A Personal Account of the Orot Situation

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By: Etana Hecht

As many of you know, this past week in Bet Shemesh has not been a pleasant one. For those of you who have been hearing bits here and there, or reading articles in the press, I’d like to give my account as a Bet Shemesh resident.

I’m not an Orot parent (yet! hopefully next year), and I don’t even currently live in Sheinfeld (the Dati Leumi neighborhood across from the school), but I lived there for three years, hope to move back sometime soon and am a Bet Shemesh resident. I first came to Bet Shemesh eight years ago, and from the very beginning loved this city. The community of Sheinfeld is amazing, warm, and welcoming with terrific people and shuls. When we first moved in, the Ultra-orthodox community of RBS B was new, and expanding all the time. Slowly the buildings of RBS expanded until they were directly across from the border of Sheinfeld. Gezundeheit, welcome to the neighborhood.

When tensions started due to signs that were put up across the street demanding that women who walk through ‘their’ streets be dressed properly, some Sheinfeld people decided to try and diffuse the tension. We had a Mishloach Manot program where each Sheinfeld family got a name of one of our new neighbors across the street and sent them a super kosher, badatz eida chareidit, closed packaged Mishloach Manot. Lovely, there were some very nice people who lived there and responded with thanks. However, not all of them were so warm to our greetings. Unfortunately, a group of what we now refer to as Kitzonim (extremists) moved in from Meah Shearim. This group self appointed themselves as G-d’s personal messengers to deliver messages to all those who they believe are not living their lives exactly how G-d intended us to live. The main point that they bring across with this is their extreme views of Tzniut (modesty). This has manifested itself in a number of ways over the years, including spray painting our property with their messages, chasing and screaming at teenage girls and boys from our neighborhood, spitting at women who were wearing sandals, even throwing an egg at one girl from our area. The point is, they moved into a mixed city, and started demanding that their new neighbors (who have been here for decades) transform into Meah Shearimniks. Now, obviously, we are not total friars (suckers), although sometimes it feels like we are. This has caused various tense periods over the years, during flare ups.

Now that you have some background, here is the issue we are dealing with today. On the border of Sheinfeld, Nofei Hashemesh, and Nofei Aviv (three lovely Dati Leumi neighborhoods) sits a plot of land with two schools that mainly cater to those three neighborhoods. Orot Banim (boys’ school) and Orot Banot (girls’ school). Overlooking the girls’ school are the new buildings on the edge of RBS B that, due to extremely poor planning by the city, reach all the way to the border of ‘our’ neighborhoods. Orot Banot has been waiting for years for their building to be ready, and this year, finally, the girls looked forward to moving into their new school.

About a week before school was scheduled to start, our neighbors started causing some trouble. They broke into the brand new school, did some vandalizing, threw some rocks, and made it very clear that they were not happy about having a bunch of 6-12 year old Dati Leumi girls learning Torah next door to them.

Our mayor, Moshe Abutbol, sent out a message that the girls should not start school in that location, for fear that they may get hurt. Well, clearly the parent’s association was not going to stand for that. After 4 straight days of peaceful protests from our community (which he was NOT expecting) B”H the school opened on time, and even uneventfully. Until earlier this week. On Monday, as the girls were getting dismissed, a large group of kitzonim showed up at dismissal, lined the streets on both sides, and made it extremely unpleasant for these little girls to get to their buses/walk home. They also threw a rock into the boys’ school yard and hurt a boy in the leg. They were carrying bricks threateningly. There was much shouting of Shiksa (non-jew) and Prutza (promiscuous girl). ( Cutely enough, our girls thought they were being called Shnitzel and Pizza) There was chasing, shouting, even some shoving. Parents showed up as quickly as possible and the situation escalated. One of their ‘leaders’, a man named Moshe Friedman was quoted saying that they’ll fight every day for 20 years until there is no longer a girls school next door. Unnamed people from our side saw no choice but to fight fire with fire. They had ‘pashkeveilim’ (fliers) made up with some of the ringleader’s pictures on them with the caption “so and so likes to stare at little girls. How do we know? Every day they show up at Orot Banot to see them as the girls come out of school”. On Tuesday, they kept their distance from the school but gathered to shout across the street from Sheinfeld, and then took it even further. A school bus from a school in RBS A called Ahavat Yisrael, dropped off the Sheinfeld girls at the corner. The thugs actually chased two seven year old girls down the street screaming after them. What kind of person picks a fight with a little girl?!?! Needless to say, these little girls are traumatized.

