The Yehudit Bridge and Shabbos

“Every Friday night, as Montefiore would sing the pleasant Shabbos songs, when he reached Eishet Chayil, he would gaze upon her and his eyes would well up: ‘Many daughters have accomplished much, but you have excelled them all.’” So wrote, during the 1930s, Tel Aviv’s Hebrew newspaper Do’ar HaYom (lit., the Daily Mail) about Moses and Judith (Yehudit) Montefiore.

Mrs. Montefiore was a full-fledged partner to her renowned husband Sir Moses in his acts of charity and kindness. She accompanied him five times to the Land of Israel to help him support the fledgling yishuv there. Ever since childhood, historians tell us, she always loved Shabbos and the Festivals.

These very weeks and months, a bridge in Tel Aviv named in her honor, the Yehudit Bridge, is set to be built, yet it has become a focal point of contention between chareidi and secular interests in Israel. How hurtful it is that precisely a project in honor of this generous woman, who so loved the Shabbos and sanctified the Name of Heaven, may end up being constructed amid brazen and mass Shabbos violation.

As often happens in Israel, people climb up a high bridge and then don’t know how to get down. This time it is Tel Aviv’s Mayor Ron Huldai playing this role, the man who once said that he eats dogs for the fun of it, and who is now running for his fifth mayoral term. He refuses to entertain any compromise regarding the construction of the overpass atop the Ayalon Highway, and says it must be built on Shabbos, and on no other day or night. Huldai appears to have one clear objective: to turn Tel Aviv into another London, Berlin or Madrid. He would like to see it as another European capital, without a hint of Judaism.

Even now, some loyal, chareidi Jews still live in the “state of Tel Aviv” as a small enclave amidst a great metropolis. They keep the embers of Tel Aviv’s Judaism alive by holding on with their fingernails. They well remember that this city once hosted many great Jews, among them many determined Holocaust survivors who had shaken off the dust of persecution and came here to rebuild Torah lives.

Here on Maza and Ahad Ha’am Streets, Chassidic Jews and their “fiery angel” leaders walked freely together. The Belzer Rebbe, the Rebbe of Vizhnitz, the Modzitzer Rebbe and the Rebbes of the Ruzhiner dynasty, among the greatest chassidic leaders, all lived here, having given their heart and soul for the Land and its sanctity. But they could have had no idea that the lands of Tel Aviv would one day be so desecrated and void of Judaism. Today, in Levinsky Park, foreigners wander around freely, terrorizing and inciting all other city residents. The Eritrean “immigrants” feel at home, while the Jews of Eretz Yisrael are afraid for their skin.

Some 22 years ago, a tremendous protest rally against Shabbos desecration in the Holy Land was held in the Exhibition Grounds in Tel Aviv. Among the Torah giants who spoke there, it was possibly Tel Aviv’s Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau who provided the most dramatic surprise. He read aloud a letter written in 1933 by Tel Aviv’s first mayor, Meir Dizengoff, a sharp contrast to a letter we might expect from today’s mayor. The legendary Dizengoff called on his residents to make sure to preserve the Shabbos atmosphere in the public arena.

“Let us show honor for the Shabbos,” he wrote, “even without policemen. Not only the drivers of public buses, but even the owners of private automobiles and motorcycles, are requested not to drive on Shabbos…” Yes, the rules in those days were quite different: Even non-Jewish drivers were required not to drive near synagogues during prayer services, and owners of shops and movie houses and the like were required to close their businesses. “Keep the Shabbos and it will protect us!” Dizengoff concluded his public call.

The Yehudit Bridge is the last connection between religious and secular Tel Aviv. Huldai’s decaying regime, estranged from everything related to sanctity, now seeks to strike out at our holy Shabbos. It has even threatened to turn to the Supreme Court to ensure that the construction work takes place on Shabbos, and not during the week. Has the first modern city actually turned its back on our holy Shabbos?

The test might be with the Yehudit Bridge: Will it be built according to the values of its namesake, or not?