A coming out party for Israel’s religious Jewish left

At a packed conference in Jerusalem, hundreds of Israel’s “faithful left” come together to talk apartheid, feminism, and religion and state.

Participants in the Faithful Left Conference, Jerusalem, 23 January 2023

Yuval Abraham reports in +972:

Hundreds of people crammed through the entrance of the first ever “Faithful Left Conference” in Jerusalem’s Hechal Shlomo building on Monday night, so much so that it was hard to move. I asked someone standing next to me, who was wearing a kippah, whether everyone who arrived was truly there for the conference. “It’s madness,” he said as he looked around, smiling. “Who would have believed that there were so many religious leftists in this city.”

About 600 Jews from different backgrounds and denominations — from Haredim (ultra-Orthodox) to national-religious to Masortim (traditional, not strictly observant Jews), and even a few secular Israelis — filled the hall for the event. Over the next few hours, speakers and participants dove deep into questions surrounding the occupation, feminism, religion and state, fighting poverty, and distributive justice. A major goal, according to the independent activists who organized it, was to help establish a wide-ranging, left-wing religious community that could lay the groundwork for political and social action on the ground.

The evening opened with a talk from the conference coordinator, Brit Yakobi, who serves as the Director of Religious Freedom and Gender at Shatil, an Israeli social justice organization. Turning to the audience, she asked them to “[r]aise your hand if you’ve ever studied at a yeshiva or midrasha [a religious school for women].” A third of the crowd did so. “And who here feels that there is a gap between the home they grew up in, and their positions today?” The crowd began to laugh, with half now raising their hands. Then Yacobi asked who feels that the current government speaks in their name, but does not represent them; almost every single hand went up.

“People are feeling a sense of crisis,” explained Mikhael Manekin, one of the organizers and a longtime anti-occupation activist. “I feel it among many people, a sense of loneliness or a lack of identification. On the one hand, if you are religious, Haredi, or Masorti, the political leadership that represents you in the Knesset has become ultra-extreme. On the other hand, we’re seeing a tribalistic secularism that does not allow for making connections [between groups]. Anyone who falls in between [these camps] is in the process of searching.”

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