After that, a request was sent out to parents, and members of the general community to show up at dismissal time to walk the girls down the block so they feel support, and don’t have to walk alone. In addition, if large numbers of parents show up hopefully it’ll deter ‘them’ from showing up. I went on Wednesday with my husband and my father. There were about 50-60 of ‘our’ men there, and many women as well, both parents and non-parents of the school, showing up for support. I made a couple of trips up and down the block with girls who needed to walk to the bus stop or to their house across the street. It was the saddest thing, walking with these cute 10 or 11 year old girls and hear them saying as we walked down the block “Baruch Hashem the scary men aren’t out today”. Where are we that little girls need to be scared of men coming to terrorize them as they walk out of school?!?! From a violent point of view, it was b”H calm yesterday. However, all up and down Rechov Herzog ( the block of the school) there were verbal confrontations taking place.

A few words of background about myself. I’m peaceful, and by nature tend to believe the best in people. Having said that, I went over to a few of the Chasidish wives who were standing around and started talking to them. I said “hi, I just want to talk. I hate this battling between Jews. Can anyone here tell me what’s going on?” One lady appointed herself spokeswoman and started shouting about tznius. I said ” relax, no need to raise your voice, I’m just here to talk. I want to hear what you have to say”. She said “When I take my boys outside I don’t want them seeing girls in short sleeves and without socks” She went on in that vein for a couple of minutes. I let her talk, and then when she finished I said “I understand what you said, now please listen to me. Our community has been here for 20 years. The girls’ school was slated to be there before your buildings were even a thought in anyone’s head. YOU CHOSE to move into an already mixed city. You didn’t move to Meah Shearim, you moved to a place where there are all sorts of people walking around, and the men can’t go around terrorizing people if they don’t like how they’re dressed.” She had nothing to say to that and turned around and walked away, but not before one of her friends shoved the camera lady next to me.

Next incident… a bunch of the parents who showed up had their family dogs with them, all on leashes of course. There were many kids who were scared, and I felt bad because they were just little kids. I saw a group of chareidi teenage girls, probably around 13 years old. They were gathered on the sidewalk, clearly wanting to walk but scared of a dog. I have nothing against these fellow Jews, I went over and offered to walk with them past the dog. They stared at me like I was an alien and one of them blurted out “Why did you Chilonim (secular Jews) build a Chiloni school next to our houses”. I felt like I was slapped, and when I retold it to a reporter a few minutes later I couldn’t keep the tears from coming. I went home feeling sadder about this absurd situation than I can even explain. I literally felt sick from it and couldn’t sleep last night.

Now, Thursday afternoon, I just got back from Orot and I’m happy to report that we did everything we were supposed to, as did the police. Non-Orot parents were stationed along Herzog to make the kids feel comfortable as they walked up to the bus. There was zero provocation from our side. There were no dogs. We were able to see a group of the troublemakers start to make their way towards Herzog, but B”H the police held them in a little alley that met up with Herzog and didn’t let them come onto the street until all the girls were safely where they needed to go. They shouted their chants, but couldn’t get close to the kids. There was a bit of commotion when a single trouble maker started shouting and walking down Herzog from the other direction. The police ushered him into the path with the others, and when he resisted, took him away in a police car.

Everyone was just there to show support for the girls. There was even a noticeable group of people from RBS A. The men came wearing their black hats and chareidi levush. They all turned out to show their support. There had been an email sent out on the list of the largest Anglo shul in RBS A asking members to please come and show that they support us in this absurd situation. In addition, the Rabbis who are our leaders in this issue have been in contact with people in the RBS B chareidi/chasidish community. We understand from that the extremists do not have widespread support in their own community. However, it is difficult for them to do anything publicly to assist us for fear that the Kitzonim will harm them and their families

I don’t know what will be, or how this will end. I pray that somehow, these Kitzonim will quietly disappear from our beloved city of Bet Shemesh. However, until that happens we need to keep up the fight as peacefully as possible so as not to lose our city to them. We need the greater Bet Shemesh/Ramat Bet Shemesh community to not only support us, but join in the fight, because they need to realize that they’re next.

