Until the next time

After days of violent riots, Kikar Hashabbat is quiet - for now.

mea shearim 88 (photo credit: )
mea shearim 88
(photo credit: )
Only a few days ago, Kikar Shabbat and the nearby neighborhoods of Mea She'arim and Geulah blazed with angry demonstrators and burning garbage bins. Dozens of haredim raged through the streets to protest the arrest of 19-year old Yisrael Valis, suspected by police of allegedly beating his three-month old son, Rafael, to death. The Jerusalem municipality issued statements calling for calm, claiming that the riots have caused NIS 140,000 in damages, including the destruction of at least 30 city garbage bins. For now, the rabbis have called off the massive demonstrations they had planned for later in the week, reportedly because they were concerned that the violent riots would damage the name and image of the haredi community and possibly prejudice Valis' case. And Valis' family reportedly hired a car to cruise through the neighborhoods, calling for calm in Yiddish and Hebrew through a loudspeaker system. While the demonstrations have been cancelled or postponed, an unseasonable, mid-Pessah cold rain washed the streets leaving the neighborhoods gloomy and quiet. And angry. The Eda Haharedit, to which Valis belongs, is known for its anti-Zionist stand. The pashqavilim (broadsides) plastered on the bulletin boards were sopping and wet, but still legible: "Zionist Dogs - two words, the same meaning" read one in Hebrew and English. "Blood Libel 2006 in Jerusalem" proclaimed another. To the Eda Haharedit, the blood libel metaphors and accusations seemed particularly apt during the Pessah season. Standing under an awning, a young child and a toddler holding her hands and two babies wrapped in a stroller, Hanaleh wouldn't give her full name but was more than willing to talk about blood libels. "Why doesn't the press say that we used the baby's blood to make matzehs," she asked cynically and angrily. "After all, they've accused this fine boy of everything else." Rabbi Yehoshua Scheinberger, who describes himself as "the Health Minister of the Eda Haharedit, agreed with Hanaleh. "Now I understand what it means to be accused of a blood libel. Now I understand the persecution," he told In Jerusalem in a telephone interview. He continued, "The child is dead but we know nothing more than that. The police did all sorts of tricks to make the young man confess. From what we can tell, the evidence says he did not. We do not believe he has done this." Scheinberger is particularly incensed that the police would not release Valis on bail. "Any member of our community would post bail for him. Is he such a dangerous criminal? Is he a threat to society? No! He is haredi, and that is why they won't release him." He also blamed the secular media. "The media is working overtime to blacken the name of the community and to influence the judges against the young man," he said. "An Ethiopian killed himself and his wife - and the media barely mentions it. But a haredi?! Ah, that is different for them." He explained, "The media is jealous of us. In the secular community, there are murders every day. These secular journalists can't stand it that our community is pure and does not have these kinds of things." The rabbi is convinced that Valis is innocent, he said, because his wife, the mother of the child, supports him. "No mother would agree to stand by the man who murdered her son. We don't need better proof than this. We don't need the courts to tell us not to murder - we have the Tora, and that is all we need. "The young man should be brought to trial, of course he should. Our community will not support a murderer. But we are convinced he is innocent. And until proven otherwise, he should be released on bail," he emphasized. At Kikar Hashabbat, covering his broad hat with a plastic bag, a young man who would not identify himself would say that he was opposed to the riots and relieved that the demonstration had been cancelled. "I do not believe this young Torah scholar is capable of murder. And I certainly think he should be released on bail. But we are not animals, we do not go on rampages. We are a Torah community," he said definitively. A nearby group of teenage boys huddled together in the rain. Talking among themselves in Yiddish, they overheard the young man and called him a coward. They refused to speak to this reporter, but loudly reminded the other man that Rabbi Tuvia Weiss, head of the Eda Haharedit rabbinic court, had called on his followers to "make the city burn." Over the weekend, police had scheduled meetings with the haredi leaders, but cut off the contacts when the rioting continued. This, too, angered Scheinberger. "I came to talk to the police, together with Rabbi Uri Zohar. But the police said they won't talk to us 'under fire.' So they are saying that we are like the Hamas. No haredi Jew will allow anyone to treat him this way. The riots are an expression of pain and anger at the way our community is being treated." He concluded, "I promise you: if the young man is released on bail, just like any other suspected murderer, there will be no riots. But if not, there will be no quiet."