Episode 58 – The man who slept in Hitler’s room and infiltrated guarded refugee camps

When people talk to journalists, they tend to be extra careful as to what comes out of their mouths. It takes a whole new level of journalism to penetrate into the depths of the soul of a person – you have to smoothen your way in, create intimacy, have a drink or two together, and then, and only then – maybe you’ll get a glimpse into the what someone really thinks.

Tuvia Tenenbom has made this practice an art. Tuvia was born as Charedi in Israel to a German speaking family, but eventually moved to the States where he founded the Jewish Theater of New York, which is currently the only English speaking Jewish theater at the Big Apple. He wrote 16 plays for that theater.

As a columnist, Tuvia’s essays were published in the most highly esteemed papers out there, including a column in De Zeit, Germany’s leading newspaper.

In recent years Tenenbom has devoted his time to write books. His very unique genre is a non-fiction, journalistic, humoristic, books which describe the journeys that Tuvia embarks on – “I sleep in Hitler’s Room”, his debut book, depicts his journey throughout Germany, talking to Germans, sometimes pretending to be a German himself, hiding his Jewish identity.

In the book “Catch the Jew” Tuvia pretends yet again he’s a German journalist, thus infiltrating the highest ranks of Palestinian regime in the Territories, to find out what the Palestinians really think about Israel and the Jews.

His third book, “The Lies They Tell”, described a painful journey throughout the United Stated, when Tuvia goes to places in America, so deprived of government or God, that no one knew still exist.

Tuvia’s upcoming book will unfold his adventures at the refugee camps in Europe.
2NJB is thrilled to have Tuvia Tenenbom with us.

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Hurricane Irma are pictured in the Atlantic Ocean on Sept. 7. Photo from NOAA

Jews may travel on Shabbat to escape Hurricane Irma, Charedi rabbi says

An influential Ashkenazi rabbi in Israel said Jews may travel on Shabbat to escape Hurricane Irma, a Category 4 storm that is expected to hit Florida over the weekend.

But some Jews in flood-prone areas are determined to ride out the storm, another rabbi said.

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, who receives thousands of followers annually at his home in Bnei Brak from Charedi Orthodox communities around the world, issued the call in an interview with a follower. One of his aides filmed and posted his response online Wednesday.

Kanievsky’s ruling came as people in parts of three Florida counties faced mandatory evacuation orders Thursday and officials in two other counties issued voluntary orders to leave in advance of Irma.

The storm could create one of the largest mass exoduses in U.S. history as additional evacuations are announced. Orthodox Jewish law permits the violation of Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, only in life-threatening or otherwise severe emergencies.

Late Thursday, the National Weather Service issued a hurricane warning for South Florida and a storm surge warning as Irma makes its expected way to the U.S.

Tens of thousands of people had left the area voluntarily even before mandatory evacuations took place in the Florida Keys and began Thursday in some parts of the Miami area.

But many Jews in Miami will stay, according to Rabbi Chaim Lipskar, co-director with his wife, Deenie, of Miami’s Shul of Downtown.

Lipskar, who has five young children at home, told the Chabad.org website that half of his community is determined to remain in town. He said his family plans on riding out the storm in the 20,000-square-foot, 3-year-old Chabad House, which “is made of solid steel and concrete, and can handle hurricane-force winds.”

“We have gas generators, food and water; we are all set up,” the rabbi said. “We are going to hunker down and hope for the best.”

Evacuation orders led to the closure on Wednesday afternoon of the Lubavitch Educational Center, where some 1,500 students from preschool through high school are enrolled. The school, which has several campuses in the greater Miami area, will remain closed for the next few days.

An Orthodox community in Toco Hills, an Atlanta neighborhood, is offering hospitality to Jews evacuating Florida. Congregation Beth Jacob is planning to host approximately 400 people for meals on Shabbat, a publicist said, and more than 210 local  families have signed up to host.

The governors of Georgia and South Carolina ordered mandatory evacuations of low-lying coastal areas around Savannah and Charleston as rescue forces brace for the arrival this weekend of the storm, whose 165 mph winds have already devastated whole islands in the Caribbean, resulting in several deaths.

The path the storm will take as it rolls up Florida remains unclear, USA Today reported. The Florida Keys are poised to get hit. Some models show the storm’s eye bending a bit, just to the east of the Florida coast, while other models take the storm directly over Miami Beach.

View of the Bear Mountain Bridge over Popolopen Creek feeding into the Hudson River. Photo by John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images

Body of NY Charedi mom missing for four months found in Hudson River

The body of a Charedi Orthodox mother from New York’s Rockland County who had been reported missing in April was discovered in the Hudson River upstate.

The body was discovered Wednesday near Bear Mountain Bridge and positively identified the following day as that of Malky Lebowitz, nee Einhorn, the news site Crownheights Info reported. Lebowitz, 21, was married and the mother of a baby girl.

Formerly a member of the Satmar community, she lived in New City after moving from the neighboring town of Monsey, which has a large Charedi population.

On April 27, police began searching near the area where the body was found after seeing footage from a closed circuit television camera showing a woman jumping into the Hudson River from the bridge.

Yossi Morgeretan, coordinator of the Chaverim of Rockland, a volunteer emergency services organization, recovered the body, according to Crownheights Info. The report did not indicate the cause of death.

The family and close friends have been notified.

Following the woman’s disappearance, rescue units from numerous departments and agencies searched for nearly a week without any results, Kieran O’Leary, a spokesman for the Westchester County police, told the media at the time.

Crownheights Info published a photograph of a smiling Lebowitz wearing a head cover favored by many Charedi women while embracing a laughing baby and a rubber ball at what appears to be a play corner for children.

Miriam Ballin, holding her baby daughter, at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem. Photo courtesy of Ballin

This Charedi medic pioneered psychological first aid in Israel. Now she’s helping Houston.

Jerusalem therapist Miriam Ballin is the kind of person who takes the initiative.

Despite resistance from her Charedi Orthodox community, she became a medic. Then she launched a pacesetting psychological first aid unit. Clearly she was not just going to stand idly by while Tropical Storm Harvey flooded her native Houston.

[Hurricane Harvey: How you can help]

So on Wednesday evening, Ballin left her husband to watch their five young children and headed to southeast Texas, where she and six other Israeli mental health professionals will help locals cope with the flooding. Their work will be guided by hard-won experience responding to local emergencies, including dozens of terrorist attacks.

“I just feel it’s necessary and needed, and simply the right thing to do,” she said. “When we have 150 people who have been trained to deal with exactly this, not to send them to Houston to help out is I think wrong.”

In addition to her day job as a family therapist, Ballin, 33, is the head of the Psychotrauma Unit of United Hatzalah, a mostly Charedi volunteer emergency service based in Jerusalem. She spearheaded the creation of the unit last year amid a wave of Palestinian violence to provide psychological support to those experiencing potentially traumatic events.

The unit’s 200 or so members include medics, psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers who are trained by some of Israel’s leading experts on the psychology of crises. They have responded to dozens of terrorist attacks, as well as forest fires, car accidents and other medical emergencies.

Harvey will be their first experience with flooding. For five days, the storm has deluged southeast Texas, including Houston, the fourth-largest American city, with record rains. Rising floodwaters have forced thousands of people from their homes and caused at least 30 deaths, according to local officials.

Dov Maisel, United Hatzalah’s vice president of international operations, said the message he has received is that plenty of medical and first responders are on the ground, but that with many people displaced and looking for loved ones, psychological support is much needed.

“As a small organization from a small country, we found we could make the biggest impact by mobilizing our Psychotrauma Unit,” Maisel said. “The provision of psychological support in the acute stages of trauma, from incident to seven days, is something we’re leading the world in.”

Miriam Ballin and her husband, Adam, sitting at United Hatzalah headquarters in Jerusalem. (Courtesy of Ballin)

Ballin and her six team members, all drawn from the Psychotrauma Unit, will meet Thursday in Dallas before making their way to Houston. They will coordinate with the local and federal officials on the ground there, as well as leaders of the Jewish community, which has been especially hard hit. If more help is needed, a couple dozen more members of the Psychotrauma Unit can be deployed from Israel.

American Jewish donors, many of them based in Houston, are funding the trip.

Ballin’s group will not be the only Israeli rescue workers in Houston. Ten members of the IsraAID nongovernmental organization were meeting Wednesday in the city to focus on relief work.

For Ballin, the effort is personal. She was born and raised in Houston’s Reform Jewish community and still has family and friends there. But she has since taken a very different path.

After becoming more observant in high school, she met and married an Australian Charedi man while she was attending college in New York. They immigrated to Israel in 2011. Soon thereafter, while earning a certificate in family therapy from Bar-Ilan University, Ballin became the first woman medic for United Hatzalah, whose leadership she said embraced her ambition. The service now has over 150 female volunteers.

However, not everyone in the Charedi community, where religious observance is strict and men and women have sharply delineated roles, was supportive.

“We definitely did get a lot of flak from the rabbis,” Ballin recalled. “But the way that I went about it and I dealt with it was showing time and time again the sensitivity to those that it doesn’t kind of sit well with. For example, I would never go to a call in the middle of [the Charedi neighborhood] Mea Shearim.”

In April, Ballin again worked with United Hatzalah leaders to start the Psychotrauma Unit. Her husband, Adam, a 35-year-old family physician at Hadassah Medical Center, is also a volunteer medic and member of the unit. They and their children live in the Rehavia neighborhood of Jerusalem.

“Instead of getting baby sitters at night to go out to restaurants, we get baby sitters to go out and [scan] calls in and around Jerusalem,” she joked.

Being a woman Charedi medic has its challenges, Ballin acknowledged, but she compensates by always being prepared. In addition to her blonde wig and fluorescent orange medic’s vest, she has packed kosher canned food to keep her going in Houston.

“I’ll be there with my head cover on, in my skirt, doing the work I do,” she said. “I’ll roll up my sleeves and get the job done.”

Jerusalem Pride stabber beaten in prison over murder of teen girl

The man who is serving a life sentence for killing a 16-year-old girl at least year’s Jerusalem gay pride parade was beaten up by fellow inmates during an argument over the murder.

Yishai Schlissel, a Charedi Orthodox Jew, was hospitalized Wednesday after being assaulted by the two inmates at the Ayalon Prison.

Schlissel went on a stabbing spree at the annual march through Israel’s capital in the summer of 2015, killing Shira Banki and injuring six other marchers.

On Wednesday, Schlissel was treated for his injuries, which reportedly were light, at the Assaf Harofeh Medical Center outside Tel Aviv. Police opened an investigation into the incident.

According to the initial findings, Schlissel was allowed to go into a courtyard with the two prisoners, who are serving sentences for convictions related to organized crime. An argument broke out between Schlissel and the men regarding his murder of Banki. The two prisoners punched Schlissel in the face until guards separated them.

After a stabbing attack at the 2005 Jerusalem gay pride parade, Schlissel served 10 years in prison. Weeks after being released, and days ahead of the 2015 parade, he wrote an anti-gay diatribe calling the event “shameful” and “blasphemous” and alluding to plans to carry out another attack.

After his arrest, Schlissel refused legal counsel and said he did not recognize the legitimacy of the court as it does not abide by Jewish law. At his June sentencing hearing, Schlissel broke his silence in court for the first time, explaining that his crime was motivated by “love for God.”

Charedi lawmaker in Israel compares Reform movement to mentally ill person

A Charedi Orthodox lawmaker in Israel reportedly compared the Reform movement to a mentally ill person.

[MORE: Knesset members react]

Israel Eichler of the United Torah Judaism party made his remarks Tuesday in the lead-up to a Knesset debate the next day on the Supreme Court’s decision that non-Orthodox converts can immerse in a public mikvah, according to the Israeli daily Haaretz.

“Not every mentally ill person can come to the operating room and decide the rules of medicine and force the hospital to have an operation by whatever way works,” Eichler was quoted as saying. “The High Court can’t force a hospital to allow the court’s surgeons and the court’s medicines into the operating room. And so it is intolerable that the directors of ritual baths will have to allow organizers of Reform religion-changing ceremonies into a Jewish ritual bath.”

