TEL AVIV (JTA) — “Everyone who answers, ‘Thank God’ when asked, ‘How are you,’ raise your hand,” Brit Yakobi asked the crowd of 700 people gathered in an Orthodox synagogue in Jerusalem.
The overwhelming majority of hands shot up.
“Everyone who is mortified with our current government, raise your hand,” continued Yakobi, the director of religious freedom and gender at Shatil, an Israeli social justice organization founded by the New Israel Fund.
Once again, almost every hand went up.
The display took place at a Jan. 25 conference billing itself as for Israel’s “faithful left” — a demographic that many consider nonexistent but which is seeking to assert itself in response to the country’s new right-wing government.
Israel’s politics leave little room for left-leaning Orthodox Jews. In the United States, the vast majority of Jews vote for Democrats, and even in Orthodox communities, where right-wing politics are ascendant, liberal candidates hold appeal for some. But in Israel, the official leadership of religious Jews of all stripes is firmly entrenched in the right — and their followers tend to vote as a bloc.
The hundreds of Orthodox Jews at the conference hope to change that dynamic, and have already started doing so by showing up en masse — and to applause — at the anti-government protests that have swept the country since the beginning of the year. But while their list of goals is long, they are also taking time to appreciate the unusual experience of being together.
“Just being in a room and realizing I’m not the only one like me was amazing,” attendee Shira Attias told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “The main takeaway for members of this niche and controversial group [is] to feel on their skin that they are not alone.”
Nitsan Machlis, a student and activist, agreed. “I’ve never seen so many people in a room together with whom I felt like I can identify with both religiously and politically.”
The conference took place inside the Heichal Shlomo synagogue, located adjacent to Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue at the same intersection as Israel’s prime minister’s official residence — a symbolic spot at the heart of Israel’s religious center.
“The fact that it was in Heichal Shlomo is quite significant because it’s a very Orthodox place,” said Ittay Flescher, educational director of an Israeli-Palestinian youth organization who attended the event. “It was chosen intentionally as an iconic Orthodox place, a place where Torah learning happens.”
That’s meaningful because members of the new government have disparaged critics of its policy moves as being anti-religious and opposed to Torah values.
According to haredi activist Pnina Pfeuffer, a member of the steering committee of Smol Emuni, which means faithful left in Hebrew, the conference was driven by the idea that leftwing values are an integral part of being Jewish.
“We’re not left-wing despite being religious, it’s part of how we practice our religious beliefs,” said Pfeuffer, who serves as the CEO of New Haredim, an umbrella organization for haredi education and women’s rights groups.
Organizer Mikhael Manekin, a veteran anti-occupation activist and religious Zionist, referred to it as a “very frum” conference, using the Yiddish word for the religiously devoted. Speakers heavily referenced both Jewish texts and previous generations of rabbis, such as Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who famously ruled it permissible under religious law to surrender land for peace, and the Lithuanian scion, Rabbi Elazar Shach, who likewise supported Jewish withdrawal from the Palestinian territories if it meant preserving Jewish life. (Rabbanit Adina Bar-Shalom, Yosef’s iconoclastic oldest daughter, was among the conference speakers.)
“All of us understand there can’t be activism without religious study,” said Manekin, who runs the Alliance Fellowship, a network of Jewish and Arab political and civic leaders.
While Judaism is not a pacifist religion per se, there is a central theme in rabbinic literature of virtue ethics and an emphasis for caring for the weak on the one hand, he said, and a skepticism towards violence and power on the other. “Our role is to second-guess anything with power.”
According to Manekin, the current brand of religious Zionism and ultra-Orthodoxy’s “very recent” move to the right are emulating secular nationalist ethics a lot more than they are Jewish traditions.
“When somebody like [National Security Minister Itamar] Ben-Gvir says, ‘We’re the landlords’ and ‘I run the show,’ that for me is a very non-traditional Jewish way of looking at the world,” he said.
“The immediacy with which we accept the current militantism of the religious right, when there are such clear rabbinic texts which don’t allow for that kind of behavior is insane,” he said. “The idea that Jews can walk around with guns on Shabbat is much more of a reform than the idea that Jews should support peace.”
The ambition around peace has set the faithful left apart from the wider anti-government protests, which have not focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A week after the conference, a Palestinian terror attack outside a Jerusalem synagogue that took the lives of seven residents after the Shabbat service put these beliefs to a test.
But Manekin said such events — another attack followed this week — would not change his worldview. “Our tradition is [that] the response to death is mourning and repenting. The political response shouldn’t be based on revenge but on what we think is for the betterment of our people,” he said after the Neve Yaakov attack.
Constant applause and cheers for our group of religious protesters, marching to join main event in Tel Aviv. pic.twitter.com/ohFMwpCeGc
— Hannah Katsman | חנה כצמן (@mominisrael) January 28, 2023
Despite hesitations from his co-organizers, Manekin was adamant about labeling the conference “left,” because, he said, among the fringes of the religious community is “a large group of people who are tired of this constant obfuscation of our opinions to appease the right who are never appeased anyway.”
According to Flescher, the left in Israel is no longer relevant “because it can’t speak the Jewish language.” Religious people often feel like the left is “foreign, and alien and even Christian in some regard,” he said.
One of the goals moving forward, Pfeuffer said, is to develop a religious leftwing language.
But as the conference demonstrated, even under the banner of the religious left lies a broad range of opinions. As Flescher put it: “The religious left is much more diverse than the secular left.”
Attias, who wears a headscarf for religious reasons, described herself thus: “I’m very progressive and I live in the settlements.”
Even though she is “very left economically,” Attias said, she refuses to label herself as a leftist because she remains “extremely critical” of the left which she says is often “very removed from Palestinians and poverty” and the issues it purports to champion.
Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger, a coexistence activist who lives in the West Bank settlement of Alon Shvut, described his experience at the conference on Facebook. “I have rarely felt so at home and so comfortable in a sea of kippot in Israel,” he wrote, alluding to the fact that in Israel, the style and presence of one’s head covering is widely seen as indicative of his or her religious orientation and politics alike.
The conference did not shy away from raising hot-button topics that not everyone in the room saw eye to eye on. “Because we tried to include as much of a left-wing range of opinions as we could, everyone at some point felt a little bit uncomfortable,” Pfeuffer said, noting that there was an LGBTQ circle and even references to “apartheid” by one speaker, Orthodox female rabbi Leah Shakdiel.
“If you’re very comfortable then you’re probably not learning something new,” Pfeuffer said.
One thing that made the conference stand out from other leftwing gatherings was the sense of hope and optimism.
“The general mood from punditry on the liberal left is all doom and gloom,” Manekin said.
The atmosphere at the conference, on the other hand, was “emotionally uplifting, energizing, and proactive,” he said. “This feeling of ‘we now have an assignment’ is very indicative of religious communities in general. That feeling that once you congregate, you can actually do quite a lot.”
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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