Monday, 30 January 2012

Who Moved Feiglin's Cheese

"Who Moved My Cheese" was a great title of a book which addressed appropriate responses to changing circumstances. The 'star' mouse character keeps going back to the same place, even though there's now no cheese there. The book's subtitle is: An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life.

When Moshe Feiglin initiated and led Zoh Artzeinu, in the early 1990's, in response to The Oslo "Peace" Process – I was still dewy eyed about the hopes for peace in our time in the Middle East. So I reckoned he was a rabble rousing extremist.

When the Oslo spell wore off me, I gained respect for Feiglin as the man who had broken the party political mold and galvanized popular opposition to the Rabin/Peres Government. Taking his lead from other protest movements (Mahatma Gandhi in India, Martin Luther King in the USA) Zoh Artzeinu used non-violent Civil Disobedience, such as road blockings, to effect disproportionate disruption, and media attention.

I followed Feiglin's logic, when he observed that the ONLY political position in Israel which holds real power, is that of the Prime Minister. And therefore the National Religious "leaders" (then Mafdal) would always be either followers, or obstacles, to the Government – but never national leaders.

Feiglin also observed that Israel's two (major) party system meant that the Prime Minister would always be the leader of either the Labour Party, or Likud.

So, if a National Religious agenda were ever to succeed, a suitable candidate would need to get into the Labour leadership position (unlikely) or the Likud leadership position.

Focusing on the latter, Feiglin endeavoured to flood the Likud Party Membership with his supporters (under the brand name "Manhigut Yehudit", founded in 1998), essentially to hijack the Likud Party Membership and Central Committee, and so install Feiglin as the Likud Party Leader.

Which would put him just a hop-skip-and-jump from achieving the goal of being Prime Minister of Israel.

I understood the logic, and literally bought into the program.

A hundred shekels or so later, I was a Member of the Likud Party, and made sure to diligently vote for whoever Manhigut Yehudit told me to.

The problem was, in 2005, Ariel Sharon abandoned his own Likud Party (which had voted against the "Disengagement" evacuation of Gush Katif) and, in a radical political move, established the entirely new party of Kadima.

When Kadima won the 2006 election under Ehud Olmert, and then became the largest party in the 2009 elections, it became clear that Israel is now a Three Party system – not two.

At that point, I reckoned that Moshe Feiglin's logic no longer made sense.

So, let's imagine Feiglin succeeds in capturing the majority of the Members, the majority of the Central Committee, and even getting elected as the Likud Leader. (That's a series of major "ifs").

In the next elections, the traditional Likud voters, would, in my opinion, simply transfer their allegiance from Likud to Kadima. Where the majority of voters, members and Knesset members are also ex-Likudniks. Leaving Likud with just say 5-10 seats in the Knesset.

Likud would become a marginal party, with a once great history.

Probably around the same size as Mafdal (now known as Jewish Home – Bayit Hayehudi) with National Union (Ichud Haleumi).

Thus, I see Moshe Feiglin's road-map has unraveled – and his continuing efforts to take over Likud as a waste of his personal talents and vision.

I respectfully recommend that Moshe Feiglin should read: "Who Moved My Cheese".

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Our Indifference Must End

By Guest Writer Sam Sokol, 
Kind Permission of The Five Towns Jewish Weekly

When Israel’s Channel 2 ran its expos√© on the attack on eight-year-old Naama Margolese, who was innocently making her way to school and suffered the degradations of a group of chareidi extremists known to Israelis as the Sicarii, our own culpability in these events was exposed as well.

While an entire community stood by and did nothing, the Sicarii were allowed to bully, abuse, and torment many young Jewish girls, whose only crime was their desire to learn Torah in safety.

Many in the Orthodox community have tried to assuage their feelings of guilt by telling themselves—and anyone else who is willing to listen—that the Sicarii do not belong to their community and that the majority of chareidim deplore such activities.

While the second statement is most certainly true, the first is just as assuredly a pernicious falsehood. The extremists pray in the same synagogues, immerse in the same mikvaot, send their children to the same schools, and shop in the same grocery stores as the rest of us. We pass them in the street, live in the same buildings, and, as one of my acquaintances from shul admitted, even learn in the same kollels.

