'Hands off our lifestyle'

Degel Hatorah councillor Itzhak Pindrus will not stand for interference on religious issues.

itzhak pindrus 248 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
itzhak pindrus 248 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Itzhak Pindrus may be a Lithuanian Hassid, but as the 37-year-old son of American immigrants, he says, "There are no Hassidic or Lithuanian ways to take care of garbage." The down-to-earth former mayor of Betar Illit - where he created a framework in which local Orthodox women can work in hi-tech companies separately from men - is not afraid to clash with the haredi establishment. Pindrus is perhaps the haredi whom United Torah Judaism MK Meir Porush dislikes the most. Pindrus failed to be reelected to a second term in Betar after refusing to yield to Porush's hegemony, but he finally managed to overcome the scion of one of the most powerful families in the haredi sector when he joined forces with Nir Barkat in the last municipal elections against Porush. Pindrus even managed to overshadow the veteran Shas representatives at city hall, receiving the position of deputy mayor, not to mention the large salary that goes with it. The former deputies from Shas, Eli Simhayoff and Shlomi Attias, are still waiting for a special decision of the Interior Ministry to allow an additional (seventh) deputy mayor - a decision that, if it comes, will launch an all-out war between the aforementioned pair to decide who will obtain the title and the bonanza. But Pindrus tries to keep a safe distance from such issues and looks for the best ways to offer support and solutions for his constituency. According to him, he is "one of the closest persons to the leader of the (Lithuanian) haredi society, Rav Elyashiv." Pindrus says that the official attitude in haredi society is still largely against establishing settlements, despite the fact that a few separate haredi towns have been created in the territories - "for the lack of other solutions," as he puts it. "I do not believe in sectorialism among us," adds Pindrus, a member of the Degel Hatorah part of the United Torah Judaism party, as opposed to Porush's UTJ faction. "The tradition of the late MK Avraham Ravitz is still the only way: We serve all our brethren from Israel, no matter if they are hassidic, Lithuanian or secular. Who says you need a specific type of kippa on your head to best serve the public's needs? I don't believe that we need a haredi mayor to help us. That is exactly the problem we faced with the former mayor: Everything he tried to do to help us, in all fairness, was wrongly construed. I believe that Mayor Barkat will not deny us anything we really need, and that is why we have joined his coalition." But despite his openness regarding issues of dealing with the daily needs of a city and its residents - such as who has to take care of the garbage and the cleaning of the streets - Pindrus, while still smiling and sounding like a nice guy, has some extremist views regarding internal religious affairs. "The Education Ministry has no say in our education system. It has no right to interfere. It is our way of life, it has been so for centuries, and nothing will change it - nothing should change it," he says. "The secular population and the state in general have no right to tell us what to do. We feel threatened every time some minister decides to force on us some new programs, some different curriculum. We say loud and clear: 'Hands off our lifestyle.'" To that end, Pindrus has requested and obtained the portfolio of haredi education at the municipality, and his plans are straightforward: to see that by the end of his term - or at any rate the next one - he will add the 1,200 classrooms missing in the haredi stream. "I believe this municipality should also take care of the lack of classrooms in the Arab sector, which are also in terrible condition." Asked if he has any plans to resolve the situation in which Sephardi haredi girls are discriminated against when attempting to enroll in the prestigious haredi seminaries, Pindrus says the problem will find its solution in the creation of additional classrooms. Itzhak Pindrus, the father of seven children, says that in "general education" he stands on a very low rung. "But this lack of knowledge has never prevented me from taking good care of public affairs," he asserts.