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Over the past few weeks, the neighborhood that I live in here in Jerusalem, Rechavia, has been subjected to almost nightly demonstrations. The demonstrators gather across from the house of the Prime Minister of Israel, and proceed to make a lot of noise, beat drums, block traffic, and generally make one aware of their presence. However, I am not really clear as to what they are demonstrating for. I completely understand what they are demonstrating against – the continuation of the Prime Minister in office, the opening or closing of the economy because of the Coronavirus, and the general frustration that has overcome all sectors of our society over the past months of the pandemic.
Nevertheless, without any clear coherent demands, programs, or policies that they wish to enact, the demonstrations themselves are of little value, and, in many cases, a great annoyance and discomfort to the peaceful residents of our neighborhood. The demonstrators usually gather as I am about to leave my house to attend the evening services that continue in my beloved synagogue, Beit Knesset Hanassi. Because of this, I have had a chance to observe who the demonstrators are. Most of them are very friendly to me, and we always exchanged civil and cordial greetings one to another.
Apparently, age does have its due - at least in our society. I find that most of the demonstrators are either retirees or young people in their twenties. These are really the most disadvantaged victims of the Coronavirus pandemic and the most affected by the steps that have been taken here in Israel to try and control it. Of course, when the police get involved, as they always do, there are provocateurs and agitators amongst the demonstrators that begin to engage the police. Usually, every night there are arrests, loud protests, and performances before the television cameras, sent out by the media in full expectation that such confrontations will occur.
I feel that part of the problem is that there really is no outlet for the pent-up emotions and frustrations of the public over what the past few months have done to our society. Synagogues barely function, public lectures and teachings have been relegated to sessions on zoom – a wonderful creation but no substitute for the real personal interaction between teacher and student, lecturer and audience. Sports, always a valuable tool for releasing societal pressures, is for all practical purposes nonexistent now. So, there is a great deal frustration that really has no outlet or direction. This makes demonstrations popular and perhaps even necessary.
The danger always is that radical political groups who usually remain on the fringes of debate and society use these demonstrations to come to the fore and control and radicalize the situation. Lenin famously said that by organizing 300 Bolsheviks and taking over the demonstrations against the government, these 300 Bolsheviks came to rule the country of 135 million. Such an aberration is always possible in a volatile political situation when emotions run high. At these moments, rational behavior and thought are ignored if not completely forgotten.
I imagine there can never be a quiet demonstration. Because of this, I have had to postpone my bedtime at least for an hour, until the crowd begins to disperse, and the noise begins to diminish. I cannot blame the demonstrators for not being more considerate of my sleeping hours, for, after all, they also must be awake and energized to be able to participate in the demonstration. Nevertheless, I think that simply by not being able to go tosleep earlier, my sympathy for the demonstrators is diminished when they continue to be oppressively loud.
Our demonstrations here in Jerusalem pale in comparison to the rioting, looting and vandalism of the organized demonstrations which have recently taken place in the United States. This is of some comfort to me, but I still would like to be able to go to sleep earlier and in a quieter atmosphere. But, like everything else this too will pass, and different demonstrations for different causes and under different circumstances will appear in the future.
Shabbat shalom
Berel Wein

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