Saturday, November 28, 2009

Just Remembered my Right Hand

Though I've been involved in politics and community action for many years, I haven't been at a real protest since I was in college. At the last protest I participated, in the late eighties, I came to the conclusion that protests have two possible outcomes: (1) nothing or (2) people get beat up. I haven't seen much to convince me otherwise in the last 20 years.

I didn't think twice about attending last night's rally (Hebrew), after one of the congregants at my synagogue was arrested at the Western Wall. When my daughter heard there was a protest, she also immediately exclaimed "We should go to that!"

Of course, that was after several failed attempts to explain to her why Nofrat had been arrested. "Wait. I don't understand. What did she do wrong?" asked Maya. As far as my kids are concerned, there is nothing exceptional or even mildly interesting about a woman reading a Torah scroll or wearing a prayer shawl.

At shul this Saturday, one of the congregants pointed out to me that this was precisely the problem. "We are raising a generation that doesn't think there is anything wrong with that. That's precisely what scares the ultra-orthodox." Certainly, that's at least part of the truth. Certainly, a number of non-orthodox movements are growing in Israel, and that does appear as a threat to the ultra-orthodox, and some of the orthodox movements.

What do I mean by "threat". I mean money. Big Money. Marriage, divorce, burials, jobs in the municipalities and government, tax breaks, government-allocated lands, grants and scholarships for education, and the Western Wall (among other tourist attractions). This is big money.

I don't want to go too much into my religious beliefs, but it is beyond offensive that in Israel, Jews do not have freedom of religion. Our congregation has a couple of dozen rabbis who can not perform a marriage or memorial ceremony in this country. Being persecuted for religion in our own country is too horrific for me to even think about, so I didn't think, and just took my kids up to Jerusalem, despite all I know about protests, and went to one.

It was a great protest, too. It was early enough in the evening for the kids to hang out and participate. There were a couple of thousand people, which felt like (and was) a victory. Our friends from the congregation came, so the kids felt like it was fun, and I felt it was secure. Nobody got beat up, not by the police and not by opposition protesters.

At the end of the day, I don't know how much came of it. At the very least, it gave my kids the feeling that we were doing something for what we believe in. And we got t-shirts. I like to think about how many more lawyers the Conservative and Reform movement have than the ultra-orthodox movement. I like to think that will make some difference.

The real difference will be made on the ground, though. When people get together and say they just won't stand for religious oppression of Jews by Jews in the Jewish land, it will stop. When we demand that the religious sites and institutions serve us all equally, it will happen. This is just a start, but it's a good start, a strong start, and a start that will lead to a future of religious tolerance for all of us.

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