Choosing to be an isolationist in my backyard

I have a problem with isolationists who plop themselves down in the middle of a city and expect everyone around them to bend to their will.

Beit Shemesh school protest 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Beit Shemesh school protest 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
I’ve been living in Beit Shemesh for nine years and I am Dati Leumi (modern Orthodox). When we arrived, Beit Shemesh was a mixed city where people of all kinds got along.
I remember the intense feeling of ahavat Yisrael (love of the Jewish people) that I felt when I drove down the road between Beit Shemesh and Ramat Beit Shemesh A, passing through haredi Ramat Beit Shemesh B and kvelling at the beautiful children; boys with sidelocks flying and girls with long braids.
I often stopped to give rides to haredi women and occasionally frequented the shopping center there.
But a few years back something changed. Suddenly many of the women started wearing black shawls (like ponchos) on top of their long sleeves and high necklines, even in the Middle Eastern summer heat. Then we started having trouble with rock throwing. Periodically there would be demonstrations that involved dumpsters moved into the roadways and set on fire.
Then they started harassing and throwing eggs at Dati kids if they walked through the area on Shabbat – mind you, it’s the only way to get to Ramat Beit Shemesh A from Beit Shemesh unless you walk on an unlit, isolated, uninhabited highway. The situation culminated when a young girl was beaten by a mob of “haredi” men. A true haredi family – not the kind with quotes around the word – pulled her into their house to save her. Not that it matters, but this girl was dressed in a modest fashion.
I have no problem with those who want to be isolationists. I have a problem with isolationists who plop themselves down in the middle of a city and expect everyone around them to bend to their will. Beitar Ilit is totally off the beaten track. If you choose to move there, you know what to expect.
There’s an area in Beit Shemesh called Cheftziba that is totally off the beaten track as well. If you want to live there, Kol Hakavod – live and be well! But this particular group of extremist isolationists moved into buildings that are on the most major artery in Beit Shemesh, and currently the only one that connects Beit Shemesh to Ramat Beit Shemesh A unless you go out of Beit Shemesh to the highway and circle around. This is not an option if you want to walk or cycle between the two.
There was supposed to be a different major artery built to connect Beit Shemesh and Ramat Beit Shemesh A, but the “haredim” stopped it because they didn’t want it to run through their neighborhood. A spacious shopping center was been built and then abandoned before it ever opened – because "haredim” didn’t want a shopping center in their area so they vandalized it and protested against it. Imagine the financial loss this must have cost the people who invested in building it.
The entire surrounding area where the Orot Banot and Orot Banim schools are now finally, thank God, standing, was originally supposed to be a mixed area.
That’s why the big shopping center was built to begin with. On one side of the school are the neighborhoods of Ramat Neria, Nofei Aviv and Nofei Hashemesh.
Right across from the school is Sheinfeld. These are all Dati Leumi areas (that also have some secular, Yeshivish, Ethiopian and Russian Jews). But on the other side of the school, “haredim” moved in. Only “haredim.” These types of "haredim” immediately put up “Tznius” (Dress Modestly) signs and started to vandalize property and harass the people across the street because their televisions could be seen from the “haredi” apartments! Over the years, a lot of effort has been expended on the part of the Dati Leumi communities to bridge gaps. There have been Purim gift basket campaigns to our "haredi” neighbors, and all sorts of friendly gestures. The harassment dies down for a bit, but it always gets back to this. The bullies always go back to true form.
If you want to live an isolationist life, you can’t move in to the center of town, take over all the resources, and demand that everyone around you change or move out. Does anyone believe that when these particular “haredim” moved in, it wasn’t with the intention of taking over? What is it called when a population intentionally sets out to expel an existing population using harassment and even violence? It’s certainly not called ahavat Yisrael!
The writer made aliya with her husband and four children on the first Nefesh B’Nefesh flight nine years ago.