A Response to Ami Magazine from Beit Shemesh

by Etana Hecht

[Editor’s Note: Contributing to this blog, I know full well that editors must sometimes – often – pull the plug on discussion after fruitful exchange gets to the point of diminishing returns. From the feedback I get from irate readers, I also know of the frustration they feel when some points of view never see the light of day because discussion has been cut off. I can understand and accept the decision of my friends the Frankfurters of ending Ami’s coverage of the Beit Shemesh debacle and moving on. Blogs have a bit more flexibility; we can provide an outlet where print media cannot. I know Etana and her family, and think it worthwhile for the public to read her contribution.]

As most of you have probably seen in the media, Bet Shemesh has been having problems with a group of thugs who call themselves Chareidi who have been causing much trouble and pain to many of the citizens of Bet Shemesh. In a series of articles on this issue, Ami Magazine interviewed Mayor Moshe Abutbol to answer some questions about the situation. In his responses, there were a few false statements, as well as some horrible, false slander about one man who has done more than any other individual in the fight to save our city. In fact without him we would have no one guiding us as to how to go about the fight in the proper way. At first I was told that with some tweaks Ami would publish my response, and then I received an email that they are not publishing any more letters about Bet Shemesh. Having said that, I must do my part to set the facts straight wherever I can, lest no one believe the Lashon Hara that was said about Dov Lipman, and so that readers can understand the truth about certain statements the mayor falsely claimed as true. Below is my response:

To Whom it may Concern,

As a Bet Shemesh resident, I’d like to address numerous factual errors in your column entitled “Q & A with Beit Shemesh Mayor Moshe Abutbol” Issue 52.

1- Abutbol stated the following: “If it would have been designated as a boys’ school, the charedim would have been able to accept it and restrain their opposition. The entire outcry began the moment it was designated for girls.” He then continues on to say that if the two buildings would simply switch places, the entire issue would be solved.

This is false. When the boys’ school opened 3 years ago, there were protests and vandalism to the building as well. The reason they were able to keep it going this year, was so that they could hide their real agenda under the cries of ‘tznius’. In addition, they harass the the girls as they leave and walk up the block to the buses or their house, which is the exact same route that they would take if the buildings were switched, as they’re right next door to each other.

2- Sam Sokol asked why we haven’t seen any protests from the Chareidi part of Bet Shemesh against the extremists, to which Abutbol answered as follows: “As I said before, the Chareidim do not want to be seen as supporting the construction of a girls school in the middle of the Chareidi neighborhood”. I have two issues with this statement. Number one, all we were looking for was a condemnation of violence from as many frum leaders as possible, in order to alienate and malign the extremists. No politics necessary in said condemnation. Number two- the school in question is NOT “in the middle of the chareidi neighborhood”. It is on the border of three Dati Leumi neighborhoods that have been around for decades, and a few RBS B buildings which sprung up 5 years ago. In no way can it be described as it was, “in the middle of a chareidi neighborhood”. This description is exactly part of the problem. This group set their sights on obtaining the school building for their own needs, and they will use any means to achieve their goal, with no thought of the pain they cause to others.

3- Abutbol mentioned Dov Lipman numerous times. As a resident for the same amount of time that Rabbi Lipman has been here, I can attest to the fact that there is NO ONE in this city who has given of himself in the form of time and energy the way he has. There was much negativity towards him in the article, but I’d like to address one specific sentence which will capture what needs to be said about the rest of the comments aimed toward Rabbi Lipman. Abutbol stated “For three years Lipman fought against every building that went up to house chareidim. He fought the growth of chareidim day and night”. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is easily refutable, as in every single interview Rabbi Lipman has given, as well as in every talk I’ve personally had with him on the subject, he CLEARLY states that his goal is equal affordable housing for ALL populations. He’s been working tirelessly to mitigate the damage of the extremists, and Abutbol should be grateful to Rabbi Lipman for doing what Abutbol should have been doing all along, instead of calling him a “thorn in the side of Bet Shemesh”.

Etana Hecht
Bet Shemesh

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28 comments to A Response to Ami Magazine from Beit Shemesh

  • joel rich

    I can understand and accept the decision of my friends the Frankfurters of ending Ami’s coverage of the Beit Shemesh debacle and moving on. Blogs have a bit more flexibility; we can provide an outlet where print media cannot.
    ==========================================
    This would be worth a post of its own – explaining the editorial thought process of moving on (am I correct that this means they would not print Elana Hecht’s letter) when charges of serious miscommunications(to be kind) are left from the orinally printed piece leaving readers with the impression that those are the facts?
    KT

  • dr. bill

    as i have learned over and over, more important than how you address a problem is what you consider a problem that deserves to be addressed. it is not about hooligans and their rabbinic leaders; it is about a core curriculum, army service and a willingness to live in the real world, not some fictitious shtetl that never existed in this world. “lo ba-shamayim hi” takes on a new meaning, perhaps.

