Jeremy Leigh, Coordinator of the Richard J. Scheuer Israel Seminar, writes:
As city counsellors were electing two new Chief rabbis for the city, a protest took place outside the Jerusalem Municipality. One of the strong contenders was Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, a populist xenophobic rabbi in Tsfat, who has been vocal in anti-Arab incitement. He was attempting to become the Sephardi Chief rabbi of Jerusalem. Aside from our overall abhorrence at racist incitement, the Jerusalem campus of HUC-JIR has made strenuous efforts in recent years to promote itself as an institution where Jews and Arabs work together in a climate of mutual respect.
Organized by a coalition of groups, primarily "Tag Meir" and "Jerusalem will not be silent," this ultimately successful protest was part of a much broader effort to raise awareness about the increase in racism in the country. Protestors included a mix of Jerusalem society, combining secular, Reform, Conservative, modern Orthodox, and ultra-Orthodox Jews. An impressive cluster of both American, British, and Israeli members of the HUC-JIR community were present, including six students in the Year-In-Israel program.
Aside from the politics of the occasion, it was a superb opportunity to develop Hebrew language skills, shouting appropriate slogans and mastering the Hebrew language at the same time. HUC-JIR students mixed freely with passersby, explaining the aims of the protest.
As we held our protest, assorted male Orthodox supporters of Shmuel Eliyahu danced in circles next to us, waving their placards. Meanwhile, passages from the book of psalms were chanted by the anti-racist demonstrators referring to a vision of peace.
It was announced a few hours ago that the new Sephardi Chief Rabbi in Jerusalem is not Shmuel Eliyahu, having been defeated in the election. It would be nice to think HUC-JIR played its part.