The Arty Semite

Pluralistic Shavuot at Tel Aviv City Hall

By Ronen Shnidman

  • Print
  • Share Share

Photo courtesy of Beit Tefilah Israeli

This Shavuot, the Tel Aviv Municipality broke new ground in the effort to develop a native-grown pluralistic form of Judaism that meets the spiritual and cultural needs of Israel’s non-Orthodox Jewish majority.

In conjunction with the liberal, independent, egalitarian minyan Beit Tefilah Israeli, the local government of Israel’s cultural capital hosted a night of lectures, panel discussions, study sessions, intimate musical performances and a pluralistic prayer service at dawn at city hall.

The evening, some participants hoped, would provide a prototype for an inclusive form of Judaism that better suited to the needs of Israel’s Jewish population than the one represented by the established Orthodox Rabbinate. During the evening there was much discussion of the need to create a positive secular Jewish and democratic culture as a focal point for non-religious Israelis, instead of a militantly anti-Orthodox or de-Judaized public sphere.

“What happened is that something grassroots that has been developing over the past 10 to 15 years is finally receiving attention from those at the top of the municipal establishment,” Beit Tefila’s Rabbi Esteban Gottfried told the Forward. “There is an understanding for the first time at Tel Aviv City Hall that a pluralistic Judaism is growing in Tel Aviv and could become a source of urban pride. In particular, because of Tel Aviv’s makeup, the Judaism that is growing in Tel Aviv is very creative and very open and this is what we mean when we say that ‘from Tel Aviv shall come forth Torah.’”

When it came to religion, one of the ideas batted around most during the evening was to create a positive definition of the Sabbath that would encompass all Israelis (or at least Jewish Israelis) with respect to limitations on employment and commerce and the promotion of cultural activities. Perhaps even more unexpected for the first Hebrew city was the participation of Yung Yiddish, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and transmitting Yiddish culture in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Yung Yiddish director Mendy Cahan led the audience in Yiddish song during the evening’s tish. It was both a bit amusing and surprising to hear Cahan ask the audience some questions and to hear middle-aged Israelis respond in Yiddish.

Other locally prominent participants who played active roles in the evening events included filmmaker Rani Blair, popular Hebrew linguist Rubik Rosenthal, former Maariv columnist Ben-Dror Yemini and linguist and daughter of President Shimon Peres, Tzvia Walden.

In terms of numbers, the evening could be considered a moderate success with a few hundred people participating over the course of the night. However, the event was more significant on a symbolic level, perhaps as a sign of a developing cultural trend. Tel Aviv may finally be laying to rest the bitter Israeli culture wars of previous decades, including the Yiddish-Hebrew split and later the battle between religious and secular populations over the role of religion in the public sphere. Alternatively, the event may have been just a curious one-off event. Time will tell.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Tel Aviv, Shavuot

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.