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.
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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.
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In her mikvah column, Margolese described the way mikvah supervisors would question her Jewish observance and stare at her as she entered and left the water naked. An attendant would interrogate her about how thoroughly she cleaned herself and demand that she return to the sink for another wash.

“I’m supposed to feel clean after the mikvah,” Margolese wrote, “but instead I feel degraded and dirty.”

Soon after the column was published, Margolese was at a meeting of the Knesset Caucus for the Advancement of Women. She planned to stay afterward to meet politicians sympathetic to her cause, but shaken by a stream of negative comments being posted to her Facebook wall – some of them by friends – she left early.

“The humiliation I felt from these individuals was worse than all of my negative mikvah experiences all put together,” Margolese wrote on her blog. “I knew about the gossip going on around me. I cried for days. I couldn’t breathe. I stopped leaving my house other than to go to work. I decided that it is time to move.”

Margolese’s departure comes as tensions between the Modern Orthodox and haredi residents in Beit Shemesh continues to flare.

Last month, a group of haredi men reportedly smashed the windows of a bus after a women refused to give up her seat and sit in the back. This week, police arrested 14 haredi rioters who blocked a major street and set trash bins on fire to protest construction at a Beit Shemesh site that once may have been a burial ground.

Such clashes are not the cause of Margolese’s departure, but they have led other families to ditch Beit Shemesh in recent years, according to City Councilman Shalom Lerner.

“I’m sorry she’s leaving, but it’s her right if she feels better elsewhere,” Lerner said. “Hadassa isn’t the first one to leave and is not the only one thinking about leaving. The past five years haven’t been good.”

And they aren’t necessarily going to get better.

Though a number of initiatives aimed at promoting coexistence in Beit Shemesh were launched in the wake of the incident with Margolese’s daughter, the city is still wrestling with its identity. An acrimonious mayoral campaign is underway, pitting the haredi incumbent against a Modern Orthodox opponent.

Activists say the result will determine the city’s future. But whatever the outcome, Margolese will be watching from the sidelines, not the trenches.

“If I still lived in Beit Shemesh, I would still be trying to change things in Beit Shemesh, like the separate sidewalks [for men and women] and the signs saying to dress modestly,” she said. “But I don’t live in Beit Shemesh anymore, and there are not issues like that in the place where I live.”


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