Eichler also reportedly said the Supreme Court has “no authority to enforce Jewish law, whose source of authority is the Torah, which the High Court does not recognize as a source of its legal authority.”

He also said: “The High Court decision to force the members of the Jewish religion to carry out ritual bath rules and conversions according to the Reform religion, which does not believe in the purity of the ritual bath … is a serious infraction of freedom of religion for the members of the Jewish religion, which has clear laws. Religious freedom is promised in the Declaration of Independence to the members of all religions in the State of Israel, including the believers in the Jewish religion.”

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court ruled that mikvahs in Israel must open to non-Orthodox conversion rites. Previously, Israeli mikvahs have denied access for conversion immersions to Reform and Conservative converts. Israel’s mikvahs are run by Israel’s Religious Services Ministry, which operates in lock-step with the Orthodox-dominated Chief Rabbinate.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, in a statement Wednesday called Eichler’s remarks “another example of the extreme intolerance of the ultra-Orthodox religious establishment. Clearly they feel a seismic shift in their decades-old monopoly on Judaism in Israel. Their stranglehold on Judaism is being loosened, and their response is desperate and pathetic.

“It is hard to imagine what twisted Torah MK Eichler studies when he characterizes the largest movement in Jewish life as ‘mentally ill.’ Our Torah teaches us the values of pluralism and of tolerance — and it teaches us not to use phrases like ‘mentally ill’ as an epithet.”

Rabbis Denise Eger and Steven Fox, president and chief executive, respectively, of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Reform movement’s rabbinical organization, called Eichler’s comments “disturbing and ignorant,” adding that they are “insensitive and backwards.”

“At the very moment that hundreds of Reform rabbis from North America are in Jerusalem celebrating the vibrancy of Reform Judaism in Israel and calling for tolerance, the MK’s comments are an unfortunate reminder of how far we still have to go to achieve equality for all Jews in Israel and around the world,” they said in a statement. “We condemn these comments and the worldview they represent.”

In an Op-Ed posted Wednesday on the website of the Jewish Press, an Orthodox Jewish weekly newspaper, Eichler asserted that “the prime minister, the supreme court and the secular establishment are subservient to the Reform millionaires.”

He added that Reform clergy are “investing millions in bribing Israeli public opinion shapers, something the Christian missionaries and certainly the Muslim preachers would dare to do.”

Rabbi’s remarks spark outrage about slated appearance

Rabbi Yosef Mizrachi, a popular Sephardic rabbi in parts of the Charedi world, said in a speech filmed years ago — but not posted online until the end of December — that the number of Jews murdered in the Holocaust is below the historically accepted number of 6 million.

Way below.

In fact, Mizrachi said, “Not even 1 million Jews were murdered.”

And now, because of widespread anger regarding these comments, the Jewish Activities Center of Los Angeles (JACLA) and its founder, Aryeh Rifkin, are debating whether to cancel a previously planned event with Mizrachi for Jan. 11. 

Rifkin, a former real estate developer, said he planned to have a public event on Jan. 5 (after the Journal’s press time) at JACLA’s storefront location in Pico-Robertson to hear the opinions of those opposed to Mizrachi’s planned lecture. He said he’s also seeking the advice of rabbinic authorities.

Created several months ago and funded mostly by Rifkin, JACLA has hosted more than 100 events, mostly for young Jews. The group’s Facebook page says it’s working toward 501(c)(3) status and that it does not endorse the views of its speakers. In this case, Rifkin said he originally booked Mizrachi because of his large following. 

“I’m not really that aware of everything that he’s said or done because I’m personally not a follower of Rabbi Mizrachi,” Rifkin said. “I would never think to assume to become an investigator and check out every positive and negative thing someone has said. However, since the public has brought it to my attention at such a high level, I, in return, have taken it extremely seriously.”

If the event moves forward as planned, Mizrachi’s lecture would be about the negative effect of lashon hara (gossip and negative speech) on communities.

As for Mizrachi’s controversial statements casting doubt on the number of Jews murdered by the Nazis, it’s not the tact used by household Holocaust deniers, who reject the notion of a genocide — many in order to discredit the idea that Jews need a nation-state. Instead, Mizrachi said in the video, more than 5 million of the 6 million Jews murdered were not actually Jewish, according to Jewish law, because of high rates of intermarriage in Europe. 

“Eighty percent of the Jewish people were assimilated and intermarried, many generations before the Holocaust,” Mizrachi said in Hebrew in his taped lecture. “A lot of non-Jews were meshed in, but in truth, how many Jews were really killed? According to my humble opinion, not even a million.”

He apologized shortly after New Year’s to the “kedoshim [holy martyrs] of the Holocaust,” saying he was mistaken and “those that were not halachically Jewish were a very small, minimal number.” 

But that has done little to stem the anger directed toward Mizrachi, who is popular within a segment of the kiruv movement in the Charedi Orthodox world, and who has lectured thousands of times to religious and secular Jews, creating a massive online library of his teachings. 

According to the biography on his Facebook page, Mizrachi was born in Israel and served in the Israeli Air Force. He moved to New York in the late ’80s to pursue a career in finance, switching to the kiruv movement a few years later. He lives in the heavily Orthodox town of Monsey, N.Y. 

Mizrachi did not respond to an email requesting an interview. 

Michael Berenbaum, professor of Jewish studies and the director of the Sigi Ziering Institute for the Study of the Holocaust and Ethics at American Jewish University, said Mizrachi was factually wrong and that assimilation rates in places like Poland and Hungary were very low.

“He had no idea what he was talking about,” Berenbaum said. “If a kid had made that in one of my classes I would’ve failed him.”

Since Mizrachi’s speech became public, JACLA’s Facebook page has been inundated with negative ratings by Jews upset that Rifkin hadn’t yet canceled Mizrachi’s planned lecture, bringing what Rifkin said was a five-star rating down to 2.6 stars in a matter of days. Rifkin said people who are angry at him for considering bringing Mizrachi to JACLA got his cell number and have harassed him, calling and texting constantly. 

As of Jan. 4, Rifkin — a survivor of metastatic laryngeal cancer and the founder of the digital online media company Social Dashboard — said that he’s “undecided” about what to do for the Jan. 11 event. He said he’s reviewing information that people have presented about other controversial statements Mizrachi previously made. Among those is that the non-observance of secular European Jews was a cause for the Holocaust and that Down syndrome and autism are “punishments for sins committed in a previous life.” Mizrachi also said in an August 2014 interview with The Blaze, a conservative online news and opinion outlet, that “anyone with a clear mind can see that democracy is a self-defeating, suicidal and corrosive system of governance.”

Rifkin said in an email that he believes Mizrachi’s comments regarding the Holocaust were “said in bad taste” and that he’s “deliberately avoiding harsh language” in order to make a final decision that’s fully objective.

“I do not want to be in this situation, but whatever I decide — yes or no — will affect many people, and I have to consider all information at this point,” Rifkin said. “I’m a very imperfect person and I don’t know what the right answer is.”

New Pew report highlights Modern Orthodox Jewry straddling two worlds

Just as Charedi Jews in the United States are likely to enroll their kids in a yeshiva, attend synagogue every week and vote Republican, so too are Modern Orthodox Jews.

But also, just as non-Orthodox Jews in the United States tend not to marry before the age of 25, earn at least a bachelor’s degree and have a significant number of non-Jewish friends, so, too, do the Modern Orthodox.

And unique among Jewish Americans, the majority of Modern Orthodox households earn at least $150,000 per year, and a large majority believe caring about Israel is essential to being Jewish (79 percent), and that the U.S. is not supportive enough of Israel (64 percent).

In a ” target=”_blank”>groundbreaking 2013 study of U.S. Jews. The new data reveal what was already widely, yet anecdotally, known — that while Charedi Jews differ greatly from non-Orthodox Jews in virtually every demographic, political, economic and religious category (and, in fact, align more closely with Evangelical Christians by most religious, social and political measures), Modern Orthodox Jews, by contrast, straddle two worlds.

For example, in their views on Israel, American politics and religious observance, the Modern Orthodox and Charedi communities are closely aligned. But when it comes to levels of household income or education or immersion in the non-Jewish world, the Charedim are on one side, and the Modern Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jewish communities are on the other.

Pew’s 2013 report raised alarm among Jewish professionals in the U.S., particularly non-Orthodox ones, about the high rate of intermarriage among Conservative, Reform and nonaffiliated Jews, and about the percentage of Jews raised in Conservative and Reform households who became unaffiliated later in life. And although this report is simply looking deeper at data collected two years ago, Alan Cooperman, Pew’s director of religious research, predicted the Jewish-American community could look very different in the future if the demographic trends among Orthodox Jews of comparably high birthrates and young marriages continue.

“There’s a possibility over time that Orthodox Jews, as they grow as a share of all American Jews, we’ll have an American-Jewish community that may actually be more cohesive [close-knit] than it is today, more observant than it is today, more socially and politically conservative than it is today,” Cooperman said, adding, though, that “one man’s cohesion is another man’s insularity.”

Jonathan Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at , University, said “Anyone interested in the future of Jewish life has to pay attention to the Orthodox,” a point made in the wake of the Pew report two years ago. Sarna added that this new report highlights “where Modern Orthodox Jews are indeed more similar to American Jews generally, or to Conservative Jews, and where they are not.”

Although the information about the dividing lines between Charedi and Modern Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews is not groundbreaking, this report is revealing in that it shows how split the Modern Orthodox are between following Charedi trends versus non-Orthodox trends — not a surprise, given that Modern Orthodox Judaism emphasizes strict religious observance while remaining actively engaged with the non-Orthodox and non-Jewish world.

For example, while the Modern Orthodox, like the Charedim, overwhelmingly keep kosher, observe Shabbat and believe in God, they, like non-Orthodox Jews, are highly educated and have more liberal views toward homosexuality. Further, while 75 percent of currently married Charedi Jews married before their 25th birthday, only 48 percent of married Modern Orthodox Jews can say the same, putting them closer to non-Orthodox Jews. And while 32 percent of Charedi adults are ages 18 to 29, and only 6 percent are 65 or older, only 9 percent of Modern Orthodox Jews are 18 to 29, and 25 percent are 65 are older, making the Modern Orthodox more like the non-Orthodox than Charedim in terms of average age.

But although Modern Orthodox Jews differ in significant ways from non-Orthodox Jews, the real driver behind Orthodox Jewry’s competitive demographic advantage are Charedi Jews, who, Pew says, comprise 62 percent of America’s Orthodox Jewish population.

“When it comes to demographic things like family sizes and age of marriage, the Charedim really stand out. And, in fact, the Modern Orthodox, in terms of family sizes, don’t look that different from Conservative and Reform Jews,” Cooperman said. “The data suggests it’s really the Charedim, through natural growth, who are growing particularly fast.”

He also pointed out that it’s natural growth — not conversion or movement among denominations — that sets apart the Orthodox. For although 30 percent of Orthodox Jews weren’t raised Orthodox, 43 percent of Conservative Jews, 45 percent of Reform Jews and 69 percent of nondenominational Jews moved into those religious streams later in life.

“This is not the group that has the most converts or Jews by Choice,” Cooperman said of Orthodox Jewry. “This is not the group that’s growing because people are coming from other streams of Judaism. This is the group that has the most organic, the most natural growth through large families.”

Sarna said he wishes Pew would look deeper into the Charedi community and at the impact that the Chabad-Lubavitch movement has had on American Jewry. In terms of demographic growth and religious observance, Chabad-Lubavitch Jews are very similar to non-Chabad Charedim, but in terms of outreach to the non-Orthodox world and engagement with the non-Jewish world, the Chabad movement is more similar to the Modern Orthodox. “It would be interesting to get more of a sense of the spectrum,” Sarna said.

