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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When a controversial sign on a main street in the Haredi neighborhood telling women not to “linger” in front of a synagogue reappeared last week, action was also swiftly taken, with several women filing police complaints. The media were immediately contacted - and the sign was taken down by the municipality that evening.

“We used to laugh and say it was terrible, but we didn’t do anything,” says Coleman. “And I think we are wiser now and know that you can’t let it go. If you let it go, you get to an Orot situation.”

Lipman says the community is galvanized, convinced that they can only fight extremism through using the press and creating public pressure on the national leadership: “We’ll do this for every single issue that arises and we will force the leadership to deal with our issues and save the city.”

These are only skirmishes, however. The real battle to save the city involves efforts to prevent the mayor from moving forward with projects for additional Haredi neighborhoods and fighting for a long-term demographic balance. Lipman’s strategy is to delay these plans at least until the next municipal elections take place in October 2013. If secular and national-religious voters are able to rally around a suitable mayoral candidate, they can take back City Hall.

Not everyone is so optimistic, though. When Margolese is recognized in the street, she is often told, “Good for you for what you did, but nothing is going to change.” She responds, “Everyone has to do their part. If we do nothing, then nothing is going to change.”

The outcome of their war is far from certain. But among this core group, no one is considering surrender by moving their families out of Beit Shemesh.

“Running away isn’t a solution, better to fix the problem.” Coleman says, pointing out that “it’s happening everywhere. We’re not unique.”

“Naama would be heartbroken if we moved. She has very good friends here and she loves her school,” adds Margolese.

And, most importantly, Naama is no longer afraid. “True, whenever she sees an ultra-Orthodox person, she gets very nervous and asks me if he’s an extremist. But other than that, she’s pretty good,” Margolese says. “This morning I told her that someone was coming to interview me about [what happened at Orot] and I asked her what I should tell them. She said, ‘Tell them that everything is good now!’ I said, ‘Great!’ I was so happy that she felt that way, that she is so innocent and naive that to her everything seems good now. We really want to make it good here for everyone. Hopefully that will happen.”

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