Mea She'arim residents allegedly harass tourists [pg. 5]

Over the Hanukka holiday, residents of Mea She'arim allegedly harassed tourists and told some not to enter their neighborhood. Several of the tour groups that did enter were cursed at and spat upon. Tour guide Moshe Frank said he also watched one resident pour a bucket of water from his apartment onto tourists standing in the street. When a bus of journalists tried to enter the ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhood on Sunday, the last day of Hanukka, it was greeted by a group of four haredi men in long black coats who said their rabbi had instructed them to tell tourists not to enter the area. "We oppose having secular people enter our home," one man told Frank, who was leading the group of journalists. Another man said, "People paid a lot of money to live in an Orthodox neighborhood and we don't want secular people to come in." The bus left the neighborhood without further incident, as Frank said, "Why push your head in a place you're not welcome?" He noted that around 20,000 tourists descended on the compact neighborhood during the eight-day holiday and that many hadn't respected the community's customs of modest dress and behavior, especially for women. "The number of people visiting there is overwhelming. Enough is enough. I fully understand them. I think we secular people took advantage of their hospitality," he said. According to Frank, the number of Israeli tourists to Mea She'arim has skyrocketed in the last two years, reflecting a general increase in domestic and foreign tourism. This year was the first time in his 30 years of guiding that he recalled being instructed not to come in by an organized group stationed at the entrance to the neighborhood. One woman from outside Beit Shemesh who was kept out of Mea She'arim on Sunday said that she, too, understood the locals' desire to minimize the secular influence on their community. But she said turning back tour buses was un-Jewish. "Welcoming guests is a part of Jewish tradition," she said. "Where's the welcoming of guests here?" She described the experience as giving her the feeling that the ultra-Orthodox community was "violent" and "rigid." She added, "I wanted to see their neighborhood. And I think that had they opened their neighborhood to us it would have been a better service to them as well, because their image would have been more welcoming."