For Now, American Enclave Feels No Fear

Naama Margolese Says 'Everything Is Good' in Beit Shemesh

Calm After Storm: A mother held her daughter close as they walked to school last year. For now, parents have less fear about their daughters being accosted by extremists in the flashpoint town of Beit Shemesh.
Calm After Storm: A mother held her daughter close as they walked to school last year. For now, parents have less fear about their daughters being accosted by extremists in the flashpoint town of Beit Shemesh.

By Allison Kaplan Sommer (Haaretz)

Published July 16, 2012.
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The most openly political and highest-profile member of the team that led the battle for Orot Banot was [American-born] Rabbi Dov Lipman. Orot was not Lipman’s first political fight. He has been actively involved in Beit Shemesh politics in the past, and doesn’t exactly keep his political ambitions a secret, maintaining a Facebook page called “Dov Lipman for the Knesset.” However, he claims that “political office is not my ultimate goal. Change is.” Since Orot, Lipman [who calls himself “Modern Haredi”] has become a national public figure and spoke at last Saturday’s massive Tel Aviv rally calling for Haredim to serve in the Israel Defense Forces.

Two months after moving to Beit Shemesh, Lipman had his initiation into conflict when he was hit in the leg by a rock near an ultra-Orthodox demonstration. He had been standing next to a policeman, the target of the attack.

Lipman: “I still have that rock on my desk and I tell myself that at any opportunity I have to either heal those rifts or fight against the extremism. Because I came from the yeshiva world, I thought that I was in a position to mediate between the two sides. I tried that approach and realized very quickly that it could not work. The other side was not ready for any kind of discussion, communication or compromise. So my position changed from that of mediator to being one of the leaders in the battle against religious extremism.”

Lipman knew there would be trouble with Orot Banot four years ago when construction began, and a local extremist Haredi, Rabbi Meir Heller, told him that no school with an Israeli flag would be allowed to stand on that spot. The issue was never modesty, Lipman insists; it was always a cover for broader issues of territory and control. When the situation “exploded” during that first week of school, he says he “realized we were facing violent, hateful extremists. I also realized the police weren’t going to do [anything about] it. I just felt a burden on our shoulders to fight against it, to be there every day.”

Behind the scenes Lipman did everything in his power to make it stop, working all his connections with the police and government ministers, sending messages to the Prime Minister’s Office, but “no one would help, no one wanted to deal with the issue. We were very much on our own.”

The tide only turned four long months later when they went to the media, and Hadassa Margolese allowed a film crew from Channel 2 news to record Naama’s terror. She had no desire for fame and notoriety - she only wanted to make it stop.

Naama “was going through so much,” she says, “that I felt it was to her benefit to have her in the story, if going on television meant they would stop coming to the school and she wouldn’t live in fear and anxiety all the time. Obviously I spoke to her and asked her, and she said yes, she would do it.”

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