Fifty thousand Orthodox Jews take over TEN BLOCKS of New York in protest over Israeli army plan to draft devoutly religious men

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Peace and love and mitzvahs: The ultra Orthodox of Israel have recently found themselves on the wrong side of the political tides and fear their relative autonomy hangs in the balance

  • Israel wants to extend its compulsory military service to some of its most religious residents
  • Many ultra-Orthodox Israelis see this as a form of religious persecution
  • The demonstration was a show of solidarity with Israeli ultra-Orthodox who’ve been  protesting the proposal for weeks
  • Last Sunday, hundreds of thousands of the devout Jews brought Jerusalem to a stand still in a massive show of force Ten city blocks of Manhattan became a river of black Sunday as 50,000 dark-clad ultra-Orthodox Jews took to the streets to  protest Israel’s proposal to force their young boys into its army.

    The gathering took up a stretch of Water  Street, with demonstrators standing behind police barricades amid tight security  as they prayed in solidarity with their brethren in Israel.

     ‘These kids, a lot of them don’t know how to  hold a gun. They don’t know what physical warfare is,’ said Long Island  rabbinical student Shmuel Gruis.

    Peace and love and mitzvahs: The ultra Orthodox of  Israel have recently found themselves on the wrong side of the political tides  and fear their relative autonomy hangs in the balance

    Sea of black: The protestors' traditional garb made for a vivid sea of dark cloth flowing down Manhattan streets

    Sea of black: The protestors’ traditional garb made for  a vivid sea of dark cloth flowing down Manhattan streets

    Hat tip: The American protest was a nod to the parallel demonstrations in Israel in recent weeks, some of which have turned violent as the ultra-Orthodox Jews clash with police

    Hat tip: The American protest was a nod to the parallel  demonstrations in Israel in recent weeks, some of which have turned violent as  the ultra-Orthodox Jews clash with police

    The demonstration temporarily shut down Water and Wall Streets in Manhattan's financial district

    The demonstration temporarily shut down Water and Wall  Streets in Manhattan’s financial district

    The throngs of demonstrators briefly shut  down Water and Wall Streets in Manhattan’s financial district.

    Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, is expected  to vote on the conscription bill later this month.

    The bill, to go into effect in 2017, would  impose criminal sanctions on ultra-Orthodox draft dodgers. However, yeshiva  students would have the right to defer service until age 26.

    Gruis, 18, from Phoenix clutched two tomes  of Jewish prayers as he hurried to the male section of the rally.

    50,000 Orthodox Jews hold mass prayer in NYC  against Israel draft

    Organizers kept to tradition, with men and  women in separate groups as they are at religious events.

    ‘Their whole world and their whole lifestyle  is peace and love and in doing mitzvahs,’ he said, using the Yiddish word for  good deeds. ‘And you take a bunch of kids out of the environment where they come  from – in my eyes, it’s wrong.’

    Sunday’s prayer event brought together a  community of New York’s most Orthodox Jews, based in Brooklyn and in the village  of Kiryas Joel in Orange County, north of the city.

    ‘We’re all united against military  service  for religious men in Israel because it doesn’t allow for  religious learning,’  said Peggy Blier, an interior designer from  Brooklyn. ‘The Israeli government  is looking to destroy religious  society and make the country into a secular  melting pot.’

    The huge gathering was itself spillover from  violent protests in Israel  that broke out last month in the wake of a Supreme  Court ruling ordered  funding halted to ultra-Orthodox seminaries whose students  dodge the  draft and laid bare one of the deepest rifts in Israeli society,  highlighting the fundamental disagreements between its secular majority  and a  devout minority over the character of the Jewish state.

    And last weekend, hundreds of thousands of  ultra-Orthodox Jews rallied Sunday in the streets of Jerusalem, blocking roads  and paralyzing the city in a massive show of force against plans to require them  to serve in the Israeli military.

    ‘The change is beginning,’ Ofer Shelah, whose  Yesh Atid party stands behind the push to draft the ultra-Orthodox, told Israeli  Channel 10 TV. ‘This (law) will create a deep cultural change in the  ultra-Orthodox public.’

    Unwilling to fight: Thousands of the devout Jews filled 10 city blocks in Manhattan on Sunday to protest changes to Israel's proposed changes to its draft

    Unwilling to fight: Thousands of the devout Jews filled  10 city blocks in Manhattan on Sunday to protest changes to Israel’s proposed  changes to its draft

    Separate: As they are during religious services and throughout much of ultra-Orthodox society, women were separated from the men at the event

    Separate: As they are during religious services and  throughout much of ultra-Orthodox society, women were separated from the men at  the event

    Spilling over: Barricades are secured as thousands of the ultra-Orthodox Jews gathered on Water Street

    Spilling over: Barricades are secured as thousands of  the ultra-Orthodox Jews gathered on Water Street

    Shelah and his party believe  integrating the  ultra-Orthodox into the military ultimately will lead to their inclusion in the  workforce and help sustain Israel’s economic  growth. Israel’s central bank  chief, as well as international bodies  like the Organization for Economic  Cooperation and Development, warn  that high unemployment in the ultra-Orthodox  and Arab sectors threaten  Israel’s economic prospects.

