Over 500 participants from the religious youth movement Bnei Akiva, the secular youth movement NOAL (the Federation of Working and Studying Youth) and Dror Israel came together this month for round-table discussions at a dialogue tent at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv. The event marked Tisha B'Av, a day which commemorates the destruction of the ancient First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. The event was titled, “Fighting baseless hatred, educating for baseless love, and building a foundation for Jewish-democratic social cohesion in Israel.” and is considered unique in today's diverse political reality.
A number of public figures and intellectuals took part in the event, led by Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel and Israel Prize winner; Mali Aklum – Ethiopian-Israeli social activist and daughter of Ethiopian aliya leader Farede Aklum; Rabbi Amir Sandler, head of a Bnei Akiva high school for girls in the city of Petach Tikva; and educational directors from Bnei Akiva and NOAL.
Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau spoke at the event, saying that, “For the last few years, we have turned Tisha B'Av into a day for those of us with souls to talk about love rather than hate, and this event is a testament to that effort.” Lau called for baseless love, particularly in light of the upcoming Israeli elections set for the 17th of September, in the spirit of the prayer written by Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk: "And allow our heart to see the good qualities of our friends and not their shortcomings."
“At times when we are surrounded on all sides by division, sectarianism and political strife, we have chosen to tell the world that we stand together," said head of the Bnei Akiva youth movement Yair Shahal. "Our shared pain over the destruction of the temple gives us the strength we need to build one unified country, one society and one people." Head of the NOAL youth movement Roeey Yessod added, "Dialogue between the different movements and between the communities allows us to reach agreements, alongside natural disagreements, in the spirit of the Exodus verse 'incline after the majority.' This is the most important protection against a modern 'destruction of the temple'", using a metaphor for dangers facing of the modern State of Israel.
A special guest at the tent was Mali Aklum, the daughter of Farede Aklum, one of the most revered historical leaders of the Ethiopian Jewish community in Israel who played a major role in paving the way for their Aliyah (emigration to Israel). She was invited to speak in light of the latest protests sparked by the death of 19 year old Salomon Teka, who was shot dead last month by an off duty police officer. Many in Israel, and particularly in the Ethiopian Jewish community, have accused the police of excessive violence against members of the Ethiopian community. The protesters claim that Ethiopian Jews suffer from institutionalized discrimination because of their heritage and skin color.
"We have always been 12 tribes, each one unique. But we have always believed and accepted the Torah of Moses and Israel, and always said that treating each other with respect takes precedence over Torah. Always take care of the weak, don't close your eyes to injustice," said Aklum, who also addressed the demonstrations following the death of Ethiopian-Israeli teen Salomon Teka.
"We have a great responsibility. Our parents would never have come here without Messianic Zionism. We absorbed it at home. And when you see 20,000 people protesting there must be a good reason. These people came out to the streets because they encounter this kind of baseless hatred everywhere. 140,000 people feel that they are being harassed, and what society has to say to them is 'say thank you for us bringing you here and stop complaining.' We are hugely privileged to be here in the land of Israel that our ancestors dreamt of. It's important that we learn the history." Aklum said. "There was the destruction of the First Temple, the Second Temple. Who can guarantee that there won't be a destruction of the Third Temple? It is our obligation now to make change. When you see protesters, listen to their voices. There's someone there speaking their heart out. Just knowing that you're not fighting alone is a great comfort."
The tent is a joint project of the movements, and has been running for nine years. For this activity, the movements were awarded the Jerusalem Unity Prize (2015-16). The tent also held a reading of Eicha – the traditional reading for the Tisha B'Av holiday – as well as open discussion circles until late at night, led by the youth movements.