To those whose Bar and bat mitzvahs were disrupted by haredi hooligans, I share your fury

My Zionism doesn’t stop if I’m not forever enchanted; my Zionism survives the good, the bad and the ugly.

 WHEN POLICE unfairly arrested women praying at the Western Wall, Natan Sharansky fumed: It cannot be that ‘Israel, the Jewish state, is the only place in the world where women are arrested for praying Hallel.’ (photo credit: HADAS PARUSH/FLASH90)
WHEN POLICE unfairly arrested women praying at the Western Wall, Natan Sharansky fumed: It cannot be that ‘Israel, the Jewish state, is the only place in the world where women are arrested for praying Hallel.’
(photo credit: HADAS PARUSH/FLASH90)

To the bar and bat mitzvah kids harassed at the Kotel:

I share your fury at the young thugs who harassed you at the Western Wall – and your outrage that the police stood by. I was moved to hear how you persevered despite the catcalls. And I’m proud that Prime Minister Yair Lapid called at least one of you to explain that those bullies “did not represent” Israel.

Now, here is the test for you and your families. This is not the time to undermine your heroics by washing your hands of Israel. Unfortunately, one upset parent declared: “Israel is not a home for all Jews,” writing in the Times of Israel: “I started to feel like I did as a teenager, that the State of Israel does not mean that much to me as an American Jew.”

No one should be that quick to give up on our only homeland – for your sakes, not ours. Do you really think you can build a balanced, healthy, vital Jewish identity without Israel? And, frankly, nobody’s commitment to Israel, the Jewish people, repairing the world, and the democratic process should be that flimsy. This confrontation shouldn’t teach you to cut and run but to double down and fix.

I also wonder, would you be consistent in your inconstancy and abandon America, too? Criminals there sometimes harass good people, and some cops fail to do their jobs properly there, too.

 ANAT HOFFMAN holds a Torah scroll at a Western Wall prayer service on the occasion of Rosh Hodesh. The very people who have turned the Kotel into a battleground are now crying foul, says the writer. (credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90) ANAT HOFFMAN holds a Torah scroll at a Western Wall prayer service on the occasion of Rosh Hodesh. The very people who have turned the Kotel into a battleground are now crying foul, says the writer. (credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)

Loyalty isn’t loyalty if it’s contingent. You cannot cancel your home – or your family. It’s not healthy for you to place Israel forever on probation, acceptable only if all Israelis behave nicely.

My Zionism doesn’t stop if I’m not forever enchanted; my Zionism survives the good, the bad and the ugly.

Loving Israel as a Jewish Disneyland is easy – but superficial; loving Israel as a Jewish-democratic project-in-progress is harder but more satisfying. Patriotism involves loving your country not only when it lifts you up, but also if it lets you down. Democratic patriotism involves loving your country enough to try repairing what’s wrong, while still appreciating what’s right about it.

Forty years ago, protesting Israel’s First Lebanon War, the lyricist Ehud Manor wrote “Ein li eretz aheret.” I have no other country, he sighed, “even if my land is aflame... Here is my home.” But, he vowed, “I will not stay silent.”

Psychologically, if you end your own movie with trauma, the hurt freezes and defines the experience; adding more chapters balances bad memories with good ones – and normal ones. I invite you all to return to Israel, to continue engaging with the real Israel you discovered on your trips.

The Western Wall

I, TOO, had my bar mitzvah at the Western Wall. It was my first trip to Israel – my first time on an airplane, too.

I felt honored to celebrate at this national-religious site, which had been denied to our people for so long. When my father visited Israel in 1952, he had to climb to a lookout on Mount Zion just to glimpse the Wall – as long as the Jordanian soldiers across weren’t grouchy and anxious to shoot Jews that day.

I loved being in a land where we count in millennia, not just in decades; where Jews could walk proudly, protect one another and, yes, shout, clash, annoy, offend, but ultimately unify at key moments of peril and at key holidays, too.

Jews have a long history of internal conflict – and of fighting extremists. The great chief rabbi of Palestine, Abraham Isaac Kook, explained a Talmudic mystery that no sage was willing to write “Birkat Haminim” the heretics’ curse – despite the fury against traitors after Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 CE. Shmuel Hakatan – Samuel the modest – stepped up, Rav Kook explained, because Judaism mistrusts extremists and Samuel was so pure he wouldn’t be too vengeful.

In a new short video I just wrote for Unpacked’s Great Jewish Heroes series, “The Legacy of Rav Kook,” you can learn how this rabbi embraced the secular Zionist pioneers as fellow Jews restoring the land – even dancing with them. He never doubted that they were Jews, too. Ultra-Orthodox zealots attacked Kook himself, so, alas, you’re in great company. Still, the video shows photos from Kook’s 1935 funeral, when thousands, religious and secular, mourned him. Please, define Judaism, Zionism and Israel by great influential souls like Kook, not marginal ruffians.

Finally, remember that many of us Israelis work hard to keep building Israel as a vibrant, fair, Jewish democracy, and that most Israelis want “one Wall for one people,” as Benjamin Netanyahu put it. In our recent book, Never Alone, the Prisoner of Zion and Israeli leader Natan Sharansky and I detail Sharansky’s efforts to broker a compromise over the Western Wall issue. Once, when police unfairly arrested women praying at the Wall, Sharansky fumed: It cannot be that “Israel, the Jewish state, is the only place in the world where women are arrested for praying Hallel.” They were released immediately.

Our book emphasizes Jews’ long history of arguing – including in the successful movement to free Soviet Jewry. Ultimately, we champion dialogue and unity – solving problems, not running away – and the value of living as a part of this people, connected to this homeland and this Jewish state, because, when you belong to the Jewish people, you are never alone.

That’s the message I hope you all learn from the highlights of your recent Israel trip – and from that one awful, inexcusable moment, too.

The writer is a distinguished scholar of North American history at McGill University, and the author of nine books on American history and three on Zionism. His book Never Alone: Prison, Politics and My People, coauthored with Natan Sharansky, was published by PublicAffairs of Hachette.