    Thousands of ultra-Orthodox streamed toward  the entrance of Jerusalem as a heavy  haze settled on the gathering. Men clad in  traditional black suits and  hats bowed and swayed in prayer as others danced in  circles. Spectators  packed the balconies and roofs of nearby buildings as a  loudspeaker  blared prayers. Many held signs reading ‘the Torah shall not be  forgotten.’ Police said more than 300,000 people attended.

    The city began grinding to a halt hours  before the rally began. Police  spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said 3,500 police  officers deployed for the  rally. He said authorities closed the central bus  station and halted  nearly all public buses into the city. In addition, public  transportation inside the city was being limited from afternoon until  night.  Some schools and government ministries also closed early.

    Determined: The gathered faithful, seen here hopping one of the abundant security blockades, want Israel to keep laws that exempt such groups from military service

    Determined: The gathered faithful, seen here hopping one  of the abundant security blockades, want Israel to keep laws that exempt such  groups from military service

    Praying for no change: 'The Israeli government is looking to destroy religious society and make the country into a secular melting pot,' said protestor Peggy Blier

    Praying for no change: ‘The Israeli government is  looking to destroy religious society and make the country into a secular melting  pot,’ said protestor Peggy Blier

    Dance it off: A dance circle is formed amidst the praying protestors

    Dance it off: A dance circle is formed amidst the  praying protestors

    STANDING IN SOLIDARITY: NEW YORK ULTRA-ORTHODOX JEWS  DEMONSTRATE IN SHOW OF SUPPORT FOR BRETHREN IN ISRAEL

    Sunday’s demonstration on the streets of  New York City briefly shut down Wall Street and Water Street in Manhattan’s  Financial District, but it was a shadow of the massive waves of protests that  crippled the holy city of Jerusalem just last weekend.

    The ultra-Orthodox in New York took to the  streets in a show of solidarity for their brethren in Israel.

    The Israeli government has long exempted  the super devout from their near-universal conscription, but in recent weeks  have proposed changing that rule for at least some of the  ultra-Orthodox.

    The ultra-Orthodox aim to live a life  strictly dedicated to the study of the Torah and many see a government  requirement that they serve in the military as a form of religious  persecution.

    Police in Jerusalem said a staggering  300,000 protestors attended the event last Sunday.

    Organizers of the New York City sister  protest put their own numbers at 50,000.

    As the largest Jewish community outside  Israel, the New Yorkers have tight bonds with Orthodox Israelis, some of whom  emigrated from the United States.

    Usually only men attend such public  demonstrations, but ultra-Orthodox  community leaders encouraged women and young  children to take part. A  major thoroughfare in Jerusalem was closed for traffic  and reserved for  ultra-Orthodox women in accordance with the community’s strict  separation of the sexes. Many women, wearing long skirts and head  coverings,  held prayer books close to their faces as they prayed, while  young children ran  between them.

    ‘They came out of fear of one thing: that  they are going to be changed, that  they will be put in a melting pot and  changed,’ ultra-Orthodox lawmaker  Israel Eichler told Israeli Channel 2  TV.

    According to the draft bill up for a vote in  Israel’s parliament, only a fraction of eligible ultra-Orthodox Jews would be  expected to serve, said Inna  Dolzhansky, spokeswoman for lawmaker Shelah, who  is also a member of the committee drafting the bill.

    Ultra-Orthodox Jews have for years been  exempt from military service, which is  compulsory for other Jewish Israelis.  The arrangement has caused  widespread resentment and featured prominently in  last year’s election,  after which the ultra-Orthodox parties lost ground and  found themselves  outside the governing coalition.

    Show of solidarity: The event stretched across ten tightly packed city blocks

    Show of solidarity: The event stretched across ten  tightly packed city blocks

    Orthodox Jews gather on Water Street in lower Manhattan March 9, 2014 to pray and protest against the current effort by the Israeli government to pass a law to draft religious Jews into its army. The gathering is intended as a show of solidarity with the Orthodox Jews in the State of Israel, who gathered last Sunday at the entrance of Jerusalem in the what some have called the largest protest of its kind in recent history. Most estimated the crowd there at over 600,000 men, women and children. AFP PHOTO / Timothy A. CLARYTIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

    Thousands of Orthodox Jews gather on Water Street in lower Manhattan March 9, 2014 to pray and protest against the current effort by the Israeli government to pass a law to draft religious Jews into its army. The gathering is intended as a show of solidarity with the Orthodox Jews in the State of Israel, who gathered last Sunday at the entrance of Jerusalem in the what some have called the largest protest of its kind in recent history. Most estimated the crowd there at over 600,000 men, women and children. AFP PHOTO / Timothy A. CLARYTIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

    Sunday’s prayer event brought together a community of  New York’s most Orthodox Jews, based in Brooklyn and in the village of Kiryas  Joel in Orange County, north of the city.