    It may be distressing that even violence is not addressed, but it is getting way too much attention.

  • Shanks

    I can understand and accept the decision of my friends the Frankfurters of ending Ami’s coverage of the Beit Shemesh debacle and moving on.
    Why? She just pointed out false things claimed in their magazine. Rabbi Adlerstein, She’s right to do so and you’re right to post her letter, but why shouldn’t Ami Magazine retract? Why are they allowed to leave people with the impression that lies are true? Because they want to move on? You allow people their letters, you retract, and then you move on. Integrity demands it.

    From the feedback I get from irate readers, I also know of the frustration they feel when some points of view never see the light of day because discussion has been cut off.
    In the J-blogosphere, this seems to mainly be a Cross-Currents problem. Things flow naturally at Emes Ve-Emunah, Rationalist Judaism, and Hirhurim. Actually, they flow quite nicely on Rabbi Adlerstein’s posts too. I certainly empathize with why people here don’t want those views to see the light of day, why some posts don’t allow comments; uncontrolled dialogue in reshus harabim is dangerous for a fundamentalist community (as defined by Routledge Companion to the Study of Religion).

  • Bob Miller

    For those who have asked, “what could the highest level religious authorities do in this situation?”, one answer seems to be to press this mayor as emphatically as possible, both in private and in public, to treat all his constituents fairly.

    Mayors are elected by voters. Something and someone has to motivate the majority to elect a less partisan, less divisive mayor. If the majority is satisfied with the political status quo, it is part of the problem; it can’t blame the whole thing on some fringe group.

  • lacosta

    when comparing Mishpacha to Ami , does it seem to be that Ami is a direct descendant of Jewish Observer , toeing the expected ‘party line’, just not as in-your-face anti-EVERYONE ELSE as Yated? thank G-d for Mishpacha, not afraid to say the real Truth…..

    [YA – On some issues. On others, I can unequivocally state that AMI has been the one to treat subjects and people that Mishpacha will not touch.]

  • Tzvi

    Thank you for publishing this.

  • Aaron

    “I can understand and accept the decision of my friends the Frankfurters of ending Ami’s coverage of the Beit Shemesh debacle and moving on.”

    Yes, you are right, Ami Magazine has much more important things to do like covering pictures of the White House in Nazi Flags and Swastikas.

  • cohen y

    At least Etana Hecht(and the bulk of commenters) and myself can find one thing to agree on:Mayor Aboutbul was incompetent.

  • James

    I would have preferred Etana point out how ridiculous it is to suggest that Orot has no right to exist in a Chareidi neighborhood (or, perhaps, the absurdity of “chareidi neighborhoods”). Why argue over the demographic nature of the neighborhood?

  • Etana Hecht

    James, what is obvious to you and I is not so to others. The issue of this extremist community moving somewhere and expecting previously existing surroundings to cater to their sheltered needs is its own post in and of itself.

    This post was merely to point out where abutbol’s words were straight out false, which is why I addresses where the school lies relative to where the various communities are situated.

  • Akiva Blum

    For a letter purporting to contain only facts, one would have hoped the author remain precise.

    1. the border of three Dati Leumi neighborhoods that have been around for decades, and a few RBS B buildings which sprung up 5 years ago

    With regards to adjacent buildings,only one DL neighborhood is decades old. The others that can truly be described as being ‘bordering’ are of similar age to the chareidi areas. Since those particular DL buildings have only existed for a few years, perhaps they are also better described as sprung up!

    2. Whereas it is true that Rabbi Lipman has clearly stated that his goal is equal housing for all populations, his methods include petitioning against construction of RBS Gimmel, a preferred destination for chareidim, on the grounds of equal housing. In that, mayor Abutbol was accurate in describing Rabbi Lipman as a “thorn in the side of Bet Shemesh”.

  • Moshe Hillson

    Some of these comments are worrying in that they seem to indicate that not only “those Chareidim” have an agenda, but the opposing side also has elements of an agenda besides a justified complaint – an agenda of negating and delegitimising the Chareidi world-view in its entirety. (See also my commentary of Jan 4 to the article “Beit Shemesh From the Inside”.

  • Truth

    Unfortunately those in the States have NO IDEA how the mayor here in BS/RBS operates. I wish Ami would have done more research before celebrating this “leadership”. Kudos for publishing.

  • Chareidi Leumi

    >thank G-d for Mishpacha, not afraid to say the real Truth…..

    They do no such thing. The latest issue is all about the chareidi “PR problem.” As if the real problem is not the fact that the community includes and tolerates violent intolerant thugs.