Cooperman said he’d love to be able to more deeply analyze the Charedi community, which he would further divide among Chasidic Jews and “yeshivish” Jews, but added that the difficulty of studying such a small group of the U.S. population would be very expensive and difficult. “We’re looking into subdivisions that are two-tenths of 1 percent of the U.S. population,” Cooperman said.

The next major Pew survey of American Jewry likely won’t be for several years, Cooperman said, explaining that the cost and complexity of the survey makes doing it annually impractical. And while this report certainly indicates where American Jewry may be headed, Cooperman cautioned against conflating a glimpse at the present with a forecasted trajectory.

“A snapshot in time cannot predict the future,” he said.

If these trends do hold, though, they could indicate a monumental shift in American Jewry in terms of Modern Orthodoxy’s role within it. “Nobody will be surprised if a generation from now, instead of being 10 percent, they’re 20 percent,” Sarna said.

Assailant in Jerusalem LGBT parade stabbing deemed fit for trial

The Charedi Orthodox man charged with stabbing six participants in the Jerusalem Pride Parade has been deemed psychologically fit to stand trial.

[Community reactions to the attack]

Yishai Schlissel, who is in police custody, was found fit to stand trial after a psychiatric evaluation Friday, a day after he allegedly stabbed six, seriously injuring two, i24news reported.

Schlissel had been released from prison three weeks earlier after serving 10 years for a similar attack at Jerusalem’s 2005 gay pride parade.

Schlissel waived his right to an attorney and said he did not recognize the court’s authority, because it did not adhere to biblical laws.

In addition to government officials like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin, numerous Orthodox groups and leaders, including the country’s two chief rabbis, have condemned the attack.

“Judaism and bloodshed do not go together,” Jerusalem Chief Rabbi Aryeh Stern said Friday, during a visit to the wounded, according to i24news.

Bible Marathon retraces path of 12 Tribes

Drumming Charedi musicians and uniformed soldiers are not the typical fans to pack an Israeli sporting event. Nor are clean-cut men with handguns tucked into in the back of jeans. But the Bible Marathon held April 9 was not an ordinary race. It was the first major Israeli athletic competition hosted by a settlement deep inside the West Bank. The route traced the heartland, the path where figures from the time of the 12 Jewish tribes are thought to have once trekked.

“We discovered that 3,000 years ago, in one of the biblical stories, the Ark of the Covenant was taken place to place,” said Miri Ovadia, 27, a spokeswoman for the Benjamin Regional Council, an organization that represent settlements nestled in hilltops to the north and east of Jerusalem. The council designed the marathon, which included 15-kilometer (9.3 miles) and 5-kilometer (3.1 miles) routes to trail the ancient run. “He ran exactly 42 kilometers (26 miles),” she said, referring to the biblical “man of Benjamin,” who ran centuries before the legendary messenger of Greek legend.

The races ended in Shiloh, amid the settlement town’s archaeological site. The pages of the Torah inspired the aesthetics for the race. Vendors, dressed in the clothing of ancient Jews, sold Shiloh brand olive oil. Instead of receiving a trophy, marathon winners were given a clay vase designed in the style of the Second Temple. It was this exploration of Jewish heritage that attracted competitors who do not live in the settlements. “They came from all over Israel, and they were simply curious about this part of the land,” Ovadia said.

“The down[hill] was good, but the up was horrible,” said Tel Aviv resident Barak, 36, who ran the 15-kilometer race with his wife, Ayelet, 31 (they asked that their last name not be published). The terrain in the territories is rougher than the flat roadways in the internationally acclaimed Tel Aviv marathon held months earlier. Shiloh’s race ended nearly five miles above sea level.

“It’s one of the most beautiful parts of Israel, and it’s so exciting to run in an area where we know that our fathers for hundreds of years ran here. So we continue the tradition,” Ayelet said.

Although the couple live in Israel’s liberal and left-leaning hub, voted in the last election for the Zionist Camp and hope to see a future independent Palestinian state, the Bible Marathon was not their first excursion over the pre-June 1967 line. Ayelet studied engineering in Ariel, regarded as the settlement capital. Her husband served 10 years in the West Bank as an army reservist.

“Most of the people from this area give from themselves to the country, more than people from Tel Aviv,” Ayelet said. She hoped the marathon would show a positive side to settlers, and undo the reputation of danger the territories hold for many Israelis. “Most of the people in the world think that we are occupiers,” her husband lamented.

Although the marathon kicked off without incident, a day earlier, on April 8, a Palestinian stabbed two soldiers, who then shot and killed him; the terror attack happened at a site within walking distance of the finish line.

“There were extra police units in coordination with the [Israel Defense Forces],” police spokesperson Chief Inspector Micky Rosenfeld said. Indeed hundreds of police lined the marathon route — alongside aid stations providing water.

If there was fear among the runners, it did not show. The mood was exuberant. The morning was cool and misty, ideal weather for the 2,000-plus participants, the oldest of whom was 71. Groups of schoolchildren hooted and sang songs. The scent of barbecuing meat wafted through the air. Queen’s “We Are the Champions” bellowed over loudspeakers.

“These are my soldiers,” a cheerful officer in the combat Nachshon unit of the Kfir brigade said as he watched a group of around 20 new draftees doing stretches. He wore gym shorts and wore a semi-automatic weapon slung over his shoulder. “They are rookies. They entered the army two months ago,” he explained as the group huddled, posing for photographs arm in arm.

Meanwhile, a short hike south of Shiloh, the Israeli army redirected Arab drivers in the neighboring Palestinian town of Turmus Ayya. The Bible Marathon route traced two major roads in the West Bank and shut down all vehicle traffic for half of the day. For Palestinians, the closure barred them from using the only thoroughfare between the north and south of the territory.

“They always close the village for no reason, actually,” said Abed Diab, 38, from Turmus Ayya, who lives most of each year in Delaware, where he owns a linen and carpet store. Diab said army-ordered road closures are a common occurrence in the West Bank. The marathon was no exception. He said Shiloh expropriated 20 dunums of his family’s land, although founders from the Gush Emunim movement dispute this. They said, and Israel’s high court has ruled, Shiloh was built on land owned by Israel. Palestinians continue to refute this ruling, rejecting all settlements as a violation of international law.

Diab’s hometown of Turmus Ayya gained notoriety within Arab society during the winter, when a Palestinian minister died after an altercation with Israeli border police. Ziad Abu Ein was planting olive trees to mark International Human Rights Day when he suffered a fatal heart attack. Palestinian leaders blamed Israel for his death, citing a physical confrontation with Israeli soldiers moments before. “He was my friend and we worked together in many areas,” said Walid Assaf, 54, the late Abu Ein’s successor as the chief settlement monitor for the Palestinian Authority. Assaf was among dozens of people who protested the Bible Marathon along with dozens of others by the entrance of Turmus Ayya.

Assaf said no notice was given to residents that the army would block the highway. He found out the day before from newspapers. “Even if they announced it one month ago, it’s not legal to close the road,” he said. “Hundreds of villagers that live in the north could not come to work in Ramallah.”

Can Israelis protect themselves from a new wave of low-tech terror?

Just after dawn on Nov. 18, a pair of Palestinian cousins from East Jerusalem went ” target=”_blank”>three American and one British — as well as a Druze traffic officer who tried to intervene.

“I was in shock — I didn’t understand what they were doing,” said Simha Anteby, 30, a Venezuelan immigrant who lives across the street from the synagogue and watched police kill the shooters as they ran from the building. “Never before has Hamas entered the shul. This is our calmest time, when we’re standing wrapped in tefillin. We’re completely vulnerable.

“They took advantage,” she said.

The Har Nof synagogue massacre, above all other recent acts of terror, has shattered the Israeli public’s sense of security in its most intimate settings. And it is forcing Israelis, who have secured their skies with the Iron Dome and their borders with fences and separation barriers, to attempt to figure out how to defend themselves against their next-door neighbors.

Regular worshipers at the Kehilat Bnei Torah synagogue in West Jerusalem inspect bullet holes left by Palestinian shooters in a Nov. 18 rampage. Photos by Simone Wilson

This was the sixth fatal attack against Israelis within one month. There were also two car-as-weapon assaults ” target=”_blank”>attempted assassination of religious activist Yehuda Glick; and two stabbings on the same day, at a ” target=”_blank”>Tel Aviv train station.

A trend has emerged: Palestinian assailants, most with Jerusalem residency cards and, therefore, freedom of movement around Israel, are launching lone-wolf attacks with easy-to-find weapons.

Israeli social media analyst Orit Perlov, a research fellow for the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), said that trend has turned into a wildly effective, almost ISIS-like online campaign called “Ida’as, Ita’an, Itbah” (Arabic for “run over, stab, slaughter”).

“It creates a bigger effect than before,” Perlov said. “I’m sitting in Tel Aviv, I don’t leave my house, and I’m getting those pictures in a second. It doesn’t mean we have less security today, but we feel more insecurity. … I don’t need to physically be there to be terrorized.”

Most of the attacks before Har Nof seemed to be spur-of-the-moment decisions, impossible to predict or prevent.

“This is quite clearly a popular [movement] that is going from bottom up,” said Udi Dekel, a former negotiator in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and managing director of the INSS. “It’s the popular, kind of copycat nature of terrorism that people are getting excited about. … They can decide one morning to go out and [release] what’s been cooking in their souls for a week or two.”

When the attacks began, Israeli police erected concrete blocks at rail stations, deployed more than 1,000 extra officers around the city, set up dozens of vehicle checkpoints, and launched a new fleet of helicopters and surveillance balloons overhead.

Still, early on Nov. 18, the Abu Jamal cousins drove to the Har Nof synagogue with a car full of weapons and entered with ease.

“They didn’t have to break in,” said Dr. Joyce Morel, a first responder. “It was time for prayers — it was open. Anybody could just walk in.”

In response, Israeli Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich implemented sweeping changes. He boxed in all Palestinian neighborhoods with concrete barricades, requiring anyone entering or exiting to pass through a checkpoint. He ordered all synagogues to hire private guards and enlisted four reserve border police companies for public patrol. 

The residents of Har Nof in West Jerusalem, many of them English-speaking immigrants, gathered for a special service on Nov. 20 in memory of four synagogue members killed two days before.

Perhaps most controversially, Aharonovich eased restrictions for former cops or soldiers — and anyone living in a high-risk neighborhood — to acquire a gun license.

“The decision comes from a need to improve the feeling of safety among the population in light of the recent terror attacks,” Aharonovich said.

Jonathan Fine, a senior researcher at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism at Israel’s Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (IDC), lives in a mixed Arab-Jewish sector of Jerusalem called French Hill. He said he doesn’t leave the house anymore without a gun.

“On the intelligence and tactical levels, it’s almost impossible to predict an independent attack,” he said. “Therefore, the only response on the ground will be from those who happen to be there. Police, pedestrians, or … your humble servant jogging with a pistol in his pouch.”

Yoram Schweitzer, INSS’ resident expert on terrorism, stressed that Israel can’t “put a guard in every synagogue and every kindergarten, because you have a zillion installations. This is not a solution.” In an INSS roundtable on the state of the conflict, Schweitzer and his colleagues advised that in order for calm to be restored, knee-jerk security measures would not be enough without a real political effort to move forward in the pursuit of Palestinian independence.

“We have to fight against the terror and dismantle the terror infrastructure … but it’s not enough,” Dekel said. “You have to all the time strive and go forward in the direction that you believe would be better for us and for the Palestinians.”

An insecure nation

Multiple Jerusalemites told the Journal that the synagogue massacre, more than other attacks, has left them with a feeling of total insecurity.

Kalman S., an Orthodox father-to-be and West Jerusalem resident who was afraid to give his full name, said he had always considered Har Nof off-limits to the enemy. “Americans come all the way to Israel to live in this beautiful place,” he said. “Until now, it was the area that was more safe than the rest of Jerusalem. Then, all of a sudden, these guys are barbarically killed.

