Have haredim learned from Meron, Karlin disasters?

Does the reporting of the Bransdofer sukkah in Jerusalem to authorities signify a profound change in the haredi sector?

 SUKKAH BROUHAHA: Toting schach in Mea She’arim. (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
SUKKAH BROUHAHA: Toting schach in Mea She’arim.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

An unprecedented event took place recently that may indicate a shift by haredi leaders in their forgiving attitude toward irresponsible safety norms.

This follows the Meron crush and the Givat Ze’ev Karlin bleachers collapse, which killed 48 and injured hundreds.

On September 13, residents of the haredi neighborhood of Beit Israel alerted authorities to prohibit the use of the traditional sukkah of the Heichal Hora’a congregation, north of Mea She’arim.

The large Bransdorfer sukkah, erected every year, is a structure built on scaffolding outside the balcony of the rabbi’s home. These hassidim say the sukkah was built according to strict professional requirements – and received approval from engineers. Yet, this year, a handful of haredi journalists, backed by a large number of local residents, decided to publish photos from the sukkah – making allegations of safety failure, accusing the organizers of not learning lessons from the Meron and Karlin disasters.

As the police decided to interfere, there were accusations of betrayal and being moisers (handing one over to the enemy, in this case, the Zionist authority and the police), and tensions rose in the neighborhood, leading a large group of locals to barricade themselves in the sukkah to prevent its dismantling. Meanwhile, hundreds of residents gathered under the sukkah and confronted the police, with some breaking through the police barriers.

An agreement was finally reached after the police’s official rabbi, Rami Brachyahu, approached Rabbi Moshe Bransdorfer, and the two agreed to end the saga in a calm and quiet manner. The agreement reached was that the policemen would leave, and that the sukkah would be dismantled the following day (September 15) by household members.

That’s how this specific issue was resolved. 

But there is more behind it. The fact that haredi residents, living in the same neighborhood as the Bransdorfer community – some sources say even members of that community – decided to take action is not a small matter. Rather, it is a significant step heralding a profound change taking place inside the haredi sector. 

Forty-eight dead, hundreds injured, and a large number of families deprived of those who provided for them, on top of more than a year of coronavirus tragedies, have apparently changed something very deep in the way haredim see their communities turning a blind eye toward safety infractions. 

What is still disturbing is the fact that none of the haredi members of the city council, as well as Mayor Moshe Lion, were involved in this case or even informed in real time, at least until police were involved. If these haredi journalists, backed by many residents (of whom the majority didn’t want to be identified), had not dared to turn to non-haredi authorities we might have been, God forbid, counting dead again. 

What stands behind this situation, according to a source inside the neighborhood, is that any contact with the outside world – meaning authorities not part of the haredi sector – is still a step very few dare to take. 

MAYOR OF the people, not politics: Moshe Lion. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)MAYOR OF the people, not politics: Moshe Lion. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

“But,” adds the source, “this last year, too many disasters happened, and more people understand that these disasters happened due to failures of human beings, and were not from the heavens. Too many deaths that could have been prevented, too many cases of irresponsible acts and behavior, people understand that it shouldn’t be like that.” 

The question now is: How far will this go? Moreover, who can encourage and lend support to this new trend? Are haredi representatives at city council the right people to lead it, or are they, at least most of them, going to be very careful not to draw the ire of haredi leaders? 

Is the mayor, who has excellent relationships with haredi spiritual leadership in the city, going to handle the matter and deepen this small but significant sign of change?