Israeli Family That Fought Ultra-Orthodox Radicals Forced To Leave Beit Shemesh

Margoleses Driven Out by Modern Orthodox — Not Haredim

Hadassah Margolese walks her daughter, Na’ama, to school in Beit Shemesh after the girl was harassed by ultra-Orthodox men.
jta
Hadassah Margolese walks her daughter, Na’ama, to school in Beit Shemesh after the girl was harassed by ultra-Orthodox men.

By Ben Sales

Published August 13, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(JTA) — Two years ago, Hadassa Margolese became a symbol of resistance to haredi Orthodox domination after she allowed her 8-year-old daughter, Na’ama, to tell an Israeli reporter how religious men had spit on her as she walked to school.

The report made headlines around the world and cast Margolese into the spotlight as a defender of the rights and values of the Modern Orthodox community in Beit Shemesh, a city of approximately 75,000 just off the main highway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv with a growing haredi population.

Now Margolese has departed Beit Shemesh – driven out not by the haredi Orthodox with whom she once clashed but by members of her own Modern Orthodox community.

In May, Margolese published a column on the website of the Israeli daily Maariv detailing the degrading treatment she had endured during her monthly visits to a public mikvah, or ritual bath, a practice required by religious laws on marital intimacy. But rather than rally around her as it did in 2011, some in the Modern Orthodox community turned on Margolese, subjecting her to a steady stream of online vitriol.

“I was airing our own dirty laundry as opposed to before, when I was airing another community’s dirty laundry,” she said. “I hear from so many women about their negative experiences [at the mikvah]. I thought people would say, ‘Yes, let’s change this.’ ”

Margolese, 32, is something of a reluctant activist. Unlike many Israeli social reformers, who aggressively seek media attention and speak in confident tones, Margolese is quiet and unassuming, cautious of offending friends and guarded when it comes to her personal life.

She assumed the protest mantle two years ago, she says, mainly out of necessity. And from the time that conflict died down until the mikvah column, she largely retreated into private life, visiting Beit Shemesh’s haredi neighborhoods only when necessary.

“I really have very mixed feelings about it because I want to make whatever changes I can possibly make, but on the other hand, being a public figure isn’t so simple,” she said. “Really the only way to change things is by being public. If you’re not public, nobody cares what you have to say.”

Born in Los Angeles, Margolese came to Israel at 2. A self-identified feminist, Margolese says inequalities between men and women in Judaism have bothered her since she was a child, when she began to question why Orthodox men bless God each morning for not making them women.

Now she is living a more tranquil life in a town of secular and Modern Orthodox families she prefers not to name. Margolese plans to continue to be active on the mikvah issue, though in a more circumscribed way, conducting low-key meetings with activists and politicians, and confining her writing to her blog.

“I’d like to be a social activist,” she said. “I don’t think I have a thick enough skin to be a politician.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.