Lighting Hanukkah candles in Jerusalem's Mea She'arim neighborhood.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
I am a dati-leumi woman living in Beit Shemesh and I’m so proud and happy that Aliza Bloch, another national-religious woman, was voted in to be our mayor.
What advice would you give her to unify the city experiencing some of the most religious (haredi) – secular tensions in the entire country?
– Hopeful but nervous,
You did it! What an unbelievable achievement, which will send a signal to the entire country, possibly changing the narrative of not just the religious divide, but also the gender one. This is a tough gig, I’m so thrilled BS elected a woman for the job. Can you bring about meaningful and constructive dialogue on issues that polarize not only Beit Shemesh but our entire country? Can you bring disparate groups to respect each other and refrain from the blame game? This gaping, aching, bellowing, Jewish divide that you’ve inherited, Mayor Bloch, will test you at every turn and permanently whiten any dark hairs on your head (good thing you cover yours!)
Oh, how I relate to your challenge. This chasm was exactly the subject of our book: Three Ladies Three Lattes: Percolating Discussions in the Holy Land.
My suggestions for building bridges:
Strive for coexistence by creating commonality. Work on projects such as male and female orchestras. Promote a common Bible Quiz in all of Beit Shemesh schools. Create two Junior Town Councils, bringing children from all sides of the religious spectrum into separate but equal forums, where the kids weigh in on issues that affect their city, holding their own elections, consulting and problem-solving with one another. Reach flexible youth before they turn into unpliable adults. Kill miscommunications and misunderstandings by collaborative methods that pin secular and religious together: feeding the poor, planting city gardens and discussing bullying in all forms.
Lastly: Hire me to work for you. Danit Shemesh:
Allow me to congratulate you on your resolve to change the face of Beit Shemesh, to show the rest of us that Jewish coexistence is possible, that pluralism can be a fact and not merely an idea. If you indeed actively bring respect and acceptance into your city, you will in effect demonstrate that we are all one, that we all belong; that there are no black sheep or “disowned” in our family. You have this one-time opportunity to prove that it can be done, that we can rise above human frailty, that we can politically restrain our gremlin of fear or hatred of each other.
Can we be curious rather than threatened? Can we be magnanimous rather than petty? Can we rein in our prejudices?
If we finally find a better reality, and at the hand of a woman no less, all power to you! Perhaps that’s a sign that it is our turn to take the lead everywhere?
Haredim are essentially about learning Torah; that is our eternal ani ma’amin. To that end, we need democratic freedom to establish our education under our jurisdiction. Torah needs a nourishing context such as modest streets, kosher butchers, and a respect for the sanctity of the Shabbat. We don’t want to bother anyone; we simply want to live our lives according to our principles. I trust you will continue to facilitate that lifestyle, in harmony with others in your town.
Stay true to your resolve; stay loyal to your dream.
Some years ago I wanted to buy flowers in Beit Shemesh for a friend’s birthday. I was in jeans, and a (modest) T-shirt. A sign on the door proclaimed that only wrapped-up women were welcome, but my shekel proved as kosher as those carried by women in skirts. I grabbed my gladiola and fled, feeling soiled. Not for wearing immodest clothing, but for being too lazy to drive to another town for my bouquet.
So, yes. I hope Mayor Aliza Bloch can calm the craziness of spitting, screaming loonies who fear the sanctity of their streets is threatened by the sight of seven-year-olds’ elbows. Good luck to her; I’m glad she won. I’m sad she did it by forgoing her photograph on billboards in “sensitive” areas of her town; I’m going to try to believe it was a pragmatic step on the way to forming greater freedom.
Bloch’s victory almost lulled me into a safe space. I envisaged Ofer Berkovitch taking Jerusalem; the seductive harmonious vision of acceptance seemed poised to go forth from Beit Shemesh to the whole of Zion. Alas, it was not to be: we seem doomed to more years of religious stranglehold in our capital’s streets. Not to mention garbage.
I’d say to Beit Shemesh’s new mayor: clean up, reach out, and remember that not everyone in your town believes God has the plan. Some look to you to make it. I wish you every success; the whole of Israel is waiting and watching.
Next time round, please give Ofer Berkovitch some campaigning tips.
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