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Tens of Thousands of Ultra-Orthodox Men Rally Against Army Service

By The Times of Israel

Tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Israelis rallied on Thursday evening outside of the main army recruitment office in Jerusalem to protest government initiatives to draft yeshiva students into the army. Though the leaderships of the Shas and United Torah Judaism parties did not formally endorse the gathering, it drew an estimated 30-40,000 people, organizers said.

As the protests gathered fervor, some demonstrators turned over garbage cans and threw stones and other objects at police and security forces, who formed a human barrier to protect the building. Two policemen were moderately injured, and four others lightly hurt, and five demonstrators were injured as the security authorities used crowd dispersal methods, including smoke grenades, to counter the violence. Jerusalem's police chief Yossi Pariente condemned what he called "a mass public disturbance."

Also among those attacked were an ultra-Orthodox soldier and a journalist for Channel 2. A much smaller counter-demonstration gathered nearby in support of the universal draft. Early in the demonstration, protesters read aloud passages from the biblical book of Psalms, and a prayer service was scheduled for later in the evening to "annul the evil decree" of military service.

The universal draft has long been a divisive issue in Israeli society, but ferment hit boiling point in February 2012 when the High Court of Justice ruled as unconstitutional a longstanding law granting sweeping exemptions to yeshiva students.

Since that ruling, several attempts have been made to formulate new legislation for the drafting of ultra-Orthodox into military and civil service, but without success. The dispute was a major issue in January's elections, with Yesh Atid and Jewish Home making the imperative for a universal draft a key platform of their successful campaigns, and a requirement for their joining the coalition, excluding Shas and United Torah Judaism from the government.

On Thursday, leaflets were handed out in Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods urging the masses to demonstrate. Distributed by members of the extremist Eda Haredit faction, the flyers said that the purpose of the rally was to protest the government's alleged determination "to destroy and eliminate religion and the Torah of Israel by any means possible."

Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, the leader of the Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox community in Jerusalem, called on the public to "rise up… against the destructive edicts with which the sinners seek to uproot the Torah." The rabbi added that "we will not rest… until all of these harsh decrees are annulled."

The flyers blasted those whom the ultra-Orthodox have recently begun to refer to as "Hardakim," both an acronym for "Haredim kalei da'at," ("frivolous ultra-Orthodox") and a play on the Hebrew word for insects, harakim. The term refers to those ultra-Orthodox men who have chosen to enlist in the IDF. According to the flyers, such individuals have "replaced their identity with the army and national service."

According to the ultra-Orthodox website Behadrei Haredim, one reason for the refusal of many in the ultra-Orthodox community to join the rally was the fear that a show of extremism would likely strengthen Finance Minister Yair Lapid, whose Yesh Atid party has been at the forefront of the battle for a universal draft.

One activist was quoted by the site as saying that "public outrage is currently directed against the finance minister who imposed harsh economic policies. Such a rally may bring the Haredim back to the headlines; there's no good reason to do so."


Police Bar Jews from Temple Mount As Muslims Threaten More Riots

By IsraelNationalNews.com

Police barred Jews from entering the Temple Mount on Thursday, after Muslim groups threatened violence in the wake of a plan to bring Jewish children to visit the site. The plan, organized by groups encouraging Jewish visits to the Mount, was meant to be an educational program that would demonstrate rituals associated with the Temple, such as the bringing of bikurim ("First Fruits", the gift to the Temple brought on Shavuot).

Over the past few days, chatter on Islamic web sites indicated that the groups would be met by rioters. Instead of seeking to defuse the situation or defend the groups of visiting children, police chose to capitulate to the threats, and announced that they were closing the Mount to all non-Muslims out of "concern for public safety."

The decision came only a little while before the tour was set to begin, at 8:30, and after dozens of children and their families – many coming from far distances – had already gathered at the Kotel.

Groups sponsoring the visit strongly criticized the police for their decision. In a statement, the groups said that the police decision was "unfair, and gives a prize to violent attackers who threaten the victims – simple, peaceful families whose only desire was to visit the Temple [site] with their children and observe the special rituals of the Shavuot holiday. We look forward to the day that Israel will have more worthy security organizations, and to the day that police will understand their role, and stop avoiding it," the statement said.

Over Shavuot itself, the groups reported, hundreds of Jews were able to visit the Mount – but they were a small percentage of the thousands who sought to get in. Police severely limited Jewish access to the Mount, with visitors being allowed to enter only in small groups beginning on Tuesday, the day before Shavuot.

