People of The Cloth

198It’s not easy for someone like me, passionate about his Jewish observance, constantly striving to forge a spiritual connection with G-d, and a proud citizen of Israel to “take off my kippa.”

[eJP note: As we approach Tisha B’Av, a day of mourning to commemorate the many tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people in the past, we pause to reflect on current tragedies in present day Israel. Be it by those who incite physical violence towards Women of the Wall; continuous attacks on religious soldiers in the heart of Mea Shearim; or the latest – a pronouncement by Rabbi Shalom Cohen, one of the most senior religious figures of Shas, a member of the Council of Torah Sages and the head of the influential Porat Yosef Yeshiva – who just this morning called national religious Israelis “Amalek” and suggesting that they aren’t Jews.]

by Mordecai Holtz

Today, I take off my kippa in shame.

It’s not easy for someone like me, passionate about his Jewish observance, constantly striving to forge a spiritual connection with G-d, and a proud citizen of Israel to “take off my kippa.” I’m ashamed by the public statements of certain leaders because they mar the religion. Their statements are on par with speeches by leaders of other nations who publicly make anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist remarks. There’s no difference. All of the words incite hatred.

Generally, Israeli politics make me sick because of the slippery slope and the very fine line between taking a political stance, making noise and pure head-to-head name calling.

Today is one of these fine examples.

Over the past few hours, my various social media profiles have been absolutely inundated with the horrific quotes and responses to a senior Shas member who called the kippa seruga (knitted type) wearing Jews, non-Jews are part of Amalek (it includes MK Naftali Bennet’s response). For those who may not be familiar with this biblical reference, Amalek was the first nation to attack the Israelites in their journey through the desert (see Exodus 17:8-10). Throughout Jewish history, the notorious villains and leaders of the most horrific events in Jewish history (Purim story, Khmelnitsky Massacres, World War II) have been associated to being descendants of Amalek. According to some, Amalek’s destruction is a precursor to the messianic times. In Kabbalistic terms, Amalek is a pseudonym for the evil inclination (sitra achra) that resides in every individual and plagues us by enticing us to fulfill our innermost desires. Jews are commanded to eradicate this evil inclination in our constant battle to serve our Creator.

So, in a sense, in one statement, this “leader” in the company of arguably one of the most prominent and influential Jewish decision makers today, created a civil war. Velvet versus knitted. The velvet is good the knitted is bad. Not only is the velvet good, but its enemy (other Jews) have been deemed evil, coupled with a religious obligation to seek and destroy.

Well done!

A Brief Story

As I often do, I like to tell stories about my father. As a renowned professor of Hebrew literature, he’s been invited to lecture in a host of settings about his favorite Israeli (and observant) author, Shai Agnon. In this story, it was to a group of people living on a secular kibbutz in Israel. As an aside, my father proudly wears a kippa but understands the moral responsibility that is associated with being adorning by this piece of cloth. The kippa is intended to show our recognition and humility in front of G-d.

During his lecture, one of the participants seemed puzzled. Not so much by my father’s impressive knowledge of Agnon but that a practicing, observant Jew was comfortable enough to engage in a serious discussion about topics that many would consider hypocrisy and issues that question the basic tenets of the Jewish faith. During the break, my father approached this person and, in a moment of shock, took off his kippa and said, “Now, do you feel more comfortable asking me these questions?”

Back to Today

My father’s action proved a point to me. By taking off his kippa, he showed that sometimes it’s just a piece of cloth. We can’t be fooled by those who wear one and claim roles of responsibility that they are on a higher ground than the rest of us. Jews, regardless of whether or not they wear a kippa, observe Shabbat, keep kosher, or engage in any meaningful Jewish experience should not be outcast or set aside as insignificant. In fact, it is often these individuals with such poignant questions that strengthen those who have been practicing Judaism their entire lives.

For a few years, I worked with Jews from diverse backgrounds and organized trips bringing them to Israel so that they could positively experience Judaism. One of the participants is making aliyah tomorrow because of her positive associations with Israel and Judaism, which were solidified during her trip. In my experience, the piece of cloth is not what interested them. All they want is to know that they are accepted members of the tribe. Inclusion, not exclusion, combined with meaningful experiences is what inspired them to pursue a deeper understanding of Jewish practices.

A few days ago, Levi Margolin disassociated himself with the term charedi out of embarrassment for the physical abuse by some Jews toward other Jews who proudly serve in the IDF. Today, I join him by calling on all who wear a kippa to hide under a rock in shame that we have not ousted these leaders who claim to be observant. They’ve publicly tainted the beautiful tapestry of Jewish observance by instilling their audience, and others reading who may be less familiar with these intricacies, with a sense of obligation to eliminate those who don’t wear the same piece of fabric on their head. Really?!

To borrow from the start-up nation mentality, disruption comes from taking those things that we use and engage with daily and find a better, more user-friendly solution. It’s time we find a more friendly solution for this piece of cloth. We’ve already seen what can happen if we let velvet win.

And, like my father, my head remains exposed to prove a point. A point of shame.

Mordecai is the NonProfit Division Leader at Pixel/Point Press. After working in the industry for almost eight years, Mordecai has merged his passions for social causes and social media by applying online marketing principles to the nonprofit sector. Beyond engaging people online, Mordecai loves applying his creative flair and passion to help clients succeed in the digital space.

Mordecai is an occasional contributor to eJewish Philanthropy. You can follow Mordecai by reading his blog noholtzbarred.com or on twitter @mordecaiholtz