“Now,” he said, “I’m crossing the street with my wife, nine months’ pregnant, and I’m looking over my shoulder to make sure there’s no Arab guy to stab me.”

More than 12 hours after the attack, small clusters of Har Nof residents still lingered near the front steps to the shul, their faces dark and disbelieving. Charedi men in black coats and hats inspected bullet holes in synagogue windows and car doors, now marked with police tape. Women pulled their cardigans tighter to shield themselves from the cold.

“We know that if we go to the center, to the Western Wall, they can hurt us,” Avraham Kleiger, 25, told the Journal. “But, here we thought we were safe. We thought the synagogue was the red line.”

Young women from Har Nof hide their tears behind their prayer books during an emotional Nov. 20 service at the Kehilat Bnei Torah shul.

In the agonizing hours that followed the Nov. 18 attack, Har Nof residents would learn which of their seasoned Torah scholars hadn’t made it through morning prayers alive: Aryeh Kupinsky. Kalman Levine. Avraham Goldberg. Moshe Twersky.

Twersky comes from a famous Chasidic family with a strong presence on America’s East Coast that is a household name among the Jerusalem Orthodox. His friends and family knew him as a strict scholar with a warm smile, devoted wholeheartedly to serving God. Twersky’s niece, Rebecca Rosenblatt, currently studying abroad at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, said in a hushed interview outside the family shivah that she had never once heard her Orthodox uncle discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Uncle Moshe respected everyone,” she said. “The only one he ever sought recognition from was God.”

Israeli security and social-media analyst Perlov said this attack on religious Jews wrapped in tefillin comes amid a shift in iconography driving the Palestinian resistance. Whereas propaganda cartoons used to mainly show uniformed Israel Defense Forces (IDF) under attack, she said, many of the victims are now depicted as caricatures of Orthodox Jews.

IDC counterterrorism expert Fine said the synagogue massacre was a clear sign that Palestinian attackers are taking clues from radical Islam. “They used butcher knives,” he said of the assailants. “If you get into Sharia law, you’ll see very specific rulings on killing the enemy with a knife.”

Some analysts believe the Har Nof synagogue may have been a random pick, born of convenience, but there’s a good possibility the Abu Jamal cousins chose their venue carefully. East Jerusalem residents who knew Ghassan and Uday told the Journal that the Kehilat Bnei Torah shul was the same one frequented by the family of the man convicted of brutally murdering young East Jerusalem boy Mohammed Abu Khdeir in July. (Various Israeli and Palestinian media reports provided evidence toward the same claim.) And Ghassan, they said, had been close friends with Yousef Ramouni, the Palestinian bus driver Dust and lightning

A short drive from Har Nof, at the mouth to Jerusalem, a few hundred Israelis gathered beneath the Bridge of Strings on the night of the synagogue massacre to voice their pain — and their anger at Israeli officials for not preventing the attack with a greater show of strength.

Israeli activist Itamar Ben Gvir rallies a crowd near the entrance to Jerusalem on Nov. 18, calling for Israel to expel all Arabs from the country.

The rally soon devolved into a rowdy mob led by members of the extreme anti-Arab group Lehava. They taunted riot police, chanted “Death to the Arabs!” and attempted to chase down suspected Palestinians and “lefties” walking by. Slogans like “No Arabs = no attacks” and “There is no coexistence with cancer” were scrawled on homemade signs. Wartime-level racial tensions had returned to Jerusalem.

Said one young protester: “The government needs to fight stronger against this enemy. We need to go and blow up their house — right now. It’s taking too long.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had the same idea. That night, under pressure to take decisive action and to console an insecure nation, he said in a media statement:

“We will not tolerate this reality; we will fight terrorism, and we will defeat it. We will restore law, order and security to the streets of Jerusalem. This evening, I ordered the demolition of the homes of the terrorists who perpetrated the massacre and the hastening of the demolition of the homes of the terrorists who perpetrated the earlier attacks.”

The next night, a demolition team made up of IDF Combat Engineering Corps soldiers, Israeli police and border cops A young relative of terror suspect Abdel Rahman Al Shaludi stands in the rubble of their family home. The building was partially demolished by Israeli forces on Nov. 19 as punishment for Al Shaludi’s deadly October attack at a Jerusalem light rail station.

The family building didn’t crumble entirely. However, 21-year-old Abdel Rahman’s apartment — where he lived with his mother, father and five brothers and sisters — has been gutted, rendered unlivable, by an IDF explosive. And the building’s other seven units are now in various states of destruction — some with holes in their walls, some with their belongings ransacked and furniture shredded. A car parked on the street below was destroyed by falling objects. “They peed on the bed of the children, and on the schoolbooks of my niece, on the first floor,” Enas claimed.

Her son, now a community shahid (martyr) with his face on fliers and banners all over Silwan, allegedly had rammed his car into a Jerusalem light rail station on Oct. 22. The crash killed a 3-month-old baby girl and an Ecuadorian immigrant, and sent Jerusalem into a new era of tension and violence some are calling the Third Intifada.

“I don’t like to see innocent people dying. I don’t like to see anyone die — Jew or Palestinian,” she said. “But violence will create more violence. Action will create more action. The situation will only become worse. The only solution is to end the occupation and to keep the settlers out of Al-Aqsa mosque.”

‘An extraordinary step’

The Al Shaludi home demolition was the first in a lineup of at least six punitive demolitions that as of press time Nov. 24 was expected in the coming days.

Back in July, the IDF demolished two family homes in the West Bank belonging to Palestinian men suspected of carrying out the infamous kidnap-murder of three Jewish boys. At that time, officials were hesitant to confirm the demolition to the press. The practice was then somewhat taboo: It had been discontinued in 2005 after the IDF declared it ineffective and had only been approved in two exceptional cases since.

But with the 4 a.m. explosion in Silwan last week, this tactic, whose effectiveness is often debated, re-entered the mainstream.

In a video interview with CNN, the prime minister’s spokesman, Mark Regev, explained the revival. “It is an extraordinary step, one of the tools in our tool box,” Regev said. “A Palestinian terrorist, any terrorist, may not care about themselves. But maybe they care about their immediate loved ones and where they live. I’ve been in security discussions, and our experts believe this policy could save lives.”

Jabel Mukabbir, the East Jerusalem hometown of the Abu Jamal synagogue attackers, will be hit hardest by the demolitions. Their two family homes — plus that of Mohammed Naif Ja’abis, who flipped over a Jerusalem bus with his tractor on Aug. 4, killing one — are on the IDF’s list.

Theirs is a tight-knit neighborhood that cascades down a hill just south of Jerusalem’s Old City, spilling over the political fault line that separates East Jerusalem from the West Bank. It’s also a hotbed for anti-Israel activity: In 2008, another Jabel Mukabbir resident shot up a yeshiva in West Jerusalem; eight boys died in the attack.

On the afternoon of Nov. 21 in Jabel Mukabbir, hundreds of residents had gathered to support the Abu Jamal family at a mourning tent for Ghassan and Uday. Their mothers were holed up in a neighbor’s home, too distraught to speak to the press. They’d just gotten word that Israel might not return their sons’ bodies for burial — and a 48-hour demolition notice posted on their family homes Nov. 20 was set to expire the next afternoon.

“When you build this house, your soul is gone when you finish,” said Kamal Awisat, 51, a cousin of the synagogue attackers. “It’s not easy for Palestinians to build in Jerusalem because Israel doesn’t give us new permits. So every time your children have children, you cut a new apartment into the house.”

The two stone buildings set for demolition, home to around 20 members of the Abu Jamal family, are situated about 50 meters apart, surrounded by olive trees and connected by a dirt path. One is said to be around 200 years old.

By last Friday, families had removed their furniture from the home and were bracing for an explosion in the night.

Uday’s younger brother, who didn’t want to give his name for fear the Israeli police would arrest him, said that if the IDF demolished his home, he would sleep in the rubble — right where Uday’s room used to be. “I will be like him some day, inshallah (God willing),” said the 10-year-old, a red checkered keffiyeh draped over his shoulders.

“You see? Instead of making calm, they are making more fire,” said Awisat. “How would you feel if this was your house? They will make 500 youth ready to do more than what [Ghassan and Uday] did.”

Waiting for Demolition

Next door, in the more low-key, upscale East Jerusalem neighborhood of Abu Tor, there’s another IDF demolition slated for the home of Mutaz Hijazi — the man suspected of the near-fatal shooting of Israeli-American activist Yehuda Glick, a lead campaigner for Jewish prayer rights at the contested Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City.

Hijazi‘s father Ibrahim, 67, welcomed a nonstop rotation of journalists into his house on Friday afternoon. He walked from room to room, showing them the space where he‘d raised his children. The furniture had been dragged out, but traces of life remained: In the living room, a child had painted stripes of glitter on the wall. In an adjacent bedroom, deflated red and yellow balloons were still tacked to the ceiling. An embroidered “Welcome” sign and a photo of his dead son Mutaz hung near the front door.

Waiting for the IDF to arrive, Ibrahim said, was almost more painful than the demolition itself. “He’s already gone,” said Ibrahim of his son. “What they‘re doing now is just to show how much hate they have for our people.”

The renowned Israeli professor and doctor Shimon Glick, father of the man Hijazi allegedly shot, said he sees the demolitions mostly as a means of attempting to calm the Israeli people.

“No one knows whether this is effective” in preventing future terror attacks, he said. “Everyone has an opinion. They like to think they know, but no one knows for sure.”

Personally, Glick said, “It gives me no satisfaction to know that these people will have their house blown up. But when something this horrible happens, people demand a response. The government has to do something.”

The U.S. has urged Israeli authorities to avoid punitive home demolitions. “We’ve made it clear that all sides have to work together to lower tensions,” U.S. State Department Jeff Rathke said at a recent press conference. “And we believe that punitive home demolitions are counterproductive in an already tense situation. This is a practice I would remind that the Israeli government itself discontinued in the past, recognizing its effects.”

Various Israeli security experts stressed to the Journal that the country’s long-term security depends on a delicate balance of initially cracking down on radicals — to deter future attacks — while not pushing other Palestinians to the breaking point, and keeping hope alive for the future.

“When you have a gloomy option of peace negotiations, naturally the radicals have the upper hand — they incite and violence grows,” Fine said.

‘They knew the neighborhood’

The initial crackdown phase is in full effect in Jerusalem. Over the past few days, the Israel of a decade ago — in which one couldn’t walk a block without being watched or patted down by a man in uniform — has come back to life. More than usual, the streets are full of vigilantes: Plainclothes men in kippot walk around slung with rifles. On a recent Friday, one young man on the Jerusalem light rail, fresh out of the army, said he was carrying a gun to show Palestinians that “Jerusalem is ours.” Two others peeled past the central bus station in black helmets and Israeli flag capes, whooping into the wind. Central bus station security guards looked like they’d just woken up from two years of vacation, and spent a good 30 seconds rifling through each passenger’s bag.

Some Jerusalemites told the Journal that there’s not much they can do besides stay alert — or hide. “There are fewer people in the streets,” said Kalman S. “We stay home when we can.” 

Others are taking a stand. A controversial new campaign has urged Jewish business owners to fire their Palestinian employees.

According to police, the Tel Aviv stabbing suspect had been working illegally in Israel before he lashed out. One of the Abu Jamal cousins, too, is said to have worked at a grocery store a few blocks from the Har Nof synagogue. (Residents of Har Nof each named a different store when questioned by the Journal, and storeowners all denied the synagogue attacker had worked in their businesses.)

“They knew the neighborhood. If they didn’t work here, this wouldn’t happen,” said 17-year-old Har Nof resident Yakov Wilshinky. “The Arabs don’t want us alive in this country. You don’t know which one will come and kill you.”

Wilshinky and his friends — one of whom held up a flier reading “Don’t hire Arabs!!!” — said they had been making the rounds to local businesses. “We’re going to the managers of all the grocery stores and telling them to fire their Arab workers,” said Dudu Asulin. He said his own boss, at a nearby supermarket, had sent all the Arabs home that day and told them, “Don’t come back to work.”

