Finding a quiet, private moment has never been an easy feat for unmarried young people of the opposite sex in Jerusalem's haredi Mea She'arim neighborhood.
But now it seems that those attempts have become downright sticky, as an anonymous band of neighborhood residents - thought to be affiliated with one of the various "modesty patrols" that operate in the area - have begun smearing park benches and building steps with a sweet, sticky coat of raspberry syrup in an effort to prevent "immodest" interactions between young haredi men and women.
According to neighborhood residents, every Friday evening, before the onset of Shabbat, Mea She'arim's public-seating areas are mysteriously graced with the raspberry goo, which has caused more than one surprising, if not embarrassing moment for the neighborhood's more-romantically inclined youth.
The majority of the "syruping" is done in and around Shabbat Square, where crowds of young people gather on Shabbat, to the consternation of some of the more extreme haredi elements in the neighborhood. But residents told The Jerusalem Post that while the issue was somewhat laughable, it also posed serious problems and, according to them, was going just a little too far.
"On the outside we're smiling because, okay, it's kind of funny," said Yosef, who works in a nearby felafel stand. "But on the inside, this touches on something much deeper. It's more of the nonsense from these extremists - and I'm saying this as a haredi man - who are just looking to stir up trouble."
"What happens if an old man gets tired, and he wants to sit down and rest for a little while? Do these people clean up the benches after Shabbat? Of course they don't.
"These are the same people who burn trash and tires in Geula, and who throw their filth at the police. They're messing up our neighborhoods, their neighborhoods. They're trashing the places we live in."
Yosef also referred to the "modesty patrols" in general, which have operated in the neighborhood for many years, but have more recently been thrust into the media spotlight after committing acts of violence against men and women, whose behavior they deem to be "immodest."
"When I was younger, I was sitting with some friends, boys and girls, and a huge mob of them approached us," Yosef said. "They told us to go our separate ways or there was going to be trouble. If you're haredi, and they see you with a girl, forget it, it's going to be bad."
While the vast majority of residents avoided the topic altogether on Wednesday, others were equally incensed.
"I don't deal with their craziness," said one woman, inside a local Judaica shop. "I try to stay away from it as much as possible, because it's nothing but baseless hatred."
Other residents pointed to the Eda Haredit, the staunchly anti-Zionist haredi group that was at the center of recent rioting in the neighborhood over the Carta parking lot issue and "starving mother" affair, as the possible "raspberry syrup culprits," but calls to the groups' spokesmen went unanswered and unreturned on Wednesday.
"I think it's high time we stopped looking at everyone else and started looking at ourselves, at our own relationships with the Creator of the Universe," said Yosef, back at the felafel stand. "At the end of the day, that's what's really important, and I think we forget that far too often."
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