I know this was long, but the purpose was to show you the view of someone who’s here, who’s been here for awhile and who doesn’t want to go anywhere. I also want to dispel the rumor that it’s a two sided battle. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. This has been one sided all the way through, with side two coming in to do what we need to do to protect our girls and our community.
The biggest thing anyone who is not here can do to help us out is to spread the word. The more Jews we have encouraging and supporting us, the easier it will be for us to keep standing up to these thugs. Most importantly, if the yeshivish community, both in Israel and America would actually speak out AGAINST these issues in large numbers, they would lose much of their power, and possibly even much of their funding. There are too many families who have made their homes here who don’t want to be run out of the neighborhood by a bunch of bullies.

[Etana Hecht is a mother of two living in Bet Shemesh. She made aliyah at age 18, and never looked back.]

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17 Responses

  1. Lawrence M. Reisman says:

    Moshe:

    It was printed in the Long Island Jewish World during the Israeli elections in the late 1980s. I can’t be more exact than that without spending hours to find it. But I remember it most clearly.

  2. Moshe says:

    “I still remember an interview Rabbi Yehuda Amital gave to an American newspaper, where he could talk about the need for love and tolerance towards Conservative, Reform, and secular Jews and “Kefirat Charedit” (and those were his words) at the same time.”

    Source please? It sounds like nothing R. Amital zt’l would have said.

  3. Lawrence M. Reisman says:

    To R. Gottlieb:

    I think you’ve got things inverted. In this case, no one was questioning the right of Charedim of any stripe to live in Ramat Beit Shemesh. The question was whether a pack of goons (both male and female) of a certain type of Charedi have the right (which they don’t) to dictate what their neighbors do. If anything, Etana Hecht’s reply was as correct as you could get. It was also very restrained; I doubt I would have been as nice.

    However, I must note that several posters have shown a certain hostility to Haredim all too prevalent among the Dati Leumi. I still remember an interview Rabbi Yehuda Amital gave to an American newspaper, where he could talk about the need for love and tolerance towards Conservative, Reform, and secular Jews and “Kefirat Charedit” (and those were his words) at the same time. That same hostility is allowing certain posters to use the Sikrikim to tar the entire Charedi community.

    That having been said, I do wish that the leaders and members of the Charedi community would stand up to and actively oppose the Sikirim. Not because they are giving Charedim a bad name, and not just because their behavior is an attack on the civilized tolerance we need to survive together, but because their behavior is a chillul HaShem and a pritzus on Kedushah. I am certain that if we don’t stand up together, the Charedim will be the next victims.

  4. R Gottlieb says:

    Dear Etana, your answer to the charedi woman is far from being the best one or even appropriate. The issue is not of who get there first. The issue is learning to coexist with someone diferent from you. As I see it “Love the stranger” is the correct answer.

  5. Etana Hecht says:

    Update: Today there were about 10 men waiting on the roof for the girls. They didn’t know today was late dismissal so they sat there for awhile, then made their way down. However, not before they threw stink bombs into the schoolyard, and an egg at one girl who left early. Can you say pathetic? Also, where are they getting money to fund their ‘activities’? These guys are supposed to be poor kollel men. We do know that in the past the Eida Chareidit gave them money for some of their shenanigans. If you’ve ever given tzedaka to them you may consider stopping.

  6. Etana Hecht says:

    Thanks, Menachem Lipkin for articulating a perfect response to previous comments.

  7. Bob Miller says:

    If this was the old Wild West, we’d be seeing some civilians getting together for self-protection, instead of hoping the authorities catch on.

  8. Menachem Lipkin says:

    Great article by Etana. Her father must be very proud. :)

    “I would hope that at some point, the Charedi population who opposes the rioters will act up and speak up. Otherwise, they are the next victims!”

    Very often the Chareidi population already are the victims and they are much more fearful of speaking up for fear of the retribution that would befall them. We’ve been in contact with people, even leaders, in RBS B. They are extremely supportive of our position and very much regret their inability to get more visibly involved. Hopefully this will change in the near future.

    “I got the impression that some committee very unwisely (or willfully) moved a dati school to a chareidi neighborhood with little sensitivity to the facts on the ground.”

