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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With all of the key players being Shabbat observant, none of them saw the piece when it aired on Friday, December 23 or knew what an impact it had made. When Shabbat was out, the world was different. Facebook groups had been created to protect Naama.

“I had no idea in my wildest dreams that it would become such a huge story,” says Hadassa. “All I wanted was for a few people to see it and do something about it. I did not think so many people would care. I feel like, as a result of our story, people are now very sensitive to extremism and are willing to work to stop something when they see it.”

Airing their plight on television had been a last resort, but it succeeded where all other tactics had failed. A major rally was held bringing thousands from around the country, including Knesset members from the major parties. Finally, influential rabbis and Haredi political and religious leaders began denouncing the offensive behavior. And, very quickly, it stopped.

For Lipman, the events at Orot represented a watershed that changed not only his own life, but that of the English-speaking community of Beit Shemesh, the city as a whole and, he hopes, the entire country.

“For English-speaking olim, I think we discovered the power we have as a community, that we do have a voice, that we do have the ability to fight back. We led this fight, and I think it shows we can come out of our cocoons and our shells and be people who stand for something in Israel. In Beit Shemesh, it woke up the broader population. They were asleep for three years as to what was going on and Orot showed them what the end of the road could be like for the city,” Lipman says, adding, “I hope it’s a wake-up call for the future of the country. Because if anybody thinks this was a story just about Beit Shemesh, they are making a very big mistake.”

Lipman contrasts what happened at Orot to last month’s hate graffiti by extremist Haredim on Yad Vashem. When it came to the latter incident, “The prime minister stood up right away and condemned it, ministers stood up and condemned it. That was graffiti on a physical building. But verbal assaults on the souls of little Jewish girls? They didn’t stand up and condemn it the same way.”

He says the episode taught him that in order to counter Haredi power, he needed to ally with those who will help him. When he first met with Naama’s leftist supporters on Facebook, he confesses that he had stereotyped them as “anti-religious, Jew-hating, Israel-hating people,” but when he sat down with them in his living room covered with religious books and pictures of rabbis, “I saw beautiful, wonderful people. People who I disagree with over a lot of things. I said, ‘Why not work together on the things we do agree on? We agree that we are against violence, that we are against religious extremism, against religious coercion.’ I personally grew immensely from that whole experience.”

Krulwich feels differently. He is not comfortable allying with forces on the left he felt were hostile to Orthodox life in general. Even so, he acknowledges that it was the involvement of the media that finally protected the girls.

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