Nice guys

Have haredim adopted a new form of protest against Shabbat desecration – friendliness?

People walk down Jaffa Street in Jerusalem on a Shabbat afternoon. (photo credit: ONDREJ ŽVÁCEK/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
People walk down Jaffa Street in Jerusalem on a Shabbat afternoon.
Once upon a time, in fact not that long ago, haredim who were against any desecration of the sanctity of Shabbat in the city had a permanent form of protest.
They would gather in large numbers, including small children, close to the suspected location – whether a road, movie theater, restaurant or coffeehouse – in their best traditional garments, and shout curses.
Occasionally, they would throw soiled diapers or even stones.
These innumerable demonstrations naturally have, over the years, shaped the image of the haredi protest – whatever the cause – into something very unpleasant, even threatening.
But recently, something has changed. Almost two months have elapsed since the last haredi protest against the little kiosk on Eliash Street open on Shabbat; the demonstrations included all of the above details, and more – like police intervention, with horses charging the protesters.
Haredi protests have not disappeared from the city’s landscape but the style, oh the style, has dramatically changed.
The “stylist” – if this reporter may use the term – is none other than the architect of some of the largest demonstrations held in Jerusalem over the past few years. Yitzhak Pindrus, until a year ago deputy mayor to Nir Barkat – the same Pindrus who tried, in the last elections campaign of 2013, to run a candidate against Barkat – has reinvented himself as a reasonable, solid and wellintentioned representative of all residents, not just haredim.
The results of the last elections, which brought Barkat back to the mayor’s office, left Pindrus out of the comfortable position of deputy mayor. Barkat had no intention of renouncing the haredim in his coalition (eight seats), but he made it clear that Pindrus was now persona non grata.
Pindrus accepted this gracefully, and immediately started looking for a job.
Along the way, he also decided it was time to pay attention to his health, and lost some 40 kilograms. Since he has become much less busy at city hall, he apparently also had time to rethink the strategy of the protests he organized.
For the past three or four weeks, Jerusalemites hanging out at the newly opened restaurants and coffeehouses on Betzalel Street and Aza Road that stay open on Shabbat have witnessed the results of the Pindrus metamorphosis.
Instead of outraged haredim, there are nice Jewish guys in Shabbat outfits, singing beautiful Kabbalat Shabbat songs. In place of hatred and cursing (mostly in Yiddish), Pindrus’s men bring smiles and hospitality, saying things like, “Please join us in singing for the beloved Shabbat Bride.”
Everyone is happy, and love and harmony are the new tools to show those desecrating the Holy Day that there are other ways to spend the day of rest, that home and family are no less valuable than eating and drinking outside.
Pindrus and colleague Shlomo Rosenstein, also a city councilman from the United Torah Judaism list, have established the Jerusalem of Justice nonprofit, and they arrive each Shabbat eve or morning to sing and distribute bread, wine and blessings wherever there are open establishments. Pindrus argues that he comes only upon the request of residents adjacent to the open-on- Shabbat eateries: “There are people who live near these restaurants and coffeehouses, and at least on Shabbat, they want some quiet. They call us, and we come.”
Pindrus remarks that most of the residents he responds to are not even religious, adding, “Jerusalem is a city of tradition, not only the Orthodox wish to enjoy Shabbat. We want to repair the special atmosphere that has been so reduced these last few years” – hinting at the mayor’s efforts to change the city’s image into one that offers a lot of activities, especially on Shabbat.