by Reb Akiva @ Mystical Paths
Israel’s political style and social style seems designed to bring internal groups into conflict. Every election is 'if we win we get all the money and take it all away from the other side'. Whether it's city or national, when you're not in the majority position the ONLY way to get government response to your issues is to come out in numbers and be a pain. So in effect the government trains it's citizens to protest big time. The ultra-orthodox take this a step farther as they’ve been a small minority that’s historically been somewhat persecuted by the governments of the past. This has led them to take the feeling a bit farther and institutionalize a feeling of alienation, even though governments are no longer acting that way AND they’re no longer a non-influential minority.
In Beit Shemesh, a series of twin-home neighborhoods primarily occupied by American and English speaking Jewish modern-orthodox immigrants (locally called “anglos”) abuts a growing high density ultra-orthodox Jewish neighborhood known as Ramat Beit Shemesh B. On the seam line between the two neighborhoods, the Ministry of Education built two elementary school buildings targeted at children from the anglo community (a boys and a girls).
The ultra-orthodox community presents two complaints about this. First, their schools are significantly over capacity with children learning in hallways and trailers yet new spacious facilities are being given to a community segment without that overcrowding. Second, and this is their loudly presented argument, it results in a group of girls who don’t keep to their community standards traipsing through (along the edge of actually) community. [The fact that they moved into buildings facing another community with a different standard is besides the point, they’re there and it causes them a problem.]
Now with a cultural proclivity to protest to have impact, and add some zealots with a ‘holy cause’, and you’ve got a hot situation. The ultra-orthodox zealots of Ramat Beit Shemesh B have been actively and forcefully protesting the presence of the school – taking it to the point of harassing the elementary school age girls as they pass by on the way home.
In response the parents, some of their community members and various supporters have been lining up to guard the girls way home and block the actions of the zealots. Unfortunately the police were not sufficiently responsive in the past (though that seems to have changed today). I joined today’s protests to help defend school age Jewish girls from any type of abuse (verbal or G-d forbid worse) regardless of the reason as well as to SPEAK to the zealots to hear them out. Below are pictures and video from the event. The video is key as a young charedi zealot argues with me that I’m standing on the wrong side, while I calmly challenge his position and what’s he’s doing to the face of Torah. (It’s hebrew and hard to hear, unfortunately.)
That such a thing is happening and zealots are taking advantage of a neighborhood conflict to turn it into a holy war among brothers is a disaster for the month of Elul and the Jewish people right before Rosh Hashana.
#1 Defenders line the street to protect the girls returning from school.
#2 Police inform the zealots they may protest from the side but not enter the sidewalk.
. The zealots chant kinos (lamentations) to show their distress in the situation.
. One parent is sufficiently upset he attempts to confront the zealots, which the police stop.
. A study in zealot religious fervor. Chanting kinos (for Elul?).
. The zealot leader, who’s father is the rav of the group’s kollel (or so I was told by another) leading the chants.
. Conversation with a zealot. This young zealot comes over to discuss with me why I’m standing on the wrong side. Hebrew, 8 minutes, hard to hear clearly over the chanting.
. This time the police were well prepared and organized. They brought along a team of Yassam Riot Police (pictured), who are intimidating and known for their violent response in such situations, in case trouble broke out. Fortunately they did not need to engage.
. After the event, the defenders went to the girls school to pray the afternoon prayer together. A sign on this school that the zealots are protesting says “Welcome in the Name of Hashem.”