NEW YORK (VINnews) — When police arrived in the Ripponlea district of Melbourne Monday morning to enforce coronavirus regulations, some 20 policemen in four police vans surrounded the Adas Yisrael shul, virtually laying siege to the worshippers inside. Police did not enter the shul apparently because there were young children inside but worshippers, fearful of the police reaction to their prayers, elected to stay in the building for over 14 hours. During this period a large number of the worshippers succeeded in escaping through windows and over rooftops, and only elderly and handicapped people were left in the shul. At around 9 PM they allowed police to enter the building, where six fines were issued to those who were left there.
However these facts do not tell the entire story. Many people- even gentiles – expressed their sympathy with worshippers who are prohibited from even holding an outdoor gathering of ten people, and even just for blowing the shofar. The draconian regulations issued by the Australian government have banned one of the most basic civil rights- that of religious freedom.
When was the last time in modern history where Jews had to sneak in and out of Synagogues to worship on Rosh Hashanah?
Nazi Germany in the 1930’s
Melbourne Victoria in 2021.
— Avi Yemini 🇦🇺🇮🇱 (@OzraeliAvi) September 9, 2021
One surfer expressed her anger that police were “patrolling the roads near my house and accosting everyone on the street who appeared Jewish, as if it is a crime to walk on the street.” Another person wrote: “all this concern for a few men standing outside who want to hear the shofar, why should this be a threat to anyone? Why is it that last year when we were without vaccines and it was much more difficult to do tests, they permitted prayer in open spaces?”
Another non-Jewish surfer wrote that “Muslims are making religious gatherings and they have the protection of the prime minister, he won’t send police to them, only ultra-orthodox Jews are persecuted because they are easy targets.”
A prominent local Jewish activist stressed that, “We have Zero COVID cases in the heimishe (religious) community of Ripponlea. Over 90% of the 40+ age group are double vaxxed. We asked for a legal way to daven outdoors on Rosh Hashanah, citing “bottle shops and building sites’ that are open for 50-100 people, some even spent thousands in the courts to try to push it through – and the government gave us zero. This prompted some people to go early to a shul (5:30am) and lock themselves in – no noise at all. Unfortunately, some local non-Jewish neighbors were up at 5:00AM and filmed some people going in Tuesday morning and sent the footage to the media. Police surrounded the block like there was a terrorist attack – and they did not leave until Wednesday night. This is appalling and disgusting.”
A number of worshippers spoke to B’Chadrei Chareidim and expressed their frustration at the situation: “Even gentiles understand that open spaces are not dangerous but they still didn’t let us pray in open spaces.”
One worshipper added that “small children were terrified when police patrolled in cars and undercover. They followed everyone walking on the street, scared small children and fined women not wearing masks even when they had an exemption, for hours police patrolled outside all of the shuls.”
Another resident said that “the prime minister said that due to this gathering he would broaden the lockdown. Because he is concerned about responses around the country he uses the Jewish community as a scapegoat.”
A number of people complained that “for the past two years we are like prisoners, those who don’t live here would not understand. In some places one can pray and in others one cannot and then a month later the opposite- where it was permitted it is now forbidden and vice versa. In Israel as well as the US and Europe people have forgotten what a lockdown is like but here if they find two cases they close the whole area as if we were in Chernobyl when the nuclear reactor exploded.”
Police continue to search for the other worshippers. They confiscated the computer and credit card machine of the shul’s gabbai in an attempt to locate the worshippers who were in the shul on Rosh Hashana.