The tragedy of this Yom Kippur must not be ignored

An extremist minority is threatening Judaism in the Jewish state.

Jews pray while activists protest against gender segregation during a public prayer at Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv on Yom Kippur, Sept. 25, 2023. Credit: Itai Ron/Flash90.
Jews pray while activists protest against gender segregation during a public prayer at Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv on Yom Kippur, Sept. 25, 2023. Credit: Itai Ron/Flash90.
Oshy Ellman
Oshy Ellman is an Israeli-born olah from the United Kingdom. She has two decades of experience in communications and marketing consulting services and is an active participant in the olim community.

This week, we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, a tragedy that unfolded when Egypt and Syria launched a coordinated assault against Israel on the nation’s holiest day. Faced with the dire option of either defense against the invasion or annihilation, the people of Israel countered the attack and, after enduring significant losses, ultimately emerged victorious.

This Yom Kippur, we found ourselves facing another unimaginable calamity. Devastatingly, this time the threat came from within our own community.

Public Yom Kippur prayer services in Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Square have been a constant since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. There should have been no reason for this year to be any different. However, in advance of the High Holy Days, the Tel Aviv municipality and Israel’s courts decided to prohibit public gender-segregated events in the city. Both parties should be held to account for this, because their anti-religious ruling clearly infringes upon freedom of worship.

Due to this ruling, the organizers of the annual Yom Kippur service had no option but to seek legal advice so the prayers could go ahead without breaking any laws. They consulted with the police and it was decided that they should hang Israeli flags as a symbolic divider, rather than the usual mechitzah barrier. They received the green light from both lawyers and the police to proceed with their arrangements.

Despite official approval, a small and destructive faction of Jewish individuals aggressively unleashed a barrage of loud and vulgar vitriol upon Jewish worshippers. Harassing bystanders, tearing down Israeli flags, throwing prayer books into a water fountain, removing seating, spitting and shoving, these individuals acted in an abusive manner that was diametrically opposed to the “liberal” values they claim to uphold. They trampled on individual rights, invaded personal space and prevented freedom of choice and religion.

Throughout history, the Jewish people endured tragic periods of persecution solely because of our faith. Over the centuries, we have faced physical violence, discrimination, demonization brutal massacres and immeasurable hardship.

The State of Israel reemerged as a beacon of hope in the aftermath of the Holocaust, providing a safe haven for Jews seeking refuge from persecution worldwide. Israel’s Declaration of Independence references “Jewish” and “Israel” a total of 45 times. This underscores the foundational principle that the modern-day State of Israel was established as a Jewish state, a sanctuary for Jewish people in the face of those who threaten our faith and freedoms. Notably, the term “democracy” is absent from its text.

Since the reestablishment of the modern-day State of Israel, our soldiers have fought courageously in countless wars to defend our people from those who seek to destroy us and to preserve our independence in our ancestral homeland. Although the Yom Kippur protestors represent a tiny minority of Israelis, their acts represent a distressing encroachment on religious freedom for Jews in the world’s only Jewish state, which is the only permanent sanctuary for Jews everywhere.

The attempt to undermine ancient Jewish religion, culture and tradition in the name of enlightened progressivism, liberalism and “democracy” is not new. In the past, however, it tended to come from external sources. This time, we are seeing it emerge from within. This is why we should ensure that the tragedy of this year’s Yom Kippur is not ignored, for both moral reasons and for the sake of democratic values and individual and religious freedom. The behavior of the few should be a source of shame to us all.

Likewise, leaders like Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid—despite moderating their initial comments justifying the protesters’ actions—should face a harsh rebuke. It is they who bear the responsibility of safeguarding the values and freedoms of all Israeli citizens.

We who wish to preserve Judaism and enable all Jews to practice their religion, be it in public or in private, are the Israeli majority. As such, we must unite against this internal threat from an extremist minority. We cannot remain silent, because each boundary overstepped will lead to another. The ultimate objective is the destruction of our national identity, heritage, religion and culture. This threat shows no signs of abating. Without a secure Israel for the Jewish people, the consequences are clear. The line in the sand needs to be drawn now.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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