I usually don't like protests and marches. They're fun...but what's the point? What changes? So I was somewhat surprised to find myself eagerly anticipating last Saturday night's march to free Jerusalem. The march was in response to a number of incidents in Jerusalem over the past several months, showing the haredim's (ultra-Orthodox) increasing political power in this city, including the arrest of Nofrat Frenkel, violent Haredi protests against parking lots and factories open on Shabbat, and haredim moving into previously secular neighborhoods.
I am a liberal Jew, a Reform Jew, and for the past few weeks had felt incredibly lonely and disconnected from that in this city. Saturday's night march shifted that for me. When we arrived at Kikar Paris, where the march was due to start from, there was a crowd of about 100 people milling about, including many members of the Pardes community, holding signs that said "Jerusalem is also mine" and "The Kotel for everyone." That crowd of 100 grew to 400 before we started walking towards the center of the city, and by the time we reached Kikar Zion, our destination, the media estimated over 2000 people were marching. Children, teens, students, adults...totally secular, men and women wearing kippot, people who clearly had come straight from their Shabbat plans...Israeli, American, British, and more...
That Saturday night, I no longer felt alone. It's unclear (highly doubtful) that the protest will have any impact whatsoever on the power dynamics in Jerusalem, but it had a huge internal effect on me, reminding me that there are Jews of all varieties who share a vision of a Jerusalem that is truly a city for all Jews, secular, Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, and everything else in between.
The evening didn't end with the conclusion of the rally. Several of us wandered up Ben Yehuda, observing the usual mishmash found there motzei Shabbat (after Shabbat, Saturday night). We came upon a group of Moshiach dancers, ultra Orthodox men dancing and singing to music from a speaker system. In our high spirits after the march, we decided to join in their dancing, with a mixed dancing circle - separate from the ultra Orthodox men, but next to them. They almost immediately shut off the music to prevent us from dancing more, but rather than leaving, we stayed as they did the ritual of Kiddush Levana - several of our group, including 2 liberal rabbis, male and female, joined with these ultra-Orthodox men as they said the set of prayers. A moment that could have been incredibly tense was instead a moment of hope and optimism for the type of Jerusalem we had envisioned earlier, one in which we all respect each other's ways of practicing Judaism, even if we don't agree with it. The tension was definitely still there, but was tempered by the beauty and holiness of the moment.