Shira Hadasha, a small, veteran Conservative (Masorti) Jewish congregation in Arad ,has been victimized over the past month by minor acts of vandalism and abuse aimed at putting a halt to public prayer there.
In recent years Arad, a sleepy desert town, has become a flashpoint for religious intolerance and strife with frequent, often violent, clashes between "Messianic Jews" (Christian converts) and haredim from the Ger hassidic sect.
Now Shira Hadasha, a 30-year-old congregation of about 40 families, has become the focus of apparent religiously motivated vandalism.
Sources in the Conservative movement said they suspected Ger Hassidim were behind the crimes. But they admitted that they had no proof.
On Tuesday, for the second time this month, unknown persons sneaked onto Shira Hadasha's premises and broke pieces of metal off in the synagogues's padlocks, rendering them useless and blocking entrance to the synagogue.
"We just replaced the padlocks and now someone did it again," said Rafi Freeman, a member of Shira Hadasha's board. He said that it cost NIS 1,000 to replace the locks.
"We have to put an end to the religious intolerance in this country," said Freeman, an immigrant from the US.
Freeman said that he could not be sure who was behind the attacks on the synagogue. However, he said he had been approached by members of the Ger Hassidic sect who tried to peacefully persuade him from praying at Shira Hadasha.
"They told me that being a Conservative Jew is worse than being secular," recalled Freeman. "One of them told me that Conservative Judaism was morally corrupt and that naked women dance with the Torah.
"I joked that if that was true I would come every day. But the Ger hassid did not get the joke."
A spokesman for Arad police said four complaints had been filed and that the police were looking into the matter.
"We have no suspects so far," said the spokesman. "We hope it is not part of the tensions that exist between the haredim here and the Messianic Jews."
A prominent Ger hassid from Arad told The Jerusalem Post he had heard about the Conservative congregation. But he denied any knowledge of attempts to disrupt prayers.
"The real danger here is the Messianic Jews," he said.
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