    >The issue of this extremist community moving somewhere and expecting previously existing surroundings to cater to their sheltered needs is its own post in and of itself.

    Because they see their “sheltered needs” as the commands of the Torah which means that anyone who opposes these needs is seen as an evil person worthy of being spat upon. The problem is, that as you move to the left on the religious spectrum, the statement evolves organically from:

    “anyone who opposes these needs is seen as an evil person worthy of being spat upon”
    to
    “anyone who opposes these needs is seen as an evil person”
    to
    “anyone who opposes these needs is seen as a nebuch ignorant person”

    It is difficult to criticize the crazies when part of your own ideology is the defense of extremism

    I fear that it is impossible to cure the “PR problem” as long as extremism and fanaticism is lauded and encouraged – even in its non-violent version.

  • L. Oberstein

    As the editors know ,there is a major difference of opinion as to what the reality of Ramat Beit Shemesh is. As I understand it, there is denial that there are any problems, Beit Shemesh is quiet to the point of being boring. If only these trouble makers had not called in the secular media, it would have all gone away quietly. The problem is not the kooks but Lipman. If all of this sounds surreal to you, that seems to be the response of the chareidi leadership and they are sticking with it.
    I think this is called cognitive dissoonence.
    Rabbi Berel Wein analyzed why the Israeli chareidim prefer to be victims of the secularists than eual members of society. It boils down to unease about the legitimacy of the Medina and the problem of how to handle the Holocaust followed by the Birth of Israel.
    If the issue is solely the actions of a small number of mentally unballanced people, it still would be a problem I think everyone on this blog sees it as symptomatic of a deeper chasm.

  • Tal Benschar

    At least Etana Hecht(and the bulk of commenters) and myself can find one thing to agree on:Mayor Aboutbul was incompetent.

    I don’t agree. I think he is quite competent – at the kind of political hackery typical of Israeli politicians — take care of your own, and the hell with the rest. That’s what those who voted him in wanted, and that’s what they got.

  • Chareidi Leumi

    >With regards to adjacent buildings,only one DL neighborhood is decades old.

    All the DL neighborhoods in question are older than the chareidi building on the north on RBS B

  • Menachem Lipkin

    Akiva said:
    “Whereas it is true that Rabbi Lipman has clearly stated that his goal is equal housing for all populations, his methods include petitioning against construction of RBS Gimmel, a preferred destination for chareidim, on the grounds of equal housing.”

    RBS C can’t be a preferred destination for anyone because it doesn’t exist yet. That’s the whole point. RBS C is projected have 20,000 housing units, more than doubling that which exists in all of Bet Shemesh currently. The mayor, left to his own devices, would designate all of that housing for Chareidim! The only why to attempt to force a somewhat equitable allocation is to attempt to slow down the process so reasonable people can get reassess the situation.

    Furthermore, the city’s current infrastructure cannot support that type of growth. For example the only road that leads to the main Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway is two lanes and cannot even handle the current traffic load. There is a dearth of shopping and entertainment. Everything Dov is doing is for the benefit of greater Bet Shemesh in the long run. The only place he’s being a “thorn” is in the side of the Mayor.

  • Menachem Lipkin

    “take care of your own, and the hell with the rest.”

    If only he would have taken care of his own. As a Shas party member his “own” are the traditional Sphardim that made up a large part of his voting block. They are livid at him for turning his back on them. The children of these people, many of whom literally built Bet Shemesh, are now having trouble finding housing because the Mayor is so busy catering to his new best buds.

  • Lawrence Kaplan

    Tal Benschar: But at the point when “political hackery” results in a major scandal and outrage, the mayor has to do a better job of damage control, even if only in terms of pure hackery.

  • Eliezer

    Menachem Lipkin said:

    “The mayor, left to his own devices, would designate all of that housing for Chareidim.”

    Pardon my ignorance of Israeli politics, but how does one “designate” housing for a particular group?

  • Menachem Lipkin

    Eliezer,

    You have a good question. Of course, legally a developer can’t refuse to sell to anyone based on their hashkafa. However, through design and marketing groups can be targeted. For example, if you wanted to discourage orthodox people from moving to an area you might build mostly high rise structures with terraces that line up under each other, or no terraces at all. (Making it impossible to have a Succah.) Building in “Chareidi” areas is often very dense, with little land set aside for open space, community and arts centers and a very high concentration of shuls and schools. Aesthetically these are not places that others would choose to live in.

  • anonymous in RBS

    >>With regards to adjacent buildings,only one DL neighborhood is decades old.

    >All the DL neighborhoods in question are older than the chareidi building on the north on RBS B

    No, the original comment was correct. The Sheinfeld neighbourhood as a whole has been there for decades and is across the street from the Charedi area. (although the building that the Margolese family lives in and most of that specific part of the development is only a few years old, as well.) The other adjacent dati buildings are Ramat Neriah and are about the same age as the Charedi buildings.

