Amitai Cohen, a central member of the Great Synagogue choir, said that while he is happy to see any Jew attend Yom Kippur services, he was upset that his synagogue honored Minister Olmert, who was an enthusiastic supporter of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's destruction of the Jewish communities of Gush Katif and northern Gaza and Samaria this past summer.
At one point during the services, according to Cohen, the holy ark was open but Minister Olmert remained seated while the entire congregation was standing. He also was engaged in a friendly conversation with two senior Great Synagogue board members standing next to Olmert.
Towards the end of the Maariv (evening) service, Olmert was honored with one of the openings of the holy ark and proceeded to lean against the ark while waiting for the queue to close it and return to his seat.
"This was too much," said Cohen. "I quietly turned to my choir master and asked him to explain to Olmert that he should not lean against the ark, as though waiting at a bus stop," but the choir master was reluctant to approach Olmert.
Before the acting president of the congregation, Zali Yaffe, made the announcements at the end of the service, Cohen requested from the choir master to tell Yaffe not to mention Olmert as a distinguished guest. The choir master communicated the request to Yaffe, who was not convinced.
Amidst his public announcements, Yaffe began to “thank Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for attending...," and Cohen stood up from his place in the choir and shouted, "This is an embarrassment and disgrace. He [Olmert] is a criminal. He destroyed synagogues. He destroyed yeshivas [rabbinical seminaries]." Cohen was immediately hushed by Yaffe and others. Moments later, Cohen rose again from his choir seat and said, "He destroyed Talmudei Torah [Torah schools]," but was silenced again.
Yaffe apologized to Olmert for the outburst of the choir member. Other media in Israel incorrectly reported that it was a member of the congregation and not a choir member who heckled Olmert.
Thursday night, at the conclusion of Yom Kippur, Cohen said that a senior choir member told him by telephone that numerous congregants were equally perturbed by the honor afforded Minister Olmert and that they supported Cohen's action.
Cohen says that he cannot see himself continuing in the synagogue and plans to immediately resign from the choir.