Despite warnings from the Prime Minister’s Office — “We should not generalize an entire population because a small minority of it is violent and belligerent,” Netanyahu said — the “don’t hire Arabs” movement quickly spread beyond Har Nof. A reception hall chain in Bnei Brak reportedly fired more than a dozen Arab dishwashers after the synagogue attack. And the mayor of Ashkelon, a large Israeli city near Gaza, made international headlines when he banned Arab workers from construction sites near schools. (He later retracted his decision.)

Protesters at the Lehava rally said there was no alternative. “Every Arab you see, you get scared,” said Avi Mann. “If an Arab wakes up in the morning and he’s angry, he could take a knife and kill Jews.”

A 22-year-old Palestinian woman living in Jabel Mukabbir and working at an Israeli hospital would only give her initials — R.A. — in an interview with the Journal, for fear her hospital superiors would see the article and fire her.

R.A. also volunteers for a Palestinian emergency response team, where she’s been treating young Jabel Mukabbir protesters wounded in clashes with police ahead of the slated home demolitions. “We couldn’t just let them come in,” she said of Israeli forces. “All of the people of this village stopped them from entering. We are very close here; every home is our home. We can’t give up that easily.”

Of the motives driving recent terror attacks, she said: “Things escalated over a few months. It started on Ramadan, when they stopped us from going to the [Al-Aqsa] mosque. Then Abu Khdeir was killed, and then Gaza — it built up, bit by bit. And they just suppressed it. They didn’t let people express their feelings.

“These bad things that happen don’t come from nowhere,” she said. “It’s a reaction. We don’t all wake up every morning and want to kill.”

Charedim demonstrate over arrest of draft-dodging Yeshiva student

About 500 Charedi Orthodox men demonstrated in Jerusalem against the arrest of a yeshiva student who ignored a call-up notice for army service. The protesters, who also took to the streets in the predominately Charedi city of Bnei Brak, blocked intersections, set fire to trash bins and threw rocks and bottles at police on April 10.

The protest came less than a month after a similar demonstration over the arrest of another yeshiva student who failed to enlist, despite being called up, and about a month after hundreds of thousands of Charedim protested in Jerusalem against a new conscription law that would require Charedi Orthodox Jews to serve in the military.

Under the law, Charedi men would be criminally charged for evading the draft, but the penalties would not go into effect until 2017. In addition, draft orders for Charedi men up to age 26 will not go into effect until up to a year after the law is implemented.

Purim story: No Yeshiva Deferments

The funhouse sideshow of Charedi life in Israel and in the New York area bursts forth every Purim, as the ultra-Orthodox transform themselves into fez-wearing Turks, medieval noblemen and so on.

We enjoy the easing of cultural barriers in the humor and evincing of a shared humanity. But this year’s twin pre-Purim Sunday anti-draft demonstrations, one blocking Jerusalem’s main entry point and the other on Wall Street, illustrated that the divide within the Jewish people is in earnest. The Purim parody is an all-Charedi affair — a group that refuses to confront the central teachings of the Purim megillah itself.

In truth, the Charedi rallies have taken up the power of prayer, whose efficacy the megillah offers to an endangered population. At Esther’s command, Jews fast and wail to fight the evil decree against them. They use their spiritual powers as their first response, one that is necessary, albeit not sufficient.

However, the public prayers of the last few weeks are themselves problematic in their self-serving focus: This is the opposite of true prayer, which at some point is also for the other. The evidence is clear from the total Charedi rejection of prayer for Israel’s soldiers, or for the police ensuring their safety, that we simply are not within their prayer circle of concern. They care less than we think.

Beyond prayer, the Purim story instructs us that, to make salvation possible, Jews must defend themselves. It has no exemptions. There are no yeshiva deferments. There are no deferments for women, for anyone. God’s very name, the God who hovers over every word in this scroll, is not present so that no one can think “The Name [HaShem, or God] will take care of things.” Or that some secular or less religious group will bear the entire burden. No beit din (religious court) forms to forbid the fight; no prayer demonstrations condemn the “real culprits” to be those assimilationists, the intermarried Esther and the goy-posturing Mordecai.

None of those easy ways out are countenanced. The Jews need to engage the enemy everywhere in those 127 satraps, even boarding ships in the middle of the night to find ancient missiles meant to annihilate us. But all Jews in this biblical story were evidently thrilled to bear the burden.

The special mirrors in the Charedi funhouse can render their own prayerful contributions as exceptionally large and that of the Israel Defense Forces as tiny. It must be entertaining for a moment to entertain such unusual and exalted visions. But when you teach that as reality, you doom a complete section of society to delusional thinking, which guarantees apathy, anger and the social ills that ignorance and poverty bestow.

The Purim megillah further teaches us a practical teleology of all things Jewish at the end of the story. We send gifts of food in order to increase social solidarity, an unknown value in Charedi society regarding anyone else. Could you imagine the impact of a Charedi women’s auxiliary sending Shabbat cakes or kugels (one of those gigantic wheels) up to soldiers on the borders, or doing something or anything for someone else? In these two anti-draft demonstrations, the only baked goods were a Purim pie in the face to anyone not wearing the official black and white.

The megillah tells us to share matanot l’aniyim (monetary gifts for the poor), not to sign up and join the class of alms recipients. That position has been the rejected one in Jewish tradition.

Today, the greatest givers of tzedakah are the population who work, pay taxes and try to keep an increasingly impossible welfare burden of Charedim on their shaky feet, just so they can point to their own self-serving “free loan societies” as something other than the confession of a pathetic self-imposed poverty. Poverty with a lack of generosity toward even fellow Jews and the capacity to follow through on any meaningful parnasah, or income from work — how can they ever be within the category of ba’alei chesed v’tzedek (doers of loving-kindness and justice) to our wider (including non-Jewish) population, a condition of positive, life-enhancing kiddush HaShem? The energy expended now is in squelching reports of their own who are recognizing what really took place — a battle between rival rabbinic factions.

Finally, we are bidden to record and to read this Purim story. Every Jewish high-school child in a non-Charedi household in Israel receiving his or her tzav giyus (draft notice), knows that they must take up the burden and defend Jews,  must create a society that has concern and active care for others. Even the most immature, callow youth has a sense of this. But the “giants” of Torah teach the opposite. And they call what they teach Torah learning. Its proper name is Purim Torah.

This article is reprinted with permission from Haaretz.

Rabbi Daniel Landes is director of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. He was a founding faculty member of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and of Yeshiva University of Los Angeles and of Jewish Law at Loyola Law School, and served in the renewal of B’nai David-Judea Congregation of Los Angeles. 

The challenge of defining Charedim

The Iranian nuclear issue and Palestinian peace talks may be dominating the news about Israel nowadays, but if discussions within the Jewish state focused on any social challenge this year, it was the question of how to integrate the Charedi Orthodox population into Israel’s workforce and military.

A new centrist party, Yesh Atid, won 19 Knesset seats in January promising to cut subsidies and draft exemptions for the Charedi community. As the government has pushed legislation cutting Charedi benefits, Charedi leaders have debated how to respond.

But observers assessing trends and responses among Israel’s Charedim first need to ask a crucial question: Whom do we count as Charedi?

This week, the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel came out with a novel way to define the community that departs from previous measures used by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics. Existing studies define Charedim based on whether they attended advanced yeshivot, and whether they avoided army service or eschewed college. Families with too many college degrees or too many soldiers were placed outside the Charedi box.

This method becomes a problem when you’re trying to measure, say, a rise in Charedi college attendance or army service. The Taub Center’s methodology avoids those pitfalls by choosing metrics that set Charedim apart from other Israelis while avoiding statistics that it’s trying to track (like Charedi presence in the workforce).

Instead, the Taub Center looked at recent electoral maps and identified precincts that voted in high numbers for Charedi political parties — a traditional measure of communal loyalty. The center found that in those districts, 80 percent of families were Charedi.

But how to separate that 20 percent? Answer: TV sets. Surveys of the Charedi community have found that fewer than 10 percent of Charedim watch any television at all, and that those who do watch TV watch very little — perhaps only outside of the home. Taub’s conclusion: If you live in a Charedi-voting district but own a TV, you’re almost definitely not Charedi.

If the political and social forces pushing for Charedi integration succeed, military service, academic degrees and employment will become increasingly less relevant to the task of classifying Charedim as time goes by. But until “The Voice” becomes popular in Me’ah She’arim, the Taub Center’s methodology seems safe.

Charedim acknowledge abuse

It was only when her sons came at her with knives that she realized keeping quiet was not going to work.

For nine years, her rabbis had told her not to speak up about her husband’s verbal, physical and sexual attacks. They assured her that the abuse would pass, that if she obeyed his every wish — folding his napkin just so or letting him do as he liked in bed — the attacks would end and he would stop telling their grown sons she was a bad mother.

But when her sons began to threaten her, she knew it was time to leave.

Taking her youngest children, she turned to Yad Sarah, a highly regarded Israeli charity founded by former Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski. The organization mainly focuses on medical services, but it also runs a domestic abuse division geared toward Orthodox Jews. A professional there directed her to Bat Melech, a shelter for battered religious women.

“It was amazing,” said the woman, who asked to remain anonymous. “I was sure that I was not a normal person, and they were nice to me.”

The wall of silence surrounding sensitive domestic issues in the Charedi Orthodox community has long been seen as an impediment to successfully addressing them. Yad Sarah and Bat Melech have sought to change the situation — and their efforts appear to be bearing fruit.

A decade ago, Charedi community leaders rarely spoke openly about violence against women. Now leading rabbis are working with experts to fight abuse in the community.

“We’ve succeeded in that they talk about it publicly,” said Shlomit Lehman, a professor of social work who founded the Yad Sarah domestic abuse division. “There was always family violence, but they kept it secret. Our connection with the community and leadership is stronger. There’s discretion and professional care.”

Lehman started the division in 2000 with two therapists. Now there are 16 serving 150 patients a month, making Yad Sarah the second-most active domestic abuse center in Israel.

Bat Melech, founded in 1995, runs two shelters and is expanding its Beit Shemesh facility. The Crisis Center for Religious Women, which refers abuse victims to professional care, is organizing an international conference slated for December 2014 on preventing violence and abuse in the religious community.

Until recent years, experts say, Charedi rabbis would deal with cases of domestic abuse privately; only rarely would they make referrals to professionals or recommend divorce. Victims often were stigmatized, and their children had a harder time finding marriage partners.

“It’s easier to say that’s not in our community,” said Eitan Eisman, a Modern Orthodox rabbi who recommends Bat Melech’s services and advocates for its work. “That’s easier than looking at our sins. Some people deny reality, and some people think they can deal with the issues alone in the community. But more and more people are accepting this reality.”

Both Bat Melech and Yad Sarah have made rabbinic outreach a central part of their strategies. Yad Sarah launched a rabbinic committee with representatives of Israel’s major Charedi organizations. Those leaders in turn instructed communal rabbis to refer battered women to the two organizations.

Bat Melech founder Noach Korman says only a minority of Charedi rabbis still ignore domestic violence and most support his organization’s mission.

Still, discretion remains a paramount concern for Charedi rabbis, many of whom still refuse to advocate publicly for the two organizations. Leading Charedi newspapers will not run ads for Bat Melech and Yad Sarah, though online Charedi publications do cover them. Charedi schools also do not permit Yad Sarah to run seminars on domestic abuse for their students.

The culture of secrecy doesn’t bother Lehman, who sees an advantage in wielding the significant influence of Charedi rabbis.

“In the general population, public discourse is the way to deal with this,” Lehman said. “In the religious community it’s very different. The blessing comes from what’s hidden. It’s easier to deal with things in the Charedi community when you talk about it quietly.”

Charedi couples are more reluctant than their secular peers to choose divorce. Lehman considers a battered women’s shelter a last resort.

