‘We won’t leave,’ vows Beit Shemesh mother

Parent of 8-year-old girl assaulted by haredi activists tells ‘Post’ she expects gov’t intervention.

By
December 26, 2011 00:51
4 minute read.
Hadassah Margolis and daughter

Hadassah Margolis and daughter 311 . (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

 
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Hadassah Margolis, whose daughter was spat on and verbally abused by haredi extremists in Beit Shemesh just for walking to school in clothing deemed insufficiently “modest,” looked weary yet determined on Sunday.

“We don’t plan on leaving,” she told The Jerusalem Post in her home. “We just wake up every day thinking, what will be next?” Two days have passed since Margolis and her eight-year-old daughter, Na’ama, shared their trauma on national television.

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Israelis watched Channel 2’s Friday evening news program with astonishment as Na’ama cried and refused to take the short walk to the Orot girls elementary school, fearing more abuse from grown men.

Since that broadcast, “the phone has been ringing off the hook with people offering their support,” Margolis said.

“We are exhausted. I hope this will bring change.”

The young mother said she did not view the whole of the haredi community as villains, but added that the extreme elements who harass her daughter are “evil people.”

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“As a citizen of this country, I’m looking at the government with an expectation to stop this evil,” she added. When Na’ama sees haredi men “she still gets hysterical,” the mother said.

Margolis, an Orthodox woman who was born in the US and came to Israel with her family as a young girl, lives on a street heavily populated with Anglo-Israelis who have been bearing the brunt of the simmering confrontation with the adjacent haredi neighborhood over the location of the girl’s school.

Haredi extremists claim the school is provocatively situated in their neighborhood, and draws “immodestly dressed” girls and women to their midst.

Miriam Marcus, a mother of three who lives in the same building as Margolis, emigrated to Beit Shemesh from New York in 2007. She held back tears as she recounted how she was spat upon in 2008 while waiting at a bus stop with her sons.

“My knees and elbows were covered up, but my toes were exposed – I was wearing sandals,” she said. That was enough to prompt a spitting and shouting attack,” she added.

“It was so unbelievable that I could not react immediately,” Marcus added. “I never imagined when I moved here that we’d be fighting other Jews.”

Marcus asked why no haredi leaders have taken a public stance against the extremists.

“I’m actually afraid to cross the street,” she said.

Moshe Friedman, a resident of one of the haredi neighborhoods, told the Post that claims of spitting on children were fabricated, and were part of a homegrown “anti-Semitic” media campaign against his community.

“They can bring Channel 2 here, but it won’t help them,” he said. “There’s no spitting. There is yelling, because they decided to put the school in our neighborhood.”

“We will continue the fight,” he added. “We don’t want immodesty in our area.”

Friedman said there would be no conflict if the school was situated elsewhere.

“We never dictate to them how to live their lives. They shouldn’t tell us how to live either,” he said.

“What would happen if Arabs opened a school in a settlement?”

The tensions in Beit Shemesh had not abated on Sunday, when a vehicle carrying a Channel 2 crew was attacked with stones in a haredi area, smashing its windows.

Shmuel Pappenhum, a former haredi community spokesman, has been working to build a dialogue between the two communities. He blamed recent events and intense media coverage for setting back progress made in recent months.

“We are in close touch with parents and teachers from the Orot school, and we are trying to calm the girls down. We are explaining that haredim are not opposed to the school. Only a violent minority is behind this,” he said.

“We thought we had reached sanity, but last week it all fell apart,” Pappenhum continued.

Haredi rabbis, “even ultra-conservative ones” from Beit Shemesh and Jerusalem, had met with national-religious community representatives in the past and reached agreements, Pappenhum added. “Now it will be harder to make progress. We hope sanity will prevail, and that the extremists are restrained.”

Dov Lipman, a moderate haredi political activist, praised Orthodox Anglo-Israelis for “leading this battle.”

Lipman, who heads the Emergency Committee to Save Beit Shemesh, said “It is because of our efforts – and only because of our efforts – that this has become a national story.”

Samuel Sokol contributed to this report.

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