Rabbi Dov Lipman
Rabbi Dov Lipman and six community activists greet Father Luis Wahava at the Latrun Monastery. Photo by Allison Kaplan Sommer
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Allison Kaplan Sommer
Rabbi Dov Lipman scrubbing anti-Christian graffiti from the walls of the Latrun Monastery. Photo by Allison Kaplan Sommer

Rabbi Dov Lipman didn’t plan to spend his morning cleaning anti-Christian graffiti off of the wall of a monastery.

But the American-born Beit Shemesh activist said that it was impossible for him to walk away from the 122 year-old Latrun monastery while it was still bore the marks of the vandalism that took place a day earlier after its door was set on fire and it was defaced with hateful graffiti. The vandalism was suspected to have been a “price tag” attack by right-wing elements angry over the evacuation of Migron.

Lipman had led a six-member group from the community bearing flowers and a message of peace, he recounted:

“When we were just about to leave and workers were cleaning the door of the monastery that was lit on fire, and there was a guy who was scrubbing that said “Jesus was a monkey.” I felt, how could just give them and give flowers and walk away while this terrible thing another Jew did was up there. So I asked if we could help clean it away. At first, the worker cleaning it hesitated, but then he gave me his brush and cleaning solution, and we didn’t walk away until it was removed. I’m glad we did. It was wonderful to be part of the ‘tikkun’ (repair.)”

Lipman is best known for his activism in Beit Shemesh fighting against women’s exclusion and ultra-Orthodox domination of the city, and his forays into the fight for ultra-orthodox enlistment in the IDF. Interreligious relations aren’t usually his ‘turf’, but when he learned about the monastery attack so close to his city, he felt he had to do something.

“I thought to myself - here are people who live with us so peacefully and are so supportive and to think that they had to experience someone desecrating their holy site in such a horrific manner. I felt I had to do something. It’s not the kind of thing where you can sit back and say ‘what a shame’ and move on.”

When a friend suggested they bring flowers to the monastery, Lipman seized on the idea of putting the word out on his Facebook page the afternoon after the attack, announcing that he would be visiting the monastery the following morning and inviting others to join him. In the end, a group of six Beit Shemesh residents made the trip - a mix of secular, national religious, and to Lipman’s delight, a member of the ultra-orthodox community.

According to Lipman, the group was greeted by Father Luis Wahava, upon which they handed him the flowers. “I told him that we share so much, and that religion should bring people together and not divide them. He told me that it was very helpful to experience this visit and hear these words and that they were touched very deeply,” Lipman said.

Lipman continued by saying that it was important to send the message that ‘that’s not who Jews are or who they ever were” and asking “what greater act could there be than to look them in the eye and tell them we want to live with you in peace, and that the people who did this thing did not reflect Jewish values?”

Lipman also said that there also happened to be a group of Arab visitors at the monastery at the same time, some of them in Muslim garb, and that it felt ‘meaningful to have all three religions there standing together.’

I couldn’t resist, and asked Lipman – who is far from left-wing when it comes to the Israel-Palestinian conflict and the settlement issue - whether, if there was a ‘price tag’ attack on a mosque near Beit Shemesh, he would have been as driven to make a similar trip. He didn’t hesitate when he responded ‘absolutely.”

Then he qualified his answer - if it was a mosque that preached hatred towards Jews, he said, he would condemn its desecration, but he’s not sure that he would visit. But if it were a mosque that had a history of peaceful co-existence as rich as the monastery’s, then he said, “I would go there just as quickly as I did today. One hundred percent yes.”