Beit Shemesh activists push for twinning initiative

Activists ask Montgomery County executive to go ahead with a twinning project between the two locales despite recent violence.

Beit Shemesh protest 311 (photo credit: (Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post))
Beit Shemesh protest 311
(photo credit: (Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post))
Community activists in Beit Shemesh have written to Montgomery County executive Isaiah “Ike” Legget in Maryland, asking him to go ahead with a twinning project between the two locales, despite recent violence aimed at women and young girls perpetrated by ultra- Orthodox residents of the Israeli city.
It was reported earlier this week that the county’s Office of Community Partnerships was considering shelving the partnership because of concerns raised by human rights activists regarding the actions of extremists from within Beit Shemesh’s haredi community.
Hadassah Margolis, mother of 8-year-old Na’ama – who was highlighted in a television expose of extremist aggression directed at students at a Beit Shemesh girl’s school – wrote to Legget asking him “not to give up” on the sister city initiative.
“We are standing up to bullies. We are standing up to people who are doing something very wrong,” Margolese said in her letter. “By you being our twin city, you stand up to these bullies and extremists everywhere together with us.”
According to an associate of the county executive, Legget is inclined to continue with the partnership but has emphasized that the correct procedures need to be followed.
Following the news reports last week, Jewish Federation of Greater Washington President Stuart Kurlander and CEO Steven Rakitt wrote to Legget, saying that the violence tells “only part of the story.” While condemning extremist ultra- Orthodox aggression and intimidation, they pointed to several women in leading political and public roles in Israel and to the country’s democratic values as evidence of a broader culture of gender equality and civil rights.
Bruce Adams, director of the Office of Community Partnerships, has said that the county will most probably follow the federation’s advice.
Rabbi Dov Lipman, an antiextremist activist in Beit Shemesh, met with Legget in 2007 during a visit there when the project was initiated. He also wrote to Legget, arguing that the city has provided a model for dealing with “religious extremism and coercion.”
“We are the example of how an open and democratic society confronts whispers of intolerance and fanaticism,” wrote Lipman, a Montgomery County native.
Melanie Lidman contributed to this report.