I Was at Dizengoff Square

Personal testimony: I was at Dizengoff Square, it was terrible

The protesters who had gathered didn't need much to rise up and shout for the sake of democracy. Some of them tied themselves with zip ties to the stage. A young man who started misbehaving was arrested for a few hours. The situation was difficult, and the worshippers dressed in white who began to pour into the square looked bewildered, at a loss, shocked, and humiliated

(Photo: Eitan Elhadez-Barak)

It seems that in the past year, the barriers of mutual respect and the ability to see the other have been completely removed, and every week another crack appears here in the fragile pillars that hold up Israeli society.

And here, the "Days of Awe" this year take on a different meaning, as just last week we witnessed the campaign of ridicule in New York against the government, no less severe epithets against the Prime Minister, and of course, the fundraising campaign to save "the Righteous" who was convicted of the murder of the Dawabsha family. There was a demonstration against the lecture by Rabbi Weinstein in the offices of "Rosh Yehudi," and as tensions escalated, we turned to seek forgiveness on the holy day. In the same year, a clash occurred on the eve of Yom Kippur between the worshipers of the "Rosh Yehudi" organization and the secular pioneers of Tel Aviv.

Both sides will not miss an opportunity to do a "please with a kind eye," all in the name of hidden values: in the name of freedom, the freedom to argue. This year, due to the atmosphere and the urgency felt by the leaders of the last secular stronghold, the municipality decided not to allow the erection of separation barriers between the men and women worshipers of 'Rosh Yehudi' as requested in their appeal from the court, which issued a 17-page ruling mentioning the city's decision from 2018 that does not permit the placement of separation barriers based on gender in public spaces. It's worth noting that there are more than 500 synagogues in the city, and the judge quoted saying, "I don't remember Dizengoff Square being mentioned as a holy place for Judaism."

The situation was difficult

The protesters who arrived just before the start of the fast covered their eyes when they saw the "Israbluff" of the worshipers. The latter set up a massive stage in the heart of the square, as if it were an altar. To add to this, they placed a massive chain of flags between the stage and the inner fountain square, serving as a kind of curtain dividing the prayer areas. The protesters who had come didn't need much to rise and shout the cry of democracy (and other things better unmentioned). Some of them chained themselves to the stage. A young man who began to misbehave was arrested for a few hours. The situation was difficult, and the worshipers dressed in white who began to flow into the square appeared embarrassed, bewildered, shocked, and humiliated.

(Photo: Eitan Elhadez-Barak)

Israel Zaira, the leader of the organization that made headlines, tried to persuade the police to remove the protesters, but it didn't help. However, this is still a public area. On the other hand, the calls of the protesters to remove the chain of flags were not heeded. The police did not consider it to be a barrier, as the local officer stated, "After all, you can pass between the flags." The tensions began to rise, and derogatory shouts and cries of "shame, shame" and "no forgiveness" were directed towards the worshipers. At the edge of the square, people spontaneously began to stack and collect the chairs. When I asked who told them to collect them, one of them sarcastically replied, "I saw that they were simply collecting them, so I helped them."

Instead, arguments began to develop with those claims that we've heard so much about in recent months that there's no need to mention. At a certain point, Zaira's family left the scene to the bewilderment of the audience, and some of the women among the worshipers broke into tears. This scene I will perhaps never forget. I recall a verse from Proverbs:

"טוֹבָה תּוֹכַחַת מְגֻלָּה מֵאַהֲבָה מְסֻתָּרֶת: נֶאֱמָנִים פִּצְעֵי אוֹהֵב וְנַעְתָּרוֹת נְשִׁיקוֹת שׂוֹנֵא"

"Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy."

Suddenly, from the praying crowd, Shimon Riklin emerges, a bit confused, and the crowd scolds him and pushes him away. In the street, I also encounter the right-wing Haredi publicist, Yedidya Meir, who thinks we used to work together at Yedioth. He tells me that every year he comes to Yom Kippur in Tel Aviv. He seems relaxed, but "his inner being is filled with sadness and wonder." "This time you'll definitely have something to write about," I tell him. "I'm not interested in writing. I just wanted to pray," he says to me.

Protesters fold the chairs in the square (Photo: Eitan Elhadez-Barak)

Even in Bima Square, there is an organization for new English-speaking immigrants called 'TRIBE' that held a prayer service with a partition. Even there, the protesters arrived and disrupted the prayer. "I moved here from Toronto a year ago," a young man who participated in the prayer at the location told me. "It's true that there were some partitions, but no one really paid attention to them," he said, still in shock.

In Beit Perat there was a symbolic partition for "Shalom Bayit"

If there was any comfort in this evening, which I did by bicycle (not electric) from Kiryat Ono to Tel Aviv, it was for me the experience of the Kippur meeting of the 'Beit Perat' community that gathered at the 'Bar Ilan' school on Rothschild Boulevard. This is an 'Israeli seminary' of 'new and renewed Israelis' ' who come to study programs before and after the army, a sort of stream of renewed Judaism from Baruch Spinoza to Rabbi Kook.

In the prayer "Kol Nidre," they turned the basketball arena into a "miniature sanctuary" under the title: "All Israel have a share," a well-known verse from the Sanhedrin tractate. And there, in that white-covered basketball arena, perhaps they found a solution to this issue that has been troubling us so much. Inside the arena, women and men, secular and religious, in a variety of kippot and colors, prayed with grace. At the entrance to the arena, a sign was hung that read: "Our community has been engaging in a dialogue for many years about the gap between the place of women in the prayer space and the sense of participation of women in our times in various fields of life. Many of us are requesting a unifying prayer space, alongside many of us who are concerned about significant changes and the creation of too great a divide between our prayer and the prayers of the generations that preceded us."

In the prayer of "Beit Perat," it seems that they manage to compromise: both women and men read from the Torah and the Haftarah (according to the ruling of Rabbi Daniel Sperber). The prayer follows Orthodox tradition, led by a cantor, and only in a part of the prayer area is a partition placed for those who prefer it. Extremists on both sides, those who prefer everything or nothing, will certainly object to this arrangement. However, in Judaism, there is a clear allowance to bend our sacred principles for the sake of "peace in the home." But are we also willing to be a bit flexible with our cherished principles for the sake of "peace in the home"?


Eitan Elhadez-Barak is a reporter, photographer and researcher of rituals and customs in Israel.


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