Instead, Yad Sarah encourages abusive husbands to seek therapy in parallel with their wives. Lehman says that for every 100 women who seek treatment, approximately 40 men come as well.

“The hierarchy between husband and wife in the Charedi world is a good excuse for the violence, but it doesn’t create the violence,” she said. Charedi communities “educate for respect in the family. The violence doesn’t start in the hierarchy or the biblical verse.”

Though growing numbers of women have sought treatment in recent years, Korman and Lehman say work remains to be done. Bat Melech at times has to turn women away — in part because of the high number of children that sometimes accompany them. The shelters have served 800 women and, Korman estimates, more than 3,000 children.

“People aren’t waiting,” Lehman said. “They come when they’re dating or in the first year of marriage, so there are more options. Their entire lives are ahead of them.”

The women of startup nation

Kira Radinksy, co-founder and chief technology officer of Israeli startup SalesPredict, is something of an anomaly among the leaders of Israel’s proud “startup nation.” And not just because she was a child prodigy who started her computer science career at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology at age 15. Rather, it’s that she’s a woman.

At 26, the dark and stunning Russian-Israeli entrepreneur has locked down a doctorate in computer science from Technion, built an award-winning data-mining system for Microsoft Research and started her own company, a cloud-based application that helps other companies predict customer behavior. In August, the MIT Technology Review took notice, recognizing Radinsky as the youngest of 10 women in its annual crop of “35 Innovators Under 35.”

In person, she’s petite and ultra-chatty, trading the hoodies and jeans of her eight male staffers for a ripped T-shirt and capris held up by a chunky white belt. According to Radinsky, it hardly ever crosses her mind that she’s a woman in a sea of men — but there are always those odd moments of self-awareness, like when someone assumes she’s the SalesPredict secretary or human-resources girl, or when, during a photo shoot for Israeli magazine Lady Globes, she’s dolled up in thick makeup and Dolce & Gabbana and told to “look powerful.”

“Here in Israel, no one really talks about” the absence of women in high tech, said Ranit Fink, vice president of business development for hot Israeli startup Cellrox — another rare female success story in the startup nation. “It’s just not on the agenda.”

According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, women make up about 35 percent of the nation’s high-tech workforce, a statistic that hasn’t budged for the last decade. (It also doesn’t illustrate how many of these women are filling low-level and nontechnical positions within the high-tech sector.) And although Israel’s Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor could not provide more specific data on the male-to-female ratio within the nation’s high-tech startups by press time, various company heads and investors in Israel — when interviewed by the Journal — agreed that they very rarely see a female face within the upper ranks of the Israeli tech world. 

“I see very, very, very few,” Fink said. “I go to conferences; I go to meetings — and it’s very rare that I see women.”

A review of the management teams for “20 Israeli startups to look out for” — published this spring in Israeli economic journal The Marker — shows that a mere 8 percent of team members are female. A representative for the Israeli venture capital firm The Trendlines Group said that of its 60 current portfolio companies, only about three are run by women. And over the last five years as a senior associate at Israeli venture capital firm JVP, Evelyn Rubin, now a vice president at crowd-funding venture OurCrowd, said that she “could probably count on one hand” the total number of women who have passed through the JVP offices. 

“I remember this crazy sense of having seen almost zero female entrepreneurs,” Rubin said. “Of course you’re not going to see 50/50, but you would expect to see at least 15 percent.”

At OurCrowd, too, Rubin guessed that in the last six months, the deal flow team has encountered only about seven female entrepreneurs, out of the 80 to 100 startups it sees per month. (OurCrowd, though it boasts three women on its management team, has yet to fund a female-run startup.)

Some encouraging steps for women in Israeli high tech have made the news in recent months. Thousands of female Charedi Jews, for example, are being employed as coders and software testers across Israel, and are — as touted in a Haaretz headline — “closing the high-tech gender gap in Israel.”

“The Charedi education system is geared toward encouraging women to pursue lucrative careers,” said Rubin, who works with women in the ultra-Orthodox community. (However, she added that “it’s a bit of a different model. These are mostly software development businesses, not your typical high-risk companies like Waze,” the navigation app company recently purchased by Google.)

In addition, more life-science-oriented branches of the tech industry in Israel, such as biotechnology and medical technology, are actually dominated by women: According to the online news magazine Israel21c, a full 65 percent of Israel’s biotech workers are female. 

“When I first took a position in med-tech, women felt more comfortable to come and to try, because it was dominated by females,” said Nitza Kardish, who now runs Israeli startup incubator Mofet Venture Accelerator. “It created this ecosystem where we were comfortable.”

But Israel’s most prized economy — its buzzing collection of 1,000 or more trendy tech companies, all built from scratch — is overwhelmingly male. There’s a reason that Tel Avivians often jokingly profile the stereotypical “startup bro”: because so many of them fit the bill.

Experts have presented a few different theories as to why women like Radinksy and Fink are so rare. 

One common narrative is that women are less likely to take large financial risks or make big life changes for their job, which can conflict with the traditionally female responsibilities of family and home. “Almost 100 percent of the women entrepreneurs that I meet, if they’re married, will base their ability to do what they’re doing on support from their partner,” said Lesa Mitchell, a vice president at the U.S.-based Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and author of a recent report on the challenges for female entrepreneurs. And Daphne Koller, the Israeli co-founder of booming U.S. startup Coursera, attested that: “For me, the biggest challenge is trying to juggle family commitments with an ever-increasing workload.”

Rubin of OurCrowd said that, in her experience, “It’s not a question of the actual time commitment, just an element of an appetite for risk. An ability to say, ‘I want to take $10 million to fund this business’ ” — not knowing if it will necessarily succeed.

Another theory is that from a young age, girls don’t see computer science and technology as subjects in which they are most likely to succeed — partly because of the low visibility of female role models in the field.

For men, Rubin said, “They see that a guy named Gil who lives around the corner was able to do it, so why can’t they do it? There are women who have built successful companies, but they’re not at the forefront.”

Radinksy, the CTO of SalesPredict, said she has observed other women shy away from the field because they are worried that they aren’t “technical” enough or as obsessed with gadgets as their male peers. She credited her own high-tech confidence with her upbringing in a Russian family that held more communist values of gender equality, wrote simple computer programs with her as a kid and valued computer science above other subjects. Radinksy said she never saw herself as less cut out for the field than any man. 

“Until I went to the army, I never knew I was a minority in anything,” she said.

Indeed, the male-dominated technological units of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have come to serve as incubators for the cliques that eventually become Israel’s hundreds of tech startups, according to Radinksy and others familiar with Israel’s startup culture.

“[Israeli] men will not be shy to pick up the phone,” said Helena Glaser, former president of the Women’s International Zionist Organization. “Men will feel obligated to help one another — and it starts in the army. Women in general don’t have this network. And this is a network of getting jobs.”

According to statistics provided to the Journal by the IDF, as of last year, only 16.8 percent of soldiers serving in technological positions in the IDF were women. And that’s a huge step up from a decade before, when the IDF reported that “the percentage of woman serving in these positions had reached 7 percent at most.”

Said Fink of Cellrox: “In Israel specifically, people are recruiting people based on the army. And in my generation, women couldn’t do everything in the army.”

From a funding standpoint, investors might also be more likely to stick with the kind of startup that has worked for them in the past. 

“Part of the issue now in Israel, is that funders tend to fund experienced entrepreneurs,” said Rubin, an experienced investor in Israeli startups. “So, because there hasn’t been a first generation of women entrepreneurs, they’re up against that barrier against men who have already [seen success].” 

Even once a woman has networked her way into the high-tech bubble, the workplace environment isn’t always welcoming.

Fink said that as a female in Israel’s high-tech sector, she has received dozens of “horrible comments — really horrible things” relating to her gender, both from outside businessmen and her own colleagues.

On blogs and forums online, much has been written about a similar male-to-male network in the Silicon Valley — a “bro-grammer” culture that keeps men in tech’s top positions and sometimes makes the workplace uncomfortable for women.

Ellen Ullman, a high-profile U.S. software engineer turned author, said that in America, she has witnessed an unhealthy “boys in a treehouse” attitude propagate itself among the nation’s techies, both at the academic and industry levels. “A woman walks into this culture, and she gets the worst of it: She’s more visible, scrutinized more closely and will not feel welcome,” Ullman said. She added that from the perspective of many venture capitalists, “Everyone’s got to be a kid in a hoodie. If you don’t look like Mark Zuckerberg, maybe you’re not right for it.”

So what does high tech stand to gain from a larger pool of female leaders?

A Dow Jones report in 2012 surveying 20,000 startups across the United States, showed that “companies have a greater chance of either going public, operating profitably or being sold for more money than they’ve raised when they have females acting as founders, board members, C-level officers, vice presidents and/or directors.”

Mitchell cited the study, saying that in order to move forward, both men and women in high tech “need to acknowledge this data and create solutions themselves by changing the networks” of entrepreneurs and investors. 

With a stronger female presence in high tech, the possibilities for modern technology are vast, said Weili Dai, co-founder of global semiconductor company Marvell Technology Group and a speaker at this year’s Israeli Presidential Conference: “We need more women to participate because technology is becoming part of our lifestyle,” she said. “I see this as a duty, to reflect the natural talent of women in the high-tech industry.”

And the startup nation may never reach its full potential without the talents of this untapped population. New research coming out of the Reut Institute, a widely respected policy group created to advise the Israeli government, suggests that the linear, non-inclusive model of startup nation as we know it — which has, up to this point, underutilized not only women but ethnic and religious minorities as well — may only succeed for so long. 

Orna Berry, famed Israeli venture capitalist and one of the original female entrepreneurs of startup nation, likewise warned that in order to remain competitive in the global market, the Israeli high-tech economy needs to see greater participation from a workforce made up of varying genders, age groups and backgrounds.

“If you team up with people who come from the same mold, and you’re choosing only people who you know what their path was and what their intellectual style is, it is somewhat restrictive in my mind … and it is a limiting factor in the scale-out element,” she said. “This is not just a matter of social justice.”

Western Wall rabbi to Charedi girls: Avoid plaza for Women of the Wall service

The Western Wall rabbi requested that Charedi Orthodox girls not fill the plaza for the next Women of the Wall service.

Aiming to reduce tension at the plaza, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz made the request on Thursday, one day before the monthly Rosh Chodesh service by the group.

Rabinowitz said in a statement that the mass gathering could spark tensions at Judaism’s holiest site and upset a fragile compromise on multidenominational prayer that has been taking shape through a committee convened by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Women of the Wall comes to the Western Wall to pray at the beginning of each Jewish month. In recent months, Israel’s haredi rabbinic leadership has sent thousands of haredi women and girls to pray there during the services, filling the women’s section of the plaza and preventing Women of the Wall from entering.

According to the statement, a confrontation between the haredi girls and Women of the Wall – whom Rabinowitz called a “provocation” – could upset the “sensitive security situation at the Temple Mount, which is now at its zenith.”

“When Jews fight with each other at the Western Wall, there is no greater desecration of God’s name,” the statement read. “Therefore we should await the decision of the committee, so that we can create order that will return calm and brotherhood to the Western Wall.”

Charedim need more Judaism

I saw two opposite ends of Jewish tolerance last Friday night in Jerusalem’s Old City. As I walked through the Jaffa Gate on my way to a Shabbat dinner, I noticed some black-hatted Charedim kicking a taxicab while yelling, “Shabbos, Shabbos!”

A little while later, at the home of my friends Pamela and Aba Claman, I sat at a joyful Shabbat table with a group of about 40 people — who included secular, religious, Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews, as well as Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers and even a non-Jew. No one worried whether anyone had to drive to get there.

Of all the contradictory images coming from Israel in recent years — Start Up Nation, Palestinian occupation, gay parades, corrupt politicians, humanitarian rescue efforts, a fierce army, a vibrant arts scene and so on — perhaps the most potent and divisive image has been of Charedi intolerance.

