'Shabbat War' Heats Up With Plans for a 'Street Party' in ultra-Orthodox City

'Any person who comes here, we'll be happy to welcome them warmly, and are sure that people won't be coming to cause provocations in the city,' Bnei Brak municipality says in response.

Illustrative photo.  A group of Israelis is organizing a 'street party' protest in Bnei Brak.
Avishag Shaar-Yashuv

In the latest call to arms over the observance of the Jewish Sabbath in the public sphere, a group of Israelis is organizing a "street party" protest for religious freedom in an ultra-Orthodox stronghold, the city of Bnei Brak, on Saturday, September 17.

"The time has come to roll up our sleeves and fight for the freedom to live," write the organizers on the demonstration's Facebook page. "It is impossible to remain silent any longer about the violations of the [religious] status quo. It is impossible to limit the movement of people on Shabbat and also on weekdays because of the Haredi political whims."

The party is called for 10 A.M., at a location yet to be announced.  The organizers, who call themselves "Freedom on Shabbat (Hofesh Beshabbat), say there will be music, "megaphones and a lot of spirit in order to prove to everyone that the nonreligious public are not suckers and not quiet."

So far, some 2,900 have said they will attend the rally, and another 5,500 have said they are interested.

"This is a call for the sane people who still remain here, those who do not want to see the revolutionary guards of the Haredim in Tel Aviv. We have served in the army, do reserve duty, pay taxes and work like donkeys. The time has come to make it clear that an extremist minority will not rule over us!" states the Facebook post. "We will be free or we will fight until we are [free]!"   

Earlier in the week, another group, the grassroots religious-freedom movement Be Free Israel, posted on Facebook in response to a report in Haaretz that Interior Minister Arye Dery wants to close businesses that operate on Shabbat in Tel Aviv: “For every supermarket that closes on Shabbat you’ll get more war against the corrupt world of Torah. For every ‘desecration of the Sabbath’ you try to stop, you’ll get an even bigger desecration, and intentionally.”

Be Free Israel was the organizer of Saturday night’s protests against the stoppage of work on the railway over the weekend (which meant that many had to be closed to continue working after the Sabbath ended).

The Walla news site quoted the Bnei Brak municipality as saying that "until now no representatives of the organizers of the event have turned to officials at the Bnei Brak municipality to settle the issue of the street party. In addition, we don’t understand the connection between what's happening in Tel Aviv with regards to opening shops and coming here and disturbing the restful Shabbat of Bnei Brak residents who've always kept Shabbat and who have no connection to other sources. However, any person who comes here, we'll be happy to welcome them warmly, and are sure that people won't be coming to cause provocations in the city."

Israel Hofsheet CEO Mickey Gitzin said that he is against causing offense to the ultra-Orthodox public. "Our statement is a solid political statement, yet we oppose any offense of this kind," he was quoted by Walla as saying. "We believe that both secular people and ultra-Orthodox people must respect [different] lifestyles and beliefs."