The shouts of jubilation from women’s organizations after Rabbi Elimelech Firer, founder of the medical service organization Ezra Lemarpeh, announced he was cancelling a fundraising event in tribute to singer Shlomo Artzi, could be heard far and wide. The Israel Women’s Network released a statement thanking Rabbi Firer for his work over the years and for what his organization does on a daily basis, but welcomed his decision not to hold the event, where no female singers had been invited to perform. “One must not accept exclusion in the public sphere, which affects the status and place of women in every field of society.”
This is undoubtedly an achievement for them in that it’s not every day that one of the most talented and well-connected people in Israel bends to their wishes. But it’s a Pyrrhic victory. These same feminists and advocates of equality may have defeated Rabbi Firer and the ultra-Orthodox community, but they also defeated the thousands of Ezra Lemarpeh’s patients in need of life-saving medications and even themselves.
Rabbi Firer has provided assistance to anyone who seeks it, male or female, religious or secular, Arab or Jewish, for 40 years. The cancellation of the fundraising event will first and foremost harm those who rely on the rabbi’s organization, including female patients in need of medical assistance or medicine that is not covered by the public health system.
“Firer and his publicists could have held a fundraising event in [ultra-Orthodox] Modi’in Ilit with the participation of the greatest ultra-Orthodox singers and with separation of men and women in the audience,” Noa Osterreicher wrote in Haaretz (Hebrew edition) on November 7,“ but at Ezra Lemarpeh they want the money of secular residents of Tel Aviv.” And referring to two popular male ultra-Orthodox singers, Osterreicher added: “And with all due respect to Yaakov Shweiki and Avraham Fried, you need to speak a different language to people who eat rabbits,” perhaps expressing a feeling shared by many other secular people.
But that’s a major mistake, because Firer helps secular patients as much as he does ultra-Orthodox ones, as confirmed by the messages in support of Firer issued following the controversy from artists and celebrities whose way of life is far from religious or traditional. They understood that it was an unnecessary and harmful fight that was throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Feminist terrorism may have scored a victory. It was a tactical victory, but a strategic defeat. Rabbi Firer will manage. I am certain that hundreds of thousands of secular people who are angry over the aggressive battle waged against the Shlomo Artzi event will now contribute to Ezra Lemarpeh via social media. The loser in this has been the people of Israel, who were dragged into this unjustified controversy.
Ezra Lemarpeh has been holding a similar fundraising event for a decade and everything has always gone smoothly. Rabbi Firer has managed to bring ultra-Orthodox women together with other segments of the Israeli population, highlighting what is beautiful and unifying in Judaism. Now the women’s organizations have also turned this consensus into controversy and have done damage to the basic value that we share as a people and as a country – charity toward all.
It’s unfortunate that in the end, Rabbi Firer surrendered to this fundamentalist and violent protest (from a verbal and public standpoint), but, as noted, he will overcome and continue to move forward to provide assistance to anyone who needs it. What is certain is that, in his righteousness, he won’t be dragged into the haughtiness of Osterreicher and her colleagues and won’t tell secular residents of Tel Aviv to look for help elsewhere, because “you need to speak to ultra-Orthodox in a different language.”
The feminists may have won the battle, but they’ve lost the war.
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