    For their sons: The protestors hope changes in Israel won't mean little boys like this will one day end up serving in the military, interrupting their life of religious studies

    For their sons: The protestors hope changes in Israel  won’t mean little boys like this will one day end up serving in the military,  interrupting their life of religious studies

    The issue of army service is at the  core of  a cultural war over the place of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israeli  society. The  ultra-Orthodox, who make up about 8 percent of Israel’s 8  million citizens,  largely have been allowed to skip compulsory military  service to pursue their  religious studies. Older men often avoid the  workforce and collect welfare  stipends while continuing to study full  time.

    The  ultra-Orthodox insist their young men  serve the nation through prayer  and study, thus preserving Jewish learning and  heritage, and maintaining a pious way of life that has kept the Jewish people  alive through  centuries of persecution.

    Leaders of the community, which in Hebrew is  known as ‘Haredim,’ or those who  fear God, say their followers would rather sit  in jail than join the  military. They charge their ancient brand of Judaism is  under siege and  warn of an uprising if parliament approves the draft  plan.

    Yair Sheleg, an expert on the Israeli  religious sector at the nonpartisan Israel Democracy Institute, said  the  outbursts reflect a genuine rage over the proposed plan but  also a show of  strength to try to limit its impact.

    A prayer book lay on a podium as the thousands of Orthodox Jews gather in the background

    A prayer book lay on a podium as the thousands of  Orthodox Jews gather in the background

    Organizers kept to tradition, with men (foreground) and women (background) in separate groups as they are at religious events.

    Organizers kept to tradition, with men (foreground) and  women (background) in separate groups as they are at religious events.

    Required for most: The proposed change to the law would require a certain number of Yeshiva students to serve in the military in Israel

    Required for most: The proposed change to the law would  require a certain number of Yeshiva students to serve in the military in  Israel

    ‘They understand that things  can’t go on the way they have and they will have to make some concessions to the  state, but they are hoping to limit the damage,’ he said. ‘For the first time,  they are starting to really be  affected.’

    Not all the  ultra-Orthodox are vehemently  opposed to enlistment and inclusion in  Israeli society. Due to its high  birthrate and the relatively low  participation in the workforce, the  ultra-Orthodox community suffers  from high unemployment and  poverty.

    Voices have begun to emerge criticizing the  ultra-Orthodox education system, which teaches students about Judaism but very  little math, English or science. More than a quarter of all Israeli  first-graders are ultra-Orthodox and government statistics project that if these  trends continue, the ultra-Orthodox could make up 15 percent of the country’s  population by 2025.

    The tide has already begun to turn. In 2011,  for instance, 55 percent of ultra-Orthodox women and 45 percent of the men held  jobs, up from 48 percent and 33 percent respectively nine years earlier,  according to Israel’s central bank and its central bureau of statistics. The  numbers, while still far below the national average of around 80 percent, show  the community is far from the homogenous mass viewed by outsiders.

    Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men pray during a rally attended by hundreds of thousands against plans to force them to serve in the Israeli military, blocking roads and paralyzing Jerusalem (pictured)

    Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men pray during a rally attended  by hundreds of thousands against plans to force them to serve in the Israeli  military, blocking roads and paralyzing Jerusalem (pictured)

    Hundreds of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews rallied in a massive show of force against plans to force them to serve in the Israeli military last Sunday in Jerusalem (pictured)

    Hundreds of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews rallied in  a massive show of force against plans to force them to serve in the Israeli  military last Sunday in Jerusalem (pictured)

    The mass rally blocked major thoroughfares and brought Jerusalem (pictured) to a standstill

    The mass rally blocked major thoroughfares and brought  Jerusalem (pictured) to a standstill

    The issue is the most serious point of contention between ultra-conservative Israeli Jews and their more secular counterparts, who find it unfair that the super devout are immune to the draft

    The issue is the most serious point of contention  between ultra-conservative Israeli Jews and their more secular counterparts, who  find it unfair that the super devout are immune to the draft

    According to the draft bill up for a vote in Israel's parliament, only a fraction of eligible ultra-Orthodox Jews would be expected to serve, said Inna Dolzhansky, spokeswoman for lawmaker Shelah, who is also a member of the committee drafting the bill

    According to the draft bill up for a vote in Israel’s  parliament, only a fraction of eligible ultra-Orthodox Jews would be expected to  serve, said Inna Dolzhansky, spokeswoman for lawmaker Shelah, who is also a  member of the committee drafting the bill.

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