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(photo credit: Courtesy)

Rabbi Elimelech Firer has worked tirelessly over the last 40 years to help anyone who has asked him for advice – Jewish or non-Jewish, male or female.

The founder of Ezra Lemarpeh, Firer, a hassidic rabbi, began his activities for the benefit of society while still a young yeshiva student. He was asked to help a friend in distress obtain an advanced medical device for his home.

Later on, he was approached to assist with additional requests for medical equipment, which eventually inspired the establishment 40 years ago of Ezra Lemarpeh (Help for the Healer). Although Firer received no formal medical education, he accumulated extensive knowledge, developing an expertise in a number of fields of medicine and going on to advise tens of thousands of people who have turned to him over the years for help.

For all of this and more, Firer received the Israel Prize in 1997.

Hospitals compete for his recommendations and senior doctors immediately answer his phone calls, respect him and even try to court him. It’s almost impossible to find someone who has something negative to say about Firer.

Now though, Firer is in the headlines for a different reason, after a number of musicians announced last week that they were pulling out of a concert his organization is planning to hold on November 20 to honor the 70th birthday of Israeli rock star Shlomo Artzi. The proceeds of the concert are meant to go to Ezra Lemarpeh.

The musicians pulled out after news reports revealed that only men would be allowed to sing at the concert. Almost a dozen male singers were meant to take the stage but not a single woman. Not one.

Artzi took to social media to say that while charity is “of the utmost importance” and that “indeed, anyone can use my songs” he will now “do all I can do convince the honorable rabbi to change his mind.”

Artzi himself is not said to be performing at the event. Instead, his own songs were supposed to be performed by some of the most beloved Israeli musicians currently working such as Harel Skaat, Mosh Ben Ari, and Elai Botner and the Outside Kids (Yaldei Hahutz). 

This story has been blown way out of proportion. Firer is a haredi man, and within the ultra-Orthodox community, women singers or dancers are not allowed to perform for men. It is considered immodest and therefore banned.

Israelis should understand this. If they wish to support Firer and his organization Ezra Lemarpeh, they can come to the concert understanding that it is for an organization run by haredim (ultra-Orthodox people). If they prefer not to support his organization, they do not need to attend. Sometimes, it can be that simple.

This does not mean that the dismissal of women is okay: It is not. The band “Outside Kids,” for example, usually includes female singer Adar Gold, who said she was initially unaware as to why she was asked to sit this one show out.

If this was a public event, taking place in a public space and funded by the state, this would be unacceptable. Money from taxpayers – including female taxpayers – should not be used to fund events that dismiss women and prevent them from appearing. This event, however, is being planned by Ezra Lemarpeh. It is private and requires the purchasing of tickets.

The lesson from this story is the need for Israelis to be more tolerant and respectful of one another. There are haredim in Israel, there are secular Jews in Israel and there are Arabs in Israel. Everyone doesn’t have to be the same – but they can learn to accept those who are different, to appreciate those differences and to respect them.

Going to a concert without female performers might make some people uncomfortable. But for others, who understand that the event is being held in honor of a haredi organization, would be fine with the line up. Going and supporting doesn’t mean you accept that way of life; it means you understand that different people act differently.

What happens to the concert remains to be seen. But what happened last week should be a lesson for Israelis of how acceptance and respect is sometimes the preferred route. As the saying goes: live and let live.

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