For American Jewry, which takes tolerance and religious pluralism for granted, these images have been especially vexing. It’s inconceivable to imagine, for example, Charedi Jews in Pico-Robertson or Hancock Park kicking the car of another Jew on Shabbat.

On Monday, I was at the Knesset attending a conference for a women’s empowerment group called WePower — where my daughter has been volunteering — and at one point, as I took a break to wander the halls, I heard a man yelling inside another conference room (the Knesset is like a shopping mall, but instead of popping into Banana Republic stores, you pop into arguments).

The yeller, a Charedi man with a gray beard and black velvet yarmulke, was seated at a large oval table with about 20 other politicians and their assistants. I could barely make out his words, but his yelling was what got to me — his tone a mixture of familiarity and contempt.

I thought: Here in the Israeli Parliament, Charedim are fully engaged with secular society, but as soon as they return to their neighborhoods, that same secular society becomes a source of potential contamination that must be avoided at all cost.

Charedim will engage with the secular world, I thought, but only to gain political power and secure government money to strengthen their isolationist way of life.

One of the secrets to Israeli success has been cultural integration. It’s easier to tolerate people who are different from you when you’ve served together in the army or engaged with them in the workplace.

Without this kind of human contact, it’s all too easy to demonize the stranger.

Just as Charedim might see secular society as Sodom and Gomorrah, they, in turn, are seen by others as hypocritical parasites who care only about their way of life. And just as there’s some truth to the accusation of excess hedonism and commercialism inherent to a free society, there’s also plenty of truth to the corrosive nature of Charedi isolation and intolerance.

I wonder sometimes whether Charedim realize how many thousands of Jews they might be turning off from Torah and Judaism when they spit at women wearing prayer shawls at the Western Wall; or when they attack one of their own who decides to join the army; or when they hide instances of sexual abuse in their communities; or when the corrupt Chief Rabbinate they run makes life miserable for people trying to convert to Judaism. 

If they don’t realize the extent of this chillul HaShem (desecration of God’s name), then it is precisely their isolation that makes them tone deaf.

Legislation and private efforts are now in the works to compel and encourage integration of Charedim into Israeli society — through school curricula and by requiring that they enter the workforce and join the army. It will be a long, complicated and agonizing process, and no one can say for sure how it will end. 

In public, Charedim who are against integration are making most of the noise. But from what I hear, in private many of their leaders are fully aware that the current system of widespread all-day Talmud learning is unsustainable.

“I wish those Charedi leaders who are open to change would speak up more,” my friend Yossi Klein Halevi said to me over Shabbat lunch. “That’s what bothers me the most.”

What bothers me even more is that Charedim believe that they practice the purest and holiest form of Judaism.

They don’t. They practice talmudic Judaism. 

But Judaism is a lot broader and bigger than that. Judaism is also Jewish history, Jewish literature and Jewish poetry. It’s also Jewish philosophy from Martin Buber and Maimonides and Jewish mysticism from the kabbalah masters. It’s also the talmudic fiction of Agnon, and the lyricism and social activism of Abraham Joshua Heschel.

And it’s also the Judaism of Chabad, whose thousands of black-hatted emissaries around the world see other Jews not as sources of potential contamination, but as children of God full of holy sparks ready to be ignited.

Hardly any of these defining aspects of Judaism ever enter the study halls of the Charedi world.

It may take a century, but when Charedim finally lose their fear of the outside world and open their doors to different Jews and different views, they might discover a Judaism that’s even richer and more beautiful than they ever imagined.

They might start by inviting IDF soldiers to their Shabbat tables and giving them a blessing.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Father and daughter at the Wall: Amid whistles, prayer endures

On July 8, Rabbi Adam Kligfeld, senior rabbi at Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles, attended a Woman of the Wall prayer service at the Western Wall in Jerusalem with his 11-year-old daughter, Noa. The Journal asked them to write about the experience, each from their own perspective.

I went to the Women of the Wall’s monthly prayer service at the Kotel. I had been there in February, standing in the men’s section to join the group protecting the women in the back-left section of the women’s section from potential eggs, chairs and slurs coming from Charedi men. I came back this time with my mother and my 11-year-old daughter, Noa. Several things amazed me about this visit on different ends of the emotional spectrum.

All the (legitimate) critique of the police and government aside, they closed off a major one-way artery outside of the Old City to permit busses ferrying Women of the Wall (WOW) participants, traveling in the opposite direction, to drop us off right inside the Dung Gate. That itself is worthy of praise. 

[Read the other side of this story here: “Battle of the heart” by Noa Kligfeld]

Alas, we were outgunned. Or, should I say, out-bussed. Charedi busses brought thousands of yeshiva girls to the Kotel, one hour before we arrived, who completely filled up the women’s side. Credit them for an effective maneuver, though I can see this devolving into a war of alarm clocks rather than a battle of ideas: They arrived at 6 a.m. this time … we’ll get there at 5 a.m. next time! 

The result was that for the first time in nearly 25 years, WOW participants never reached the part of the Kotel designated for prayer. Our service took place in the back-right courtyard, adjacent to the parking lot. And yet there was some sweet lemonade squeezed from those bitter lemons: With nowhere else to go, the men and women there prayed together in a fully egalitarian, mixed-”seating” (“standing”?) minyan. And instead of having to merely conjure it, I got to see the earnestness on my daughter’s face as she attempted kavanna — focus — amid the cacophony of boos and heckles. As I looked around, I saw that many of us had successfully drowned out the intrusions and focused on one thing only: prayer. 

But the sounds and images I will most remember from this Rosh Chodesh Av were those of whistles — shrill, inflammatory, intended as interruptions between the prayers of Jews and the heart of heaven, and yet ultimately impotent. Several Charedi women positioned themselves as close to our minyan as possible. They stood there for over an hour, closed their eyes to our display of idolatry, wrenched up their faces to focus their efforts, and they blew whistles. They blew and they blew. My left ear heard a young American girl read verses from the Torah out of a book, in the absence of a Torah scroll, to celebrate becoming bat mitzvah, as my right ear was assaulted by a whistle that brought me back to 10th-grade phys ed. My left side was embraced by the harmonies of Hallel while my right side tried to ignore the ignorable — the loud shrieks of anger, hatred and suspicion. My left side was davening while my right side was going deaf even as it ached for temporary deafness. I studied one whistler’s face. What motivated her? What neshama (soul) informed all those powerful neshimot (breaths) she blew? Would she ever stop?

And then it hit me — an avalanche of certainty and optimism. An epiphany filtered through a story from my religious education. When I was a student at his Yeshivat Hamivtar, I once asked Rabbi Chaim Brovender, an extraordinary teacher and tzadik who courageously began teaching Talmud to women in the face of threats of excommunication from fellow Orthodox rabbis, whether one could whistle on Shabbat. He looked at me quizzically, and then gave me an answer I will never forget: “I can only answer that question by quoting my grandmother: A yid fiyf nit. A Jew doesn’t whistle. It’s meaningless. A waste of time. Sunday. Wednesday. Shabbes. Why are you whistling? Go do something productive. Go study Torah. A Jew doesn’t whistle.”

But we do pray. And prayer will triumph.

A shrill whistle cannot be maintained. It eventually will lose steam, because ultimately it stands for nothing, for a vacuum, for vacuous hot air. But prayer pierces through boundaries. And the Torah of pluralism, embedded in the very sacred texts both we and the Charedim hold so dear, lives through the undying breaths of those who have embodied it, believe it today and will never stop praying. One can only whistle for so long. But prayer endures. 

After draft riot, Jerusalem Charedim charged with assaulting police

Israeli prosecutors indicted two Charedi Orthodox men for assaulting police officers called to the scene of a mob attack on a Charedi soldier in Jerusalem.

The two men, Joseph Braun and Jacob Krischavski, were charged on Thursday with attacking several police officers on Tuesday during a riot that erupted in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Meah Shearim. If convicted, the defendants could face at least three years in prison.

The attack came two days after Israel’s Knesset approved a proposal to draft haredi men into the Israeli Defense Forces. A small number of haredi leaders have allowed and in some cases encouraged enlistment, but the majority have resisted the draft. The proposed law has sparked numerous protests.

Another haredi soldier was assaulted in Jerusalem on Thursday, this time in the neighborhood of Shmuel Hanavi, situated north of Meah Shearim. Assailants threw objects at the soldier from a van, according to NRG, the news site of the Maariv daily.

On Tuesday, officers were called to Meah Shearim after dozens of haredi men intimidated a haredi soldier. The men gathered outside the office of the uncle of the soldier, who came to visit his uncle during a short leave from the army, according to the indictment filed on Thursday by the Jerusalem prosecutor’s office with the city’s Magistrate’s Court.

The soldier, who does not live in Jerusalem, was wearing a uniform and a black kipah. Several dozen men gathered around him and hurled garbage as he was walking to the office. He entered the office, changed to civilian clothes and called police as the crowd chanted insults outside.

The two defendants and several other individuals hurled stones, metal bars and water buckets at the police. Braun and Krischavski, both in their early 20s, were charged with aggravated assault of a police officer, obstructing a police officer and rioting.

Charedi soldier attacked by haredim in Mea Shearim

A Charedi Orthodox soldier was attacked by dozens of haredi rioters in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Mea Shearim.

The soldier, a resident of central Israel who was visiting the haredi Orthodox enclave to visit relatives, hid in a nearby building where he changed into civilian clothes and called police for help, Ynet reported Tuesday.

The attack came two days after Israel’s Knesset approved a proposal to draft haredi Orthodox men into the Israeli military.

“Another IDF soldier was attacked today by dozens of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem,” Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid said in a post on Facebook. “This is intolerable and we do not will suffer it.

“I call on the leaders of the ultra-Orthodox political parties condemn the violent attacks and incitement against the IDF without reservations, without offering reasons and without any justifications.”

Lapid added that violence against Israeli soldiers “is a direct threat to the State of Israel and we will treat it.”

Aryeh Deri, head of the Sephardi haredi Shas party, condemned the attack.

“I’m appalled of the deeds of extremist teens who shamelessly hurt a Jewish soldier,” he said.

Charedi Orthodox Agudath Israel of America on gay marriage

The first of what will likely be many Jewish responses to the Supreme Court’s decision today, the Charedi Orthodox Agudath Israel of America was brief and to the point:

Society’s mores may shift and crumble but eternal verities exist.  One is marriage, the union of a man and a woman.  Its sanctity may have been grievously insulted by the High Court today, but that sanctity remains untouched.

Small Charedi protest, no Torah allowed at Women of the Wall service

Hundreds of protesting Charedi Orthodox youth did not prevent or significantly disturb the Women of the Wall’s monthly service at the Western Wall.

The women were not, however, able to read from a Torah scroll during the service as planned.

Sunday’s service, which – according to Women of the Wall – attracted 300 women, was conducted under heavy police protection. The women prayed in a corner of the Western Wall Plaza’s women’s section, enclosed by a barricade and surrounded by police.

A barricade and police line also divided the male Charedi protesters from the women and their supporters.

Women of the Wall gathers at the beginning of every Jewish month for a women’s Rosh Chodesh service at the Western Wall. Members have been arrested in the past for wearing prayer shawls due to a law that forbade any practice that falls outside of the wall’s “local custom.” In April, a judge determined that the group’s activities did not contravene the law. Since then, none of the women have been arrested.

The group’s service last month – the first since the court ruling – attracted thousands of protesting Charedi girls who packed the plaza. A large group of Charedi men also protested last month, some throwing coffee, water, rocks and a chair at the women.

This month, only a few hundred Charedi protesters showed up at the service. Leading Charedi rabbis had called on thousands of men to protest Women of the Wall peacefully, but much of the plaza was empty Sunday morning. Behind a heavy barricade, Charedi men chanted and held signs – and a few threw eggs – but the women’s prayer often drowned out their protests.

While the women were able to complete their service unhindered, they were not allowed to read from a Torah scroll. The group hadn’t brought a scroll to the wall for years, but planned to resume the practice following the court ruling. On Thursday, however, police informed them that a regulation forbade bringing a scroll to the women’s section.

