Reading Yair Ettinger’s account of the secular struggle for Kiryat Yovel עברית was mightily frustrating for me, as once again I see the same tired “there-goes-the-neighborhood” scenario being played out. It’s not the “Orthodox invasion” per se that frustrates me, but rather the predictably inefficacious, hand-wringing response on the part of the neighborhood’s veteran residents.
In going after a minyan held in a private residence, they’re no more empowered than hunting hounds going after a mechanical rabbit*. In the time it’s taking them (and the energy and court costs) to squelch it, ten more will pop up, representing a hundred new Orthodox families in the neighborhood. Is that what they want?
Instead of looking to the government to referee their dispute like some babysitter, the non-Orthodox must change their entire mindset, as per Henry Kissinger’s quote on the op-ed page of the same issue עברית. To paraphrase: The issue isn’t one more or less minyan or yeshiva in the neighborhood, but rather a total change in orientation. Repeat as needed: The government should not be involved in matters of religion. That’s right: Not to decide who can and cannot marry, nor to dictate who can and cannot live, pray, or study in a neighborhood.
Instead, the Kiryat Yovel residents and others in their predicament should learn two words: community organizing. Ettinger’s article mentions “an organization that seeks to preserve the neighborhood’s [secular] character”. Note that I put the word “secular” in brackets. That’s because it was in the quote, yet it’s superfluous. The terms "secular" and "Orthodox" need to be removed from this discourse entirely. The important issue here is that the veteran residents want their neighborhood to remain an appealing place to live, as it was when they moved in and as it’s been up until now.
Instead of disrupting prayers, which only makes them look bad, the veteran residents should be expending their panic-driven energy on strengthening their neighborhood, the one they’ve lived in for decades. What do I mean? Besides , showing up for said prayers en masse, they should be taking the following practical steps: A neighborhood association representative should visit every newcomer business and institution and inform the property owner that the following will not be tolerated:
1. Graffiti or signage of any type, including pashkavels and notices to the effect of “Daughters of Israel, dress modestly” and the like
2. Garbage, sewage, dog droppings, other pollution, or noise
3. Harassment of passersby and physical assault, including spitting
4. Blocking or obstructing any byway, for either pedestrian or motor traffic, either on a weekday or Sabbath or holiday
5. Soliciting, either for business or non-profit causes
By the way, the above must apply to the corner newsstand not displaying drug paraphernalia or girlie magazines, and to the (God forbid) local drug dealer. If the property owner asks why the above are prohibited, s/he should receive a two-word reply: property values. That’s all. Nothing more. No mention of religion or freedom therefrom. It’s quite simple: We bought homes here, we pay municipal taxes, and if any of the above violations occur, our homes will be worth less. That's where the entire dispute should begin and end.
Then, they need backup from City Hall in the event that there are violations, and no, this doesn’t have to be in the form of Meretz city council members. Parties are irrelevant here. The point is that a neighborhood ordinance has been violated and the neighborhood association must show “early and often” that it means business, i.e., violators will be prosecuted.
I truly believe that if the plan I’ve outlined above is followed, which means removing religion from the equation entirely (a difficult concept for us Middle Easterners, I know), neighborhood newcomers as well as veterans will fall into line, as they will see that 1) The same rules apply to all; and 2) If everyone observes the rules, the neighborhood will actually be a pleasant and desirable place in which to live and conduct business, and all will benefit. Plus it surely beats taking on every micro-minyan that pops up, which is about as effective as a drowning victim flailing about just to keep her head above water. Kiryat Yovel, you’re a symbol for us all: Don’t flail ― swim!
*Not to mention the utter absurdity of the case, matched only by last year’s chametz sale verdict. Outlawing prayer in private residences? Come on! It happens every day: shiva, circumcisions, Chanuka gatherings where a chanukiya is lit, Passover Seder…please, folks, let’s not even go there…