Photo Credit:
Mynah birds

The following story doesn’t show me or any of its subjects in a particularly good light. It does however illustrate the dangers of lashon hara and baseless hatred, especially when they’re done l’shem Shamayim. Those cases are actually probably the worst, because you can’t do teshuva for what you perceive to be a mitzvah.

I live in a fairly heterogeneous religious neighborhood. That is everyone is religious, but from every point on the continuum, from Dati Lite to Chareidi – Ashkenazim, Sephardim and Teimanim, from different countries, speaking many languages, and of many hues. We have about 12 synagogues within a 10 minute walking radius and many people frequent a few of them in rotation depending on the day of the week, time of day and /or holiday.


Of course the number of minyanim multiplied exponentially during the COVID lockdown. One sprouted just outside the shul I usually go to. As COVID dragged on, the minyan grew, and named themselves, Chatzerot Kodsheicha – Your Holy Courtyards. Eventually, they asked our Rav if they could use the social hall downstairs which also serves as a class, lecture hall and additional minyan room since their growing numbers and extremes of temperature made it difficult to pray outside. When restrictions were lifted, and everyone resumed praying in their own shuls, this Teimani minyan didn’t want to disband and return to the various shuls they had previously attended, at least not on Shabbat. They again asked the Rav if they could continue praying in our shul hall on Shabbatot, assuring him, again, it would be temporary until they found a more permanent location. The Rav acquiesced. Weeks turned into months and they still hadn’t found an alternate place to pray. This was disturbing the minyan upstairs as they prayed loudly and their kids ran around outside. They also showed no sign of leaving. Things came to a head when they petitioned the municipality to close off the social hall from the outside and add some more space.

Nobody in my congregation was happy about this. What had started as an act of consideration to the minyan had become a full-blown infiltration which also led to a confrontation with the municipality. The mayor’s office assured us that they would find another place for them to pray but as the months continued to drag on, they didn’t. If someone was sponsoring a Kiddush after shul, the minyan would meet earlier and then help set up.

I started calling them the Mynah Minyan. You see, Israel experienced a mynah bird incursion when they were brought to zoos 20 years ago and began escaping and multiplying. Mynah birds are very good at adapting to new places and ousting the native bird populations. The crows and sparrows have all but disappeared since the mynah bird invasion of our neighborhood. You can see why I thought this was a very clever nickname as the mynahs are dark-feathered as well.

There were two more points that made this a sore point in our shul: using the Rav’s peaceful and accommodating personality to their advantage, and their growing numbers, as our shul has been on the decline in terms of numbers, for a number of years.

A year after theirs and the municipality’s promise that they would find another accommodation, the minyan is still downstairs.

On erev Pesach I went to burn the chametz. Usually the big green city dumpsters are appropriated for this purpose and you just follow your nose to find which one. I took my plastic bag containing the 10 pieces of bread I had hid from myself, and subsequently found, and sniffed the air for the telltale smell of smoke.

Locating the dumpster, I threw my bread in. But an irate old man took a stick and moved my bag out of the way saying we can’t burn plastic. It was too deep in for me to get out and I couldn’t say the blessing and leave until the bread had burnt. A heated argument ensued and I tried to move the bread back into the fire, subsequently almost burning myself. I said I was going to die because of him, and he said, “So die.” I said he was disgusting (he was keeping me from performing the mitzvah) and then he yelled to his comrades who were trying to calm him down. “Look at her, she’s not even Jewish, look at the color of her skin.” This man and his friends were Yemenite.

By this time, I was in tears but his remark made me stop and be silent for a moment. First of all, I had never, as a fair-skinned woman, been discriminated against because of the color of my skin, which made me ponder for a second. I didn’t doubt for a minute that all Ashkenazi Jews were Jewish, and I have my mother’s birth certificate from the Rabbinate in Alexandria, Egypt, where many Ashkenazi Jews lived at the time. But what did occur to me, especially since it was so ridiculous, was perhaps this was a punishment for my mynah quip. I couldn’t, even with the air full of smoke, miss the message. I annulled my chametz as quickly as possible and walked away. A former neighbor, saw how upset I was and tried to calm me down telling me the guy wasn’t right in his head. But he only knew half of what was upsetting me, and I couldn’t tell him because I felt ashamed. Even though I believed that what the Holy Courtyards minyan was doing was a chillul Hashem.

There is one common theme throughout this long story – everyone was fighting and insulting one another, not because we were heathens or heretics but davka because we were religious Jews and thought we were doing the right thing – the myn… I mean the minyan trying to remain in our shul, our shul trying to get rid of them, the municipality trying to accommodate everyone, the belligerent old-world Teimani, and little old me.

Even the mynah birds are following their instincts and just trying to survive. They did not intend to infiltrate Israel and displace other birds. They were brought here against their will.

As humans, and Jews, however, we have to be ever so vigilant not only in refraining from speaking lashon hara, making concessions for peace, and not harboring baseless hatred; we must be equally as vigilant even when we think we’re doing it for the right reasons and for the sake of Heaven.

May the third Beit HaMikdash be built speedily, and in our days, and may there be room for everyone, no matter their nusach.


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