This past spring, when a group of people spontaneously broke out in a synchronized dance number on the promenade near my street in Brooklyn, my 84-year-old landlord called me up to ask me what was going on. I told him it was a flash mob, basically a stunt that’s pre-organized online, but looks like something that randomly happened. His reply, which I’ll never forget: “I lived in Italy in the 1970s, that’s not what a flash mob is.”
Since their inception, flash mobs have been getting the knock for their obvious lameness. However, every once in a while, there are some flash mobs that are meaningful. Beyond the wedding proposal variety, they are sometimes performed for good causes, like this past summer when, as we noted, a flash mob in Berlin broke out following an anti-Semitic attack on a rabbi where the participants wore kippot in solidarity.
Another such flash mob took place today where groups gathered to perform the shema. This initiative, which was organized by the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, was in response to last week’s arrest of Anat Hoffman, leader of the Woman of the Wall. Hoffman was arrested as she led a group of women in prayer at the Kotel while wearing a tallit.
The controversy grew after Hoffman claimed that she was mistreated during her time in jail. Israeli police, which were initially slow to respond, are now disputing her story. Nevertheless, the incident has brought the issue of gender rights and prayer back into focus.
I’m sure this is not the last we’ll hear about this.