The group plans to challenge the regulation in court.

“It was a beautiful prayer,” said Women of the Wall spokesperson Shira Pruce. She added, though, that: “We were not happy to be enclosed in fences by police. It was very painful.”

Israel’s chief rabbis receive death threats over Women of the Wall prayer

Israel’s chief rabbis received death threats in letters to their offices warning them to allow the Women of the Wall to pray “in accordance with our customs.”

The letters, headlined “This is a last warning,” were delivered Monday to the offices of Rabbi Yona Metzger and Rabbi Shlomo Amar. A complaint was filed with the security officer of the Prime Minister’s Office.

“If the Women of the Wall are not allowed to pray in accordance with our customs, we shall fight you with all available means and you will end up with a hundred dead Charedi bodies. Your end is near,” the letter read, according to reports,

The rabbi of the Western Wall, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, said in a statement issued Monday that he also had received a threatening letter calling for him to allow the Women of the Wall to pray at the Kotel undisturbed. Rabinowitz’s office said a complaint over the letter had been filed with the Israel Police in Jerusalem.

The Women of the Wall said in a statement that the organization “is saddened by the violent threats that were sent to the Chief Rabbis. We wish them strength and courage during this trying time.

“All those involved and educated on the subject know that there is no connection between the content and style of these letters and the spirit of nonviolence, tolerance and acceptance which drives Women of the Wall.”

The Women of the Wall is scheduled to meet at the Western Wall on June 9 for its monthly prayer service to celebrate the beginning of the Hebrew month of Tammuz.

Last month was the group’s first monthly service at the wall following the ruling of a Jerusalem District Court judge that said its services at the back of the women’s section do not violate the law and merit police protection rather than arrests.

In previous months, the women had been arrested for wearing prayer shawls during the service, which the group has held for two decades, because police said the practice contravened the site’s “local custom.”

Israel seals deal ending military exemptions for ultra-Orthodox

Israel clinched a deal on Wednesday to abolish wholesale exemptions from military service for Jewish seminary students, ended a brief crisis that divided the ruling coalition parties.

The issue of “sharing the national burden” is at the heart of heated debate over privileges the ultra-Orthodox minority has enjoyed for decades, and a government-appointed committee had failed to formulate a new conscription law earlier this week.

Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party, had balked at a clause under which criminal charges would be brought against those trying to dodge conscription.

Netanyahu's main coalition partner, the centrist Yesh Atid party, threatened on Monday to quit the government unless the issue was resolved.

In a compromise that paved the way for the deal, the committee agreed on sanctions but delayed imposing them during a four-year interim period in which the military will encourage 18-year-old Bible scholars to enlist, political officials said.

Under the proposed law, which still faces ratification in the cabinet and parliament, the number of seminary students exempted from the military each year will be limited to 1,800 of the estimated 8,000 required to register for the draft annually.

Welcoming the agreement on the proposed law, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid told a news conference: “The government proved it can make a change, even on the most explosive issues.”

Yesh Atid came second to Likud in the January general election on a pledge to reduce state benefits for Israel's fast-growing ultra-Orthodox minority and end military service exemptions for the community.

For the first time in a decade, Israel's government has no ultra-Orthodox members, and main coalition partners had pressed Netanyahu to break with political tradition and enact reforms under a slogan of “sharing the national burden”.

Most Israeli men and women are called up for military service for up to three years when they turn 18. However, exceptions have been made for most Arab citizens of Israel, as well as ultra-Orthodox men and women.

Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Mark Heinrich

Choosing between love and obligation

“Fill the Void,” which won Israel’s equivalent of the Academy Award last year, is a love story unlike any Hollywood fare and it is set in a Jewish community unfamiliar to most Jews.

The movie is by and about a Charedi, or ultra-Orthodox, enclave in the center of Tel Aviv, centuries removed in time and place from the swinging citizenry a few blocks away.

The film’s central character is Shira, at 18 the youngest daughter of the family, about to be married to a promising young man of the same age and background.

Then tragedy strikes. Shira’s 28-year-old sister, Esther, dies while giving birth to her first child, and amid the mourning, Shira’s match is put on hold.

Esther’s husband, Yochai, now a widower responsible for the newborn baby, realizes that he will have to remarry eventually and a matchmaker comes up with a prospect, a devout widow in Belgium.

When Shira’s mother learns that Yochai, and, worse, her only grandchild, may leave the country, she seeks to forestall this calamity by having Shira marry her dead sister’s husband.

While hoping that Shira will marry Yochai, her parents leave the decision up to her, and the conflicted girl must finally make her own choice.

“Fill the Void” is the first feature film for both director-writer-producer Rama Burshtein, and for Hadas Yaron, who portrays the young Shira. During a recent visit to Los Angeles, Yaron and Burshtein sat down for separate interviews with the Journal.

Yaron is 23 and had no problem playing an 18-year-old girl, but she faced another difficulty. Coming from a secular family — no actual Charedi girl would act in the movie — Yaron had to get the feel of living in a closed Chasidic environment.

But once she put on the modest clothing demanded for the role, she said, “I felt very holy and harmonious.”

With only one previous role in a minor film on her resume, Yaron got into her part so convincingly that she won Israel’s best actress award last year and did likewise at the prestigious Venice Film Festival in 2012.

Asked how the role affected her, Yaron responded, “I learned that you can’t judge people by how they look or how they are dressed.”

Director Burshtein had the advantage of having lived in both the secular and ultra-Orthodox worlds. Born to an Israeli father and an American mother, she moved from New York to Kfar Saba, near Tel Aviv, shortly after her birth.

She returned to New York at 17 and remembered, “I was totally secular and pretty wild … but at the same time, I was always a seeker.”

Once she was introduced to the Charedi community through a friend, “It was an instant conversion … it was like coming home,” she said.

As Burshtein believes, and illustrates in “Fill the Void,” it is a common misconception that in the Chasidic community parents pick husbands for their daughters, regardless of the girl’s wishes. Actually, she argues, while parents may arrange the options for marriage partners, the final decision is up to the daughter.

In any case, she maintains that whatever the differences in outlook among denominations, “being Jewish is all about feelings.”

Given that love and passion are common to all humans, what may be more pronounced among the Charedim is “the power of commitment.” By that, she means the determination to “do the work” needed to make the marriage successful and permanent.

The best time for a girl to embark on such a commitment is when she is around 17, Burshtein counseled.

In her own life, Burshtein, 46, practices what she preaches. She and her husband, a psychotherapist, have three sons and one daughter between the ages of 16 and 11, having had the four kids in the span of five years.

While planning the outline of “Fill the Void,” Burshtein was determined not to get into the religious-secular conflict in Israel, and she cited her reason in a director’s statement accompanying the film.

“I set out on this journey out of a deep sense of pain,” she wrote. “I felt that the ultra-Orthodox community has no voice in the cultural dialogue. You might even say we are mute. … Our political voice is loud — even boisterous — but our artistic and cultural voice remains muffled and faint. I’m not good at agendas and politics … I am good at telling about those things I’m passionate about [and] they are all tied to the ultra-Orthodox world of observance.”

Burshtein has started writing the script for her next project, which will probably be set in New York. She wouldn’t reveal more but pledged that the movie would “always be about my world.”

“Fill the Void” opens at Laemmle’s Royal Theatre in West Los Angeles on May 24, and at the Playhouse in Pasadena and the Town Center in Encino on May 31. 

Mezuzahs set ablaze in haredi Orthodox Brooklyn section

Eleven mezuzahs were set afire in a residential building in Brooklyn in an incident that New York City police are treating as a hate crime.

The vandalism occurred Monday afternoon — the day Israel observed Holocaust Remembrace Day — in public housing located in the predominantly haredi Orthodox section of Williamsburg.

No suspects have been apprehended in the crime.

“The Hate Crimes Task Force has been assigned to it and is treating it as a bias crime,” Paul Browne, the New York Police Department’s chief spokesman, told The New York Times. “The fact that they are all religious artifacts, we’re treating it as an anti-Semitic crime.”

Netanyahu threatens to turn to Charedi Orthodox parties for coalition

The Likud party, citing what it called “excessive demands” from Yesh Atid, threatened to launch government coalition negotiations with the Charedi Orthodox parties.

The impasse with the Yesh Atid party prevented Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from introducing his new government on Wednesday, as he had planned.

With Netanyahu having four days left to form a government, Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid reportedly has backtracked on agreements that he reached with the Likud leader throughout more than a month of coalition talks.

Jewish Home party Chairman Naftali Bennett, who has pledged to enter the government with Lapid or remain in the opposition, reportedly spent Tuesday night and early Wednesday trying to smooth things over between Bennett and Lapid.

The standoff reportedly centers on Lapid's demand that his party get the Education Ministry in addition to the Interior Ministry.

Among the coalition agreements already reached are significantly reducing the size of the Cabinet, raising the electoral threshold from 2 percent to 4 percent, drastic budget cuts and a haredi draft law.

If Netanyahu fails to form a government by Saturday night, Israeli President Shimon Peres can assign another politician to the task or the country could hold new elections.

London Orthodox, non-Jews face off over planning laws

Non-Jewish residents of the heavily haredi Orthodox-populated London neighborhood of Hackney have launched a campaign to prevent Orthodox Jews from changing city planning regulations.

A group named Hackney Planning Watch recently produced a flyer warning: “Your neighborhood is in danger! Want your neighbor to extend their home to cover the whole of their back garden? Want to wake up and find a school has moved in next door?”

The flyer is part of the group’s fight against the bid of a largely haredi Orthodox rival group named Stamford Hill Neighborhood Forum to receive control over planning in the neighborhood, which is home to a rapidly-growing community of 20,000 Orthodox Jews and to non-Jews as well, according to the British daily newspaper The Guardian.

The two groups, Hackney Planning Watch and Stamford Hill Neighborhood Forum, are vying for control over planning regulations as part of the government's “big society” policy of handing planning control to local communities.

The Stamford Hill Neighborhood Forum – which is led by haredim and some non-Jews – seeks to approve major extensions to lofts and to build over gardens to house a rapidly growing population.

But the Hackney Planning Watch, which reportedly is led by secular academics and trades unionists, is seeking to block such changes. Jane Holgate, a leader of Hackney Planning Watch, said she has been accused of anti-Semitism for her opposition to the plans; a claim she rejects.

A Stamford Hill Neighborhood Forum leaflet accused Hackney Planning Watch of double standards, showing a loft extension built in the street where some of its leaders live. It asked: “Is it one rule for themselves and one rule for the ethnic communities?”

Any planning forum must be approved by the local council of Hackney.

Charedi media personalities call for settlement boycott

Israeli Charedi Orthodox media personalities are calling for a boycott of West Bank settlement products in response to the Jewish Home party's position on drafting yeshiva students.

The leader of Jewish Home, Naftali Bennett, is a staunch advocate of West Bank settlements and is also fighting to end the draft exemption for Charedi Israelis. Though Israel's Supreme Court outlawed the exemption last year, in practice Charedi Israelis still are not being drafted into the army.

Radio commentators on the Charedi Kol Baramah radio station said it was time for the Charedi community to liberate itself from the settler movement, with which it has a “fake” relationship.

“We need to think twice about supporting those who hate us. It’s about time we stop being suckers,” commentator Avi Bloom said, according to the Times of Israel. “When Bennett cries about mothers not being able to sleep at night, you can come and ask him by what right does he not allow Tel Aviv mothers, and now ultra-Orthodox mothers as well, to sleep at night because of the need to protect some random outpost.”

Kol Baramah commentator Yaakov Rivlin echoed the sentiment. “It’s time to end all these relations with the real estate dealers in the West Bank territories,” he said.

A senior columnist for the Hamodia newspaper, Yisrael Hershkowitz, wrote, “The settlements will pay the price for the costly arrogance” of Bennett.

Hershkowitz said companies located in Jewish settlements in the West Bank or companies owned by settlers could go out of business if boycotted by Charedim.