Many, many thousands of concerned Jews turned out to accompany the 68 brave parents from Emanuel — about 20 of whom are Sephardic — to begin their two-week High Court ordered stay in jail. Preliminary estimates for the gathering in Jerusalem ranged from 50,000 to more than 100,000. There were also major gatherings in Bnei Brak, Beit Shemesh, Kiryat Sefer and other chareidi communities. Estimates for the Bnei Brak gathering ranged from 15,000 to more than 50,000. Gedolei Yisroel said that the issues are of vital importance to our community and they made their point by attending the gathering themselves.
The themes of the gathering in Jerusalem were mostly positive. The slogans on the printed placards included: "Hashem Hu HaElokim," "I am a Sephardic parent going to jail," "The Gedolei Hador are our guides," "The Prisoners of Emanuel are the shelichim of Am Yisroel." The main podium was the pedestrian bridge that crosses Yirmiyahu Street near the Old Bais Yaakov seminary ("The Yoshon"). Across the bridge was draped a large sign that read: "Hashem Melech, Hashem Moloch, Hashem Yimloch le'olom Vo'ed." Perhaps the most "aggressive" placard to be seen was one that read: "Torah or Bagatz? Torah Decides."
The atmosphere was more festive than combative. Music was playing over the loudspeakers as thousands streamed towards the central site. The police were out in force and they closed off many surrounding streets, making it difficult for the chareidi community, and the Emanuel parents in particular, to reach the central site.
The atzeres opened with Tehillim and Selichos led by HaRav Mandel of Belz. HaRav Dovid Batsri spoke and led more selichos (Sephardic style) and Kabolas Ol Malchus Shomayim.
The central address was given by HaRav Yosef Efrati. He said there were 4 points: 1] To protest the fact that within our own community there are people who turn to the secular courts to decide an issue that relates to the basic education. 2] To protest the fact that there are some who accuse us of racial discrimination. This is totally false. Those who learn Tur and Shulchan Oruch, the Rambam and the Hagahos Maimoniyos, the Mishnah Berurah and Ben Ish Chai — cannot be accused of any sort of racism. On the contrary. It was the official State institutions and the Zionist movements that backed them that brutally suppressed the culture of the early Sephardic immigrants. They were the ones who introduced racism. 3] To explain to ourselves and to declare publicly that with regard to all the issues that are critical to the Jewish soul, secular institutions have no say whatsoever. 4] To fulfill venikdashti. This is not a tangential "shoelace" issue but the core of our being. This is without a doubt an issue over which we have to be prepared for mesiras nefesh.
HaRav Meir Elmaliach, one of the parents who was on his way to jail, recalled that R. Akiva said that his whole life he had waited for an opportunity for mesiras nefesh. R' Elmaliach said that when all the parents were in the High Court, Attorney Green said that the issue should be brought to gedolei Yisroel to decide. The judge said that Gedolei Yisroel will not decide, he will decide. The judge can decide in that building, but Hashem is Elokim and the judge has no real power. Rav Elmaliach said that over past day they tried to break their spirit. People asked them what will be with their children. But we are going to jail over the education of our children. "I speak for all the parents in Emanuel. We are not open to compromise. We want chinuch of our children.
"For three years they have been saying false things. I said this in court: Bring me even one girl who was not accepted to our school and I will close it down myself. The judge asked me where I had been up until then. I told him that they did not permit me to speak. Also 30 percent of the girls in this group are Sephardim," concluded Rav Elmaliach.
The chareidi community has never discriminated on the basis of race. All the issues are over the level of religious observance, and an Ashkenazic family that does not keep to the standards is no more welcome than a family from any other ethnic group. Ashkenazi rabbonim and askonim have always been involved in advancing the chinuch of Sephardic children.