    This impression is incorrect. As Etana clearly pointed out, this school is not in a Chareidi neighborhood. (This is one of the false claims made the Hebrew side of Chadash newspaper.) The school is on the border of 4 neighborhoods; 3 mixed Dati Leumi/Chardal/Chiloni and one Chareidi. Also, making this into an issue of the modesty of 6-12 year old girls is, at best, opportunistic. Four years ago when the adjacent boys’ Orot school opened these guys also went nuts.

    “This makes me very sad. I’ll save a copy of this article for my “Tisha B’av reading.””

    Not so fast. There’s actually a silver lining to this. Kitzonim here in Bet Shemesh, all over Israel, and even in some places in the U.S. have been getting away with this terroristic behavior for too long. In assaulting and harassing little girls they’ve finally crossed a red line that truly separates them from Clal Yisrael. In Bet Shemesh our effort to oppose them, and a mayor who shamelessly kowtows to them, has brought together a broad coalition of Datiim, Chilonim, Sephardim, Ethiopians, and Russians. It has also helped our community forge stronger bonds with certain groups in the Chareidi community and has brought members American Yeshivish community to stand with us. We may yet stand a chance of purging this extremism from our midst and in so doing bring us all closer together.

  9. Yaakov Menken says:

    From a friend of mine, who lives in RBS A, and is entirely Charedi — his hat is blacker than mine, as they say. He’s also very slow to be involved in politics, so all he could provide is what the Charedi news is saying. That, however, turns out to say a great deal:

    The little bit we know we read the other day in the English side of the local Chareidi paper (Chadash) (not the Hebrew side, which is more fearful of kanaim). It referred to the chareidim who made trouble in very non-complimentary fashion (calling them fanatics or whatever), and wrote something about how both Datim and Chareidim from RBS A went to hang up signs in RBS B with pic’s of the troublemakers who were doing the harassing. They also quoted a statement from the local city council along the lines that it was regrettable that the education ministry (or whatever it was) didn’t let them settle this locally – although they do condemn the violence, etc. I got the impression that some committee very unwisely (or willfully) moved a dati school to a chareidi neighborhood with little sensitivity to the facts on the ground. But again, I don’t know anything not in print.

  10. Lawrence M. Reisman says:

    I would hope that at some point, the Charedi population who oppose the rioters will act up and speak up. Otherwise, they are the next victims!

  11. Tzvi says:

    Thank you Cross Currents for publishing this.

  12. Etana Hecht says:

    Leon- As I was heading towards Orot the other day, I was saying to my husband that if little girls weren’t being victimized, the situation is so ludicrous, it’s hysterical. Can you just picture a group of grown men looking at their watches and saying “oh, it’s 12:45, we better run over to the little girls’ school down the block and shout at them!”.

    L. Oberstein- that’s exactly my point. If the moderate chareidim realize the extent of this situation, and how it will affect them at some point in the future then hopefully enough of them will jump on our bandwagon and in our numbers, the Kitzonim will lose their power. During the first few days of protests, the police didn’t do anything to stop or arrest the troublemakers. After a video went around of them doing nothing while men screamed at little girls, they realized how bad it looked and B”H started taking action and making arrests. The problem is that in this community when arrests are made it generally makes the rioting worse.

  13. Pinchas Steinberg says:

    This makes me very sad. I’ll save a copy of this article for my “Tisha B’av reading.”

  14. L. Oberstein says:

    You are 100% in the right on this issue. The fact that these extremists moved into an existing city and cannot abide anyone who is not like them is intolerable. However, that is the way these people are. Much of the fault lies with the city authorities who coddle them and who did not have foresight in planning the various neighborhoods. If it is true tha the majority of Chassidim and other Chareidim are themselves afraid of these rioters, then the police have to be firm and make arrests. A hostile minority cannot dominate unless the majority lets them.

  15. Zdog says:

    Well Written.

    ZH

  16. aron feldman says:

    an excellent and thoughtful piece! It would be nice to see the extremists
    evince the same level of contempt towards the Burka Lady (who ran a cult of sexual deviance)
    that they showed towards some innocent children whose biggest crime is going to school

  17. Leon Zacharowicz MD says:

    If this was not so sad, it would be ridiculously funny.