housing - Morten Berthelsen - August 6 2011
A child holds a banner reading 'the people of Israel lives!' at the Tel Aviv housing protest, August 6, 2011. Photo by Morten Berthelsen
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The religious community has come under scrutiny from both the public and the press for its hesitance to participate in social protests that have swept Israel.

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Many members of the Orthodox sector are afraid of being manipulated or disenfranchised. But it is time to stop letting fear and suspicion dictate our choices and cloud our perspective. Abraham Lincoln once said that “a house divided against itself cannot stand”. Although affordable housing may not be in reach just yet, an opportunity for us to put our national “house” in order and rediscover a sense of national solidarity is very much within our grasp.

I have been spending a considerable amount of time over the past few weeks in Jerusalem’s Menorah Park, the main hub of the capital’s protest. During this period I have discovered in myself and in others a renewed optimism and shared vision that crosses old party lines.

Take for example Tisha B’Av this past week. I was brought to tears as Menorah Park saw hundreds of observant and secular people, young and old, reading the book of Lamentations together, and singing traditional songs of love and understanding. The Rothschild camp in Tel Aviv observed silence over Tisha B’Av, as demonstrators from all points of the secular and religious spectrum found shared meaning in a day dedicated to national solidarity.

There is something far more profound than economics driving this protest. It is being pushed by both a passionate desire to believe that Israel can be a better place to live, and an urgent need to know that we are not alone in that belief.

In many ways the rallying of the Israeli multitudes has already restored hope, bringing together Israel’s oft-fraying social fabric. This has become a precious opportunity for all of Israel’s citizens to once again experience a shared sense of community, and a common vision for the future.

I thank God that we have finally begun to see more rabbis and Orthodox Jews participating in the protests and taking part in this historical drive for social change. It is my hope that visionary leaders from all sectors will take the stage and bring this emerging new movement into the broadest focus possible, enhancing the social horizon that lies beyond the cost of living.

Despite the promise of Israel's mass social awakening, we must focus our attentions where this is all going. It has not been easy for the protesters to define their goals or demands, and I believe this is largely because the roots of the matter go beyond economics.

The bigger picture suggests that these events could potentially evolve into a social movement that puts national solidarity at the top of its agenda. Creating an equitable and just society could be the economic rallying point of such a movement, but its contribution to our country, and our politics would go far beyond that.

Israeli society is made of widely diverging factions, with its citizens separated by major differences of opinion on vital issues. Restoring solidarity and our simple desire to be unite as a people, is perhaps the only way to build the kind of shared identity that will allow our society to survive the choices, conflicts and compromises we are sure to find ahead, regardless of what political or economic path our government takes.

It is time for us to come together, and in doing so not only demand social justice – but earn it.

Rabbi Aaron Leibowitz is Founder and Dean of HaOhel Institutions (Sulam Yaakov, Ashrei, Shirat Devorah, and Threshold) in Nachlaot, Jerusalem.