Like it or not, they are a part of us: the worst part. While we might deplore their behavior, we too are responsible for it. Our culpability, however, is not due to an act of commission but rather of omission: our failure to act against this cancer in our midst.

The Talmud teaches us that all Jews are responsible for one another, and the Torah states that one must not stand idly by as his brother’s blood is shed. Indeed, according to Chazal, one who witnesses a crime and does nothing is as guilty as the one who acted.

As a community, many of the chareidim in Israel have shown a deep-seated willingness to go to the streets to protest anything perceived as a threat to their way of life and to the honor of the Torah. If we can man the barricades for a parking lot, surely we can do so for the honor and safety of a little girl and her classmates.
Arguments over who owns the school building are irrelevant and detract from the real issue here, namely, our acquiescence to violence by those with whom we share a neighborhood and common institutions.

Some have called these thugs criminals, but this too is misleading. Criminals do not pretend to speak in the name of the community, or in the name of the Torah, or in the name of the Deity to whom we all have pledged our obedience and eternal honor.

While these people call out to the world that they represent Judaism, it is our responsibility for us to cry out, “Not in my name!”

Some gedolim have decried the actions of the kannoim within their own closed kehillot, but they have not called for any communal action against the extremists. Nor have they been willing to share their message with the wider secular public, other than such notable exceptions as Rav Ovadia Yosef and others like him. However, even as he decries violence, he continues to support a mayor who has all but bent over backward to give in to the demands of these criminals.

There have been some courageous individuals from Ramat Bet Shemesh Aleph who have gone out to the streets to protect the girls of Orot Banot. However, they have done so without the official sanction or encouragement of our rabbinic leadership.

One communal rav, in an e‑mail widely disseminated on the Internet, told a local resident that he would not sign a letter condemning the radicals for fear of giving the appearance that they are indeed of our community. This was followed by a 13-page epistle explaining his reasoning at length. This is disingenuous. The secular media has already tarred all of us with the same brush, and anyone with a basic understanding of the press can tell you that we need to show the world that opposition to this behavior does exist in the Orthodox community.

One such hero of public relations is Rabbi Shmuel Pappenheim, of the Kirya Chareidit. He is the former spokesman of the Eidah Chareidit. As a journalist, I can attest to the fact that while many chareidi leaders poured fuel on the fire by calling the media to task for an anti-chareidi conspiracy and downplaying the violence of our own radicals, Rabbi Pappenheim bravely faced the outside media and said, “Not in my name!”

If it were not for Rabbi Pappenheim, the chareidi world would be in a much worse position than it already is. This is a matter of chillul Hashem, and as such it behooves every one of us to mobilize all of our strength to fight for the honor of Torah by joining with right-thinking individuals of all religious persuasions to argue against the use of violence in the name of Hashem.

I must say this clearly: I am not chareidi, nor do I live in Ramat Bet Shemesh Bet. I am dati-leumi, I am married to a Chabadnik, and I live in Ramat Bet Shemesh Aleph. I do not know any of the Sicarii personally, and I have never been consulted before they commit their heinous acts.

But I am culpable nonetheless. I have stood silently while this violence has occurred and I did nothing. I accept my responsibility and offer my apologies to the family of Naama. Can the rest of our community do any less?

When I was writing about Bet Shemesh as a reporter, I would sweat bullets to make my pieces objective and fair. I would write revision after revision to purge all personal biases, and I interviewed people on all sides, sometimes risking my own safety to do so. I stayed up pulling all-nighters several times to make sure my pieces were fair and balanced.

Two days after the Sicarii attempted to lynch an Israeli television news team, I entered their beit midrash and confronted them, digital voice recorder in hand, asking why they act as they do. I risked my life for the story.
However, I am no longer writing the story. I have moved on to other topics and can finally speak out as a concerned citizen less worried about objectivity than protecting my family.

Every day I bring my daughter to school in Ramat Bet Shemesh Bet. Every day I wait for a bus back to my neighborhood at a stop on which is scrawled “death to Zionists.”

However, even with this on my mind I still stayed objective.

Following the publication of my final feature on Bet Shemesh for the Jerusalem Post, a local man approached me in my synagogue one Friday night, and in front of the entire congregation called me a “heretic,” because he did not approve of how I quoted his rabbi.