In several instances, dozens of Muslims sat and blocked the entrance of the Mughrabi Gate, used by non-Muslims to ascend the Mount. Those Jews who did manage to run the Arab gauntlet – with little, if any, police assistance – were followed and harassed by Muslims, and verbally assaulted the entire time they were on the Mount.

Police intervened only after a riot broke out – with their response to close the gates of the Mount to Jews altogether, evacuating the Jews who had managed to enter via a side exit.


Gleaning Just Like Ruth Would Have Done, If She'd Had Google Maps

By The Times of Israel

For much of the Jewish Diaspora, Shavuot is cheese blintzes, and little girls in white dresses, boys in starched white shirts looking uncomfortable with wet, combed hair. Both are accessorized with fruit baskets filled with produce from the local grocery on their willing shoulders, reenacting the yearly Shavuot Temple offering.

But what if these baskets could be filled for free from local trees instead? "Many people find it strange that food could be free," says Ethan Welty, cofounder of FallingFruit.org. "They are amazed a tree in an urban environment could be producing food you can eat from."

The new open-source website maps fruit trees and other edible plants available for free harvesting in urban environments all over the world. Anyone can download its data, and all are welcome to update and add more sources of potential bounty.

Though based in the United States, the tailored Google map is ever-growing and currently has pin drops from a dozen countries. Since its quiet late-March launch, it's had some 40,000 visits from all over the world, from Israel to Israel-friendly Micronesia.

It is not the first of its kind; there are already several urban-foraging sites up on the Internet. But what Falling Fruit is trying to achieve is a community of foragers, sharing information and creating a dialogue between them — and donating excess largess to local food charities.

Essentially the principle behind Falling Fruit is "waste not, want not," an idea that jibes well with the festival of Shavuot as observed through reading the Book of Ruth: Having fallen on hard times, Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi, feed themselves through gleaning in their distant relative Boaz's fields. (Spoiler alert: By the end of the book, Ruth marries Boaz and begets an ancestor of the future King David.)

Falling Fruit too is a merger of charitable impulses. Shortly after returning from a Taglit-Birthright trip to Israel, Welty, a University of Colorado PhD student in glaciology (the study of glaciers), met Falling Fruit cofounder, computer science professor Caleb Phillips. Fittingly, they became acquainted at a volunteers' meeting for Boulder Food Rescue, a bicycle-based delivery network for rapidly moving excess retail produce and baked goods to organizations that feed the hungry.

Welty explained the ideological germination of the Falling Fruit project: "One summer I foraged for all my fruit and had enough to make jams, reductions, beers, apple cider… and started thinking about ways to make it more than just about me." From his PhD studies he was already familiar with municipal maps which, among other information, include types of trees and their locations for maintenance and pruning.

Welty calls himself "the curator of the edible world." He is the "data wrangler," incorporating and finding new sources, with payloads in municipal and university lists of types of trees and their locations. Phillips is the tech guy.

"I've had to learn all these names, research species, whether they were of interest to native Americans — maybe past cultures used them as food and we're not aware of it," says Welty very late at night via Skype from his Boulder home. He speaks quietly so not to wake his sleeping roommates, at one point briefly excusing himself to pull a pizza made from "rescued" dough from the oven. "This next year, I'll be able to meet these trees once the growing season begins."

Though there's a "Donate" button where visitors can help cover the costs of the server, or "Buy them a beer," this is a volunteer, all-encompassing, time-sucking, labor of love for Welty and Phillips, who are passionate about reducing food waste.

"I'm the guy who has no shame in asking someone if they're going to finish that plate. I have a strong aversion to waste, especially in food, and have overcome any squeamishness with expiration dates," says Welty, who grew up in France and has a love of good cuisine. A lot of his personal outlook, he said, comes from his Holocaust-survivor grandmother, who was always very active in her community and extremely generous.

Welty also sees some common denominators between his project and the kibbutz movement he experienced while visiting relatives in Israel last year. He says both are about "sharing and escaping the very rigid concepts we have of private property and food held under lock and key."

Orthodox Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz, founder and president of justice organization Uri L'Tzedek, explained that Jewish tradition is all for sharing Mother Earth's wealth. "The Jewish tradition adamantly emphasizes again and again that the earth is not our own and that we ought not waste its fruits," he says. "Falling Fruit has raised the bar, offering the potential to take the Biblical mandate to another level from reacting to fallen fruit to being proactive to address hunger and deeply cherish God's creation."

Rabbi Audrey Marcus Berkman from Newton's Reconstructionist Shir Hadash community agrees. "That we live in a world with fruit-bearing trees and that, as our blessing reminds us, bread comes forth from the earth, is no less than a miracle and we must harness the holiness of this fact by utilizing this produce in wise and equitable ways," she commented.


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