Stop the Secular Jihad Against the Orthodox on Holocaust Remembrance Day

Secular Israeli Jews are quick to condemn the Orthodox for not observing the national holiday but rarely stop to consider their desecration of religious values.

Mordechai Brener
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Mordechai Brener

Every week, millions of secular Israeli Jews desecrate the Sabbath openly and defiantly. They open fast food eateries serving pork and shrimp in public places, hold pride parades in city streets and their restaurants serve clients on the fast day of Tisha B’Av. Values held sacred by Orthodox Jews are viewed with disdain at best and treated with contrariness at worst.

If you hang up a sign requesting modest dress in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim, you are labelled a sick gender segregationist. If you ask people not to desecrate the Sabbath in your neighborhood, you are trying to enforce Taliban-style religious coercion. If you’re offended when Reform Jewish women wear prayer shawlsat the Western Wall, you’re beastly and intolerant.

Okay, we get it. You're liberals who believe in unbridled liberty for all – the ultimate live-and-let-live philosophy. So when days that are significant to secular Jews come around, we would expect you to be equally tolerant. In particular, we Orthodox Jews would expect some tolerance for those of us who commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day on the 10th of the Hebrew month of Tevet, a religious fast day on which Jews recite the Kaddish mourner's prayer. Traditionally, Nissan – when the national Holocaust Remembrance Day falls – is designated as a joyful month, with lamentations forbidden. But rather than consider our perspective, secular Jews this time of year unleash a ritual fury at the desecrators of secular sanctity.

The legions of shabiha, armed men in civvies who support Syria’s President Bashar Assad in the media ensure the news is full of hatred toward the Orthodox infidels who dare to defile the sacred siren or have a picnic on Holocaust Day. Celebrities, intellectuals and politicians perpetuate the wave of hatred through tweets, status reports and interviews with the media, all with a passive-aggressive tone. On one hand, they express fury at Orthodox desecration of the day; while on the other, they acknowledge mainstream antagonism toward the Orthodox public with a wink and a nod.

Some even offer the insight that the Orthodox have brought the hatred upon themselves with their actions. They back look back at history, noting that Orthodox behavior produced anti-Semitism in the first place. It is doubtful whether the artist Yigal Tomarkin, who stated that when he sees ultra-Orthodox people he understands the Nazis, could imagine that his insight would be so extensively validated on social networks on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

In religious circles, this time of year is full of self-questioning and perplexity. People ask themselves if they are doing enough to avoid hurting the feelings of secular people. Is it a defiance of God's law when a minority among us takes actions that offend the majority? But other voices have also been heard recently. They ask why secular society doesn’t engage in self-criticism as well with regard to its intolerance of religious Jews. Secular people aren’t aware of the double standards they employ.

Others in religious society take more extreme positions, arguing that in a self-righteous hypocritical society such as the secular one in Israel, defiance and contrariness are a moral duty. They go out of their way to disregard the memorial sirens, have picnics and barbecues and go to the beach on Holocaust Memorial Day, all to cause secular people sadness and make them think of the ways they offend religious people throughout the year. The growing ritual fury at desecrators of secular sacred days only strengthens this defiance and expands the ranks of of its supporters.

Mordechai Brener is a freelance reporter and photographer.

Orthodox women and girls bathing at the women's only beach in Tel Aviv.Credit: Tali Shani

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