The pressure started to build within.

The next day, another member of the community told me that he believed that he had no obligation to assist his beleaguered brothers. It seemed that “Kol Yisrael areivim zeh la’zeh” was dead.

More pressure mounted.

However, it is only today that I finally speak out because one final incident occurred, what one might call the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Several hours prior to my writing this article, a young woman in Ramat Bet Shemesh Bet was surrounded, had her car windows smashed, her car keys stolen, and her head bashed with a rock, all for the “crime” of attempting to put up posters in a chareidi neighborhood.

What was particularly frustrating was that when she described the near-lynch, only disrupted by the intervention of the police, she told reporters about the large number of onlookers, outnumbering her assailants, who stood by and watched them close in around her.

Nobody did anything.

This passivity in the face of violence is what allows this type of religious crime to fester in our communities. The 
silence of the rabbis not only emboldens our enemies, but also makes those who would otherwise stand up to these bullies feel that they need not act.

The excuses made by our rabbis are laughable. As a member of the press who is on friendly terms with Palestinian, secular Israeli, and chareidi journalists, I must say that the only truly unprofessional journalists I have witnessed were those in the “frum” media. Lies were told, the truth was distorted, and facts were hidden from the public.

Did the secular media blow things out of proportion? Many say yes. However, the media in Israel is sensationalist by its nature. Despite this, many in the secular media showed an appreciation for the nuances of the conflict in Bet Shemesh and my colleagues were searching for a chareidi voice that would provide context and distance the community from extremism. Except for Shmuel Pappenheim, that voice was never raised.

Was there an anti-chareidi media agenda among some journalists? It could be, but in the end it doesn’t matter. When there is an issue of Jews fighting Jews, those who profess to be our leaders must stand up and act, regardless of the media.

We must recognize that, as Gideon Levy wrote in Haaretz, the chareidim are an easy target and some are using them to further their own political agendas in this matter. However, that must not allow us to forgive or excuse their guilt.

While there would not be glowing press for the chareidi community, largely complicit in the violence for their 
silence, the right words from the right rabbis could have greatly mitigated the negative press and diminished the chillul Hashem. Our rabbis may know Torah, but they do not understand media relations.

The chareidi press has cast doubts on the very occurrence of many of the incidents of violence, has misreported events, and on many occasions has declined to report on acts of violence by those living in their neighborhoods.
When the residents of Bet Shemesh got fed up with abuse, and with their appeals for help to the police, the rabbis, and the city government falling on deaf ears, they went to the media.

To the chareidi press, this was the real crime, not the violence.

As a resident of Ramat Bet Shemesh Aleph, I must say this: our continued silence is a crime. Until we end our shameful silence and come to the aid of our brothers, we are damned as collaborators. This indifference must end.

Oy Veh... Even More Violence in Ramat Beit Shemesh

Natalia Mashiach, 27, was reportedly hanging posters in Ramat Beit Shemesh, promoting a lottery business, when she was accosted, and then attacked by a group of local residents; her vehicle was also attacked, smashing the windows and puncturing the tyres, and her attackers then poured bleach on her and the vehicle.

Natalie, who was born and lives in Beit Shemesh, believed she was about to be set on fire by the attackers, and likens the experience to being lynched in an Arab village.

Natalie reported that over fifty people watched the events, which happened in broad daylight on a busy street - and not one intervened to save her.

I am horrified by this event - I feel deeply ashamed of the depraved and lowly status of our community.

Those who attack fellow Jews in the name of my religion, and in the name of piety; and those who stand idly by the blood of our brethren.

How low we have sunk.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Migron Explained (In Hebrew)

With the fight looming over the slated demolition of Migron, a not-yet-approved village in Shomron, here is a neat cartoon-like presentation of the history:

Thursday, 19 January 2012

TONIGHT! Magen Presents: Dr Pelcovitz + Rabbi Yakov Horowitz

Dr David Pelcovitz, renowned psychologist, author, and inspirational speaker, will be speaking in Beit Shemesh, and Rabbi Yakov Horowitz  will be joining us by Video-Link, TONIGHT, Thursday 19th January, 2012, commencing at 8pm, at the RBS Matnas on Nahal Dolev.

Rabbi Yakov Haber, Rabbi of Kehilas Shivtei