yom Kippur service.

The Rosh Yehudi outreach group sets up chairs ahead of a public Yom Kippur service on Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv on Sept. 24, 2023. Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90.
The Rosh Yehudi outreach group sets up chairs ahead of a public Yom Kippur service on Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv on Sept. 24, 2023. Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90.

The Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality on Thursday revoked a nonprofit’s permits to hold public events during the weeklong Sukkot holiday.

The decision comes after radical secular protesters forcefully prevented Rosh Yehudi, a Jewish outreach group, from holding an outdoor Yom Kippur with separate sections for men and women earlier in the week.

A municipality hearing focused on the “violation of the permit conditions” and the group “placing a stage without the necessary permit and the use of physical barriers for gender separation,” per local media reports, which cited city hall.

During the hearing, Rosh Yehudi representatives denied staging a gender-segregated service on Yom Kippur “and did not express sorrow for its conduct or take responsibility for it,” the municipality claimed.

The Tel Aviv-based Rosh Yehudi seeks to connect young people in the coastal city to their Jewish roots. In recent months, it has drawn left-wing activists’ and politicians’ ire for its mass public prayers.

Activists protest against gender segregation (the sign in Hebrew can be translated as“Enough with the sanctification”) in the public space during a prayer on Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, on Sept. 25, 2023. Photo by Itai Ron/Flash90.

Hurling slurs on the holiest of days

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai had barred the group from holding gender-segregated services on Yom Kippur, which was observed from Sunday night until Monday night, on public land. The Israeli Supreme Court upheld the prohibition.

Seeking to uphold its understanding of Jewish law and to remain in line with the court ruling, Rosh Yehudi created a makeshift barrier of Israeli flags between men and women.

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, thus preventing the service from occurring.

Protesters also hurled abuse at the Yom Kippur worshippers—many of them donned in prayer shawls—screaming “Not here” and “Look at the face of evil.” Video footage showed that some protesters uttered 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.

Participants had to return to the organization’s synagogue to complete their prayers.

Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, begins at sunset on Friday, Sept. 29, and ends around sundown on Oct. 6. (A connected but distinct one-day holiday follows in Israel, and a two-day holiday in the Diaspora.)

Israel’s Channel 14 noted that the mayor’s decision also affects permits that Rosh Yehudi had secured ahead of Yom Kippur, including for Simchat Torah celebrations on Dizengoff Square and the construction of a sukkah on nearby Zamenhof Street.

In April, Reuven Ladianski, deputy mayor of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, said he intended to “bring to justice” Rosh Yehudi after it held a Passover service in Dizengoff Square. He “demanded that the organizers be fined and prosecuted to the fullest extent possible,” he wrote on social media.

Last week, Rabbi Yigal Levenstein, one of the heads of a military preparatory academy in the town of Eli in Samaria, required police protection after he was attacked and chased while attending a Torah class at Rosh Yehudi’s synagogue.

In footage of the harassment, protesters shouted, “You are nothing, you have no God. You are scum. You are not Jews. Get out of here.”

Others yelled: “Go away, fascist. Go back to the settlements. You don’t belong in this place.”

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