Prime Minister Yair Lapid talked on Monday with a Jewish-American boy whose Bar Mitzvah was disrupted by ultra-Orthodox extremists in June, declaring that “he was horrified by what had happened [and] that it doesn't represent the country or the people of Israel.”
According to a source briefed on the call, Lapid spoke with 13-year-old Seth Mann, congratulating him on his Bar Mitzvah.
Lapid “made the phone call because he’s always been outspoken against the violence at the Kotel and the need to allow everyone to live their Jewish life the way they believe,” the source told Haaretz, adding that the prime minister planned on sending letters to the other families involved in the incident as well.
“We were very encouraged to hear the prime minister’s words and hope our experience, as painful as it was, will help facilitate a change to how Jews are allowed to pray at the Kotel. It meant a great deal to me that the prime minister took the time to reach out to Seth,” the bar mitzvah boy’s father told the Times of Israel, which first reported the call.
Lapid’s outreach to Mann came in response to an incident several weeks ago in which families affiliated with the Conservative movement were attacked by dozens of ultra-Orthodox boys. The families had been celebrating bar- and bat-mitzvah ceremonies for their children at the area of the Western Wall designated for non-Orthodox worshippers.
The assailants tore up the participant's prayer books, blew whistles to drown out their prayers, and denounced them as “Nazis” and “Christians.” One ultra-Orthodox boy was filmed blowing his nose on the torn siddur pages.
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American Jewish groups immediately condemned the incident, and the Jewish Agency’s board of governers passed a resolution demanding that the relevant government ministries and institutions in Israel take responsibility to ensure the safety and security of worshippers at the egalitarian prayer area.
The incident was also condemned by Washington, with Deborah Lipstadt, the U.S. special envoy for monitoring and combating antisemitism, declaring that she was “deeply disturbed” by the violence.
June’s attack was far from the first incident of religious violence at the Western Wall relating to tensions between Orthodox and non-orthodox denominations over the holy site’s use.
In May, the World Zionist Organization announced that it was ending cooperation with Liba — an extremist organization that is fiercely opposed to pluralistic prayer at the Western Wall— after ultra-Orthodox girls who had been bussed in to the Western Wall as part of an event co-sponsored by the two groups in which Women of the Wall worshippers were taunted, shoved and spat on.
Last July, the leaders of the main non-Orthodox Jewish denominations in North America expressed outrage over the takeover of the egalitarian prayer section at the Western Wall by Orthodox groups on the eve of Tisha B’Av.
Hundreds of Orthodox teenage boys and girls – students at yeshivas and ulpanas around the country – crowded into the space traditionally reserved for egalitarian services at the southern expanse of the Western Wall on Saturday night. The evening marked the opening of the annual fast of Tisha B’Av, which commemorates the destruction of the ancient Jewish temples.
And last November, even opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu got into the act, amplifying ultra-Orthodox calls to mobilize against the “desecration” of the Western Wall by non-orthodox Jews, despite past rhetoric promising that the space would remain a place of pluralistic unity, rather than division.
Netanyahu, who has 2 million Twitter followers, shared a tweet by MK Aryeh Dery, the chairman of the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party. In the post, he implored the public to join him and dozens of other lawmakers at the holy site on Friday morning for prayers marking Rosh Hodesh, the first day of the Jewish month.
“I call on everyone for whom the sanctity of the Western Wall is important to come and pray with us, so that, God forbid, the holy place will not be desecrated,” the ultra-Orthodox politician wrote.
Women of the Wall, the multi-denominational feminist prayer group, holds monthly Rosh Hodesh prayers at the wall.