“Jerusalem weepeth sore in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks,” intoned 300 men and women, sitting on the side walk in front of the Israeli Consulate here on Tisha B’Av, reading from Eicha, the Book of Lamentations.
“All her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they are become her enemies,” the crowd continued.
The Tisha B’Av prayers, lamenting the destruction’s of the First and Secon temples, carried a sharp contemporary edge.
“We are here in pain and sadness because many of us fear for the future of Jerusalem,” Rabbi Abner Weiss said in a brief interview.
“I have never publicly protested before, but too much has happened in Israel during the last week – police excesses against the settlers, the silencing of an opposition radio station, the arrest of Rabbi Shlomo Riskin (of Efrat) for sedition,” the rabbi said.
Weiss, the leading voice of moderate Orthodox in Los Angeles, organized the demonstration together with members of his Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills.
As the current president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, Weiss also is the official spokesman of the region’s Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist clergy.
Israeli Consul General Yoram Ben-Zeev expressed dismay and anguish over the protest.
“I remember when I served here in the 1980s. We had every Friday (anti-Israel) demonstrations by Palestinians and Iranians,” Ben-Zeev said in a phone interview.
“It is a very grave matter to now see Jews demonstrating. And on Tisha B’Av,” he said. “The Second Temple was destroyed because of dissension among Jews. Is that any way to mark the day?”
The consul general seemed particularly hurt by Weiss’ leadership of the prayer protest. “I have great admiration for Rabbi Weiss.
“If hen or anyone wants to get a message across to the Israeli government, my door is open. But I don’t want to argue this out in front of television cameras.”
Weiss stressed that all Los Angeles synagogues had been invited to participated and that all segments of community were represented at the prayer protest.
In actuality, though, almost all participants identified with the Orthodox community.
The non-Orthodox exceptions were mainly adherents of Americans for a Safe Israel. Its regional president, Rabbi Julian White, charged in a statement that “the government of Israel engages in de-Judaizing the state, even as it contributes to Islam the heartland of biblical Israel – Judea and Samaia.”
Weiss had taken pains to focus the protest on expressing concerns about the unity of Jerusalem, the safety of Jews in the West Bank and the “loss of autonomy of Jewish holy sites.”
Weiss also wanted the protesters to avoid hostile expressions against the Israeli government.
“This is not an anti-peace rally,” the protest organizers said in a statement.
But random interviews indicated that rank-and-file participants were considerably more fervent in their denunciations of Israeli government’s peace policy than were the protest organizers.
Sue Rieber of Chabad brought her three young daughters, who listened wide-eyed as their mother said, “This is our land from the Bible, Hashem gave us this land.”
Batsheva Sugarman’s voice broke with emotion as the Chabad and Beth Jacob member said, “How can we give up Jericho? It’s the first town (the Israelites) conquered.”
Half a dozen adherents of the extremist Kach movement staged a brief demonstration and help up a Hebrew sign that said, “How long will the wicked rejoice?”
Their spokesman, Max Kessler, said, “The time for democracy is over. It’s time for action.”