Beggars at the Western WallThe Israeli Police has started to remove hundreds of beggars from the Western Wall Plaza. This action has come as a result of many requests during the past few months to different authorities to deal with harassment, threats and other methods of extortion being used by panhandlers at the Western Wall Plaza.
About a year and a half ago, Israel's attorney general instructed the rabbi of the Western Wall and the police to take steps to ensure the removal of the harassing beggars from the Western Wall Plaza, an order that resulted in the police banishing tens of beggars from the Plaza.
The rabbi of the Western Wall, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich, who had difficulty with that way of dealing with the problem, turned to the beggars personally and asked them to refrain from harassing visitors to the Western Wall in the following statement: "I was brought up to believe in charity. To the Jews, prayer and charity go hand in hand, but your behavior is disgracing God's Name and the holy site. If you do your begging in a respectable and fitting way, I will do all that I can to prevent your being barred from the ’Western Wall’".
For a long while, the rabbi's requests were heeded and most of the beggars refrained from harassing or extorting the visitors. They also refrained from addressing gentiles, including visiting foreign dignitaries, thus avoiding demeaning the holy place.
The past few months were riddled by the repeat phenomenon of extortion and harassment, even more so than in the past. Groups of beggars arrived from other parts of the country and started to attack in an organized fashion any person or party that seemed to be able to donate. They used threats, curses and acts of emotional blackmail that defy description. Complaints of such behavior were made to the different authorities on a regular basis.
Further attempts by the rabbi of the Western Wall to speak directly to the beggars were to no avail. Staff members of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation received threats and were physically abused for their persistent pleading and for voicing concern that the situation may deteriorate to a point where the authorities act against all collectors of donations, even those who do it for no personal gain.
In light of the many complaints and the worsening situation at the Western Wall, the police announced the night before last that they are appointing additional manpower to facilitate the removal of dozens of beggars from the Western Wall Plaza and possible legal action against them.
The rabbi of the Western Wall, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich, expressed his regret and pain over the situation at the Western Wall and the need for the police to interfere, which in his opinion threatened one of the pillars upon which the world stands - charity and kindness.
"It is a great shame that the deeds of a few cause such a harsh blow to charity and to a disgrace of God. In my conception and outlook it is part of the atmosphere of the Western Wall Plaza to be charitable and it is sad that such a thing must be impeded, but to my regret my requests and pleading were not accepted and this situation of enforcement was forced on us all.
How can we stand to see fellow Jews being forcibly removed from the Western Wall? Is this what we’ve dreamed of? Definitely not!"
The rabbi of the Western Wall, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich, hopes that reason, commonsense and desire to preserve the sanctity of the site will prevail and that the aggressive behavior will cease.