Monday, January 2, 2012

The Beit Shemesh Fault Line

6 days a week, I wake up in the morning and walk my daughter to school. There are only crossing gaurds on one side of the street, so she needs me to help her cross the other street before she is under the care of the crossing guards (who happen to be Grade 6 students). When the school day ends, I meet her at the park near the crossing guards. In a little more than a year, she will be 9 years old and able to do this walk all by herself.

About a 10 minute drive on the other side of town. Orot, a similar religous girls school opened moved into their new building at the beginning of the school year. Their experience is completely different. It is located near the border between the Chearedi Neighbourhood RBS B and the edges of 3 Datei Leumi communities. A group of men calling themselves the Sikirm (bearing the same name as the group who's zealousness to force the Jewish to fight the Roman's lead to the destruction of the second Beith HaMikdash) come out to intimidate the girls (Grade 1 - 6). Name calling, spitting and occasionally throwing rocks and bricks are all par for the course. Parents (and at certain points members of the community) have been escorting the children through the group of thugs to protect their safety. Last week a news crew filmed a scared 8 year old girl, as her mother tried to walk her to school. The image has inspired the country to take action.

The State does have a history of mistreating religious Jews. The Charedi community reaction to the backlash has been t0 fall back to being victims of Charedi bashing and everyone being against them. Most cannot even imagine that this is a direct backlash to their long tradition of using violence and political power to force their life style on others. When I was in Yeshiva, I was a block away from where they protested to have Bar Illan street closed on Shabbat. I saw wrongs on both sides. One night when a police car was hit with a rock, an arrest was made. They spent the night calling the soldiers Nazis, which in their world is a term for anyone who doesn't agree with them. The Nazi imagery that they used Saturday night should not have been a surprise to anybody.

In order to solve the problem at Orot, it is important to look at the real root of the problem. Most importantly this is a turf war. The Sikirm want the school for themselves and to expand the borders of their community and sphere of influence.

Moshe Abutbul was elected under the mantra of a Mayor for everyone. His actions have been anything but as he tries to cater to the Charedi community. In RBS A, the Mikvaot was split between those who wanted a "Mehdarin" experience and those who wanted to have the same standards applied by Jewish communities around the world. He tried to hand them over to the Charedi community and was only stopped by the backlash from the Datei Leumi community and leadership. He has been working to close the only secular school in RBS A, while telling parents he was trying to keep it open. Eventually the Minister of Education stepped in to declare that he will use his powers to guarantee the school stays open. The year my daughter entered Grade 1, school registration was delayed, waiting for the final decision of the school to be made.

When the Sikirm protested the opening of Orot in their new building, the Mayor tried to solve the problem by not allowing the school to open. Once again the Minister of Education threatened to step in, to make sure it opened. The Mayor falsely claimed that he was just trying to listen to the advice from the police.

In order to make peace it will be necessary to remove the political power wielded by the trouble makers in the Charedi community. This can be done both from a policy of not tolerating violence and limiting the dispoportional political power.

- Police should not be afraid to arrest those who are causing violence.
- There has to be a way to enforce a restraining order preventing, such ugly protests so close to the school.
- Following the lead of other democracies and raising the minimum threshold to obtain seats in the Knesset from 2% to 5%. This will allow knock out some of the extremist parties and cause the smaller parties to carry political weight more proportionate to their size.
- Eliminate vote sharing agreements and party mergers during election campaigns. These agreements allow parties with little support to leverage their votes and advertising allotments to in exchange for political favours.

It should be noted that the Charedi fighting does not spread to the communities of Bnei Brak, Beitar Illit, Kiryat Sefar and only seem to be limited to Meah Sharim and Beit Shemesh. The Beit Shemesh Charedi community is made up of a lot of people that cannot afford to stay in Mea Sharim. Mea Sharim is such an insulated community that they just cannot handle the idea that the rest of the world is not like them. Once you think your way is the only way, anything can be justified in the name of your beliefs.

Beit Shemesh will be getting a new Police Chief this week. Hopefully, he will have the skills and if necessary force to make it safe for the Orot girls to go to school. Once that is done, the Charedi community can start worrying about repairing their reputation and getting along as peaceful neighbours. The choice is theirs.

If the Sikirim had been stopped at the beginning of the school year, there would have been no need to bring in the media. Something that should be considered before starting the next turf war. Hopefully, my friends who's daughters go to Orot can let their daughters walk to school without worry just like I can.

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