Monsey - Several hundred Jewish boys took to the streets Wednesday to protest an Israeli military bill that would all but end draft exemptions for Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox students.
The event, which involved students at the United Talmudical Academy and their teachers, began with a rally on the school’s grounds off South Main Street about 4:15 p.m.
The students, mostly ages 6 to 13, stood in orderly lines, holding signs in Hebrew and English featuring such slogans as “The Israeli Draft Law: An Attack on Our Freedom of Religion.” The boys, mostly from the Satmar branch of Judaism, then left the school, marching along the side of the road north to Singer Avenue, west to Madison Avenue and back around to the campus.
Joseph Lieberman, a teacher at the academy, acknowledged that Wednesday’s event was small compared to other protests that have taken place recently, but said that word of such demonstrations has a way of spreading throughout the community.
He said he disagreed with many of the policies of the Israeli government and that his people serve in their own right through study and prayer.
“In the places we live — America in particular — they respect our religious laws. They understand that we are praying for the good of the land ... and they are not forcing us to go into the army,” Lieberman said. “But in the so-called Jewish state of Israel ... they now say that we are not allowed to learn in the yeshiva ... we have to go to the army.”
Michael Koplen, a New Hempstead village trustee and Republican candidate for Ramapo supervisor, served in an Israeli civilian defense unit in the 1970s. He said he does not agree with those who believe they should be exempt from service to the country.
“If someone is living in Israel, benefits from the security, roads, housing and other programs and has the ability to sit and study the Torah, then I believe those people should make some type of contribution to Israeli society,” Koplen said.
BY JAMES O'ROURKE - Lohud