    I also take issue with this piece being presented as straight facts. Everyone views the situation through the lens of their own bias and much of what is written here is the writer’s own perspective and opinion on the situation.

  • Etana Hecht

    anonymous in RBS, you are correct that the Nofei Hashemesh/Ramat Neriyah buildings are approximately the same age as the new Herzog buildings. As for the neighborhood of Sheinfeld, it doesn’t matter how old the block is where the Margolese’s live (which, incidentally is about 10 years old, 5 years older than the Herzog buildings.) The Sheinfeld neighborhood is decades old. That still doesn’t change the fact that the way the Mayor portrayed it as “in the middle of a chareidi neighborhood” is absolutely false and misleading.

    What else do you see as “written the the lens of my own bias”? It’s a FACT that Rabbi Lipman has never said he doesn’t want Chareidim moving in, rather that he wants all populations to have a chance to buy in the future of the city of Bet Shemesh. It’s also a fact that the extremists caused trouble for the boys, thereby disproving the Mayor’s theory that all would be hunky-dory if the two schools switched buildings.

  • Chareidi Leumi

    >No, the original comment was correct. The Sheinfeld neighbourhood as a whole has been there for decades and is across the street from the Charedi area. (although the building that the Margolese family lives in and most of that specific part of the development is only a few years old, as well.) The other adjacent dati buildings are Ramat Neriah and are about the same age as the Charedi buildings.

    This is a misrepresentation.

    Sheinfled and Nofei Aviv are both much older than the buildings adjacent to Orot. Ramat Neriah is newer but is contiguous with Nofei Aviv and is more appropriately seen as an extension of of the other dati neighborhoods than an independent new neighborhood. The chareidi buildings next to Orot are pretty much the newest buildings there and are really a northern expansion of RBS B (or the old chareidi neighborhood in beit shemesh) into Sderot HaRav Herzog. There is nothing chareidi about the school’s location and it is a flat out lie to imply that the school was placed there to stop chareidi expansion. It was put there because it is a convenient place from which to service the older neighborhoods. The problem is that most chareidim in Israel seem incapable of living in proximity to people who are different than them so they move into new buildings, declare it to be a chareidi neighborhood and proceed in harassing those who are different than them.

    The mayor is basically a serial liar and it is scandalous journalism that Ami did not call him out on the facts.

  • anonymous in RBS

    Chareidi Leumi- The Sheinfeld neighbourhood is older than the Charedi area of RBS B, Ramat Neriah is not. We’re talking about Charedi families moving into an area where the dati already lived, which is accurate only with regards to Sheinfeld. Ramat Neriah is contiguous with Nofei Aviv, but it didn’t exist when those families were buying in to the area.

    If the rest of your comment is directed at me, I’m a little confused. I never said that the school was in the middle of a Charedi area nor commented on the reasons that it’s there.

    Etana- you’re right that the age of the buildings the Margolese family lives in really isn’t relevant- they are part of a larger community that was already there.

    The rhetoric that has been presented against the Charedi community here often frightens me. Dov Lipman very specifically has been encouraging that by conflating this group of hoodlums who have been harassing students and their violence- which almost all Charedim abhor and the rest of the Charedi community. He very specifically gloats about the “national revulsion” towards Charedim that has resulted from the media storm, all while bringing in issues that are not related to the violence, making it clear that the “menace” he is referring to is not a small band of uncontrollable hooligans, but the Charedi population as a whole. Those quoted words are his, not mine. (I’m referring to an essay he wrote on the topic himself, with the assumption that his words have not been changed)

  • Menachem Lipkin

    “Dov Lipman very specifically has been encouraging that by conflating this group of hoodlums who have been harassing students and their violence- which almost all Charedim abhor and the rest of the Charedi community. He very specifically gloats about the “national revulsion” towards Charedim that has resulted from the media storm, all while bringing in issues that are not related to the violence, making it clear that the “menace” he is referring to is not a small band of uncontrollable hooligans, but the Charedi population as a whole. Those quoted words are his, not mine. (I’m referring to an essay he wrote on the topic himself, with the assumption that his words have not been changed)”

    Please excerpt the entire quote where you claim Dov wrote this way about Chareidim in general, ie don’t just pull out two or three words and editorialize the rest. I know him well, have heard him speak many times, and read most of what he’s written. He is always careful to refer to only to the minority of extremists, very much the opposite of what you claim.

  • anonymous in RBS

    Menachem Lipkin- I replied to your comment, but my comment didn’t make it through. In case this one does- the essay is linked in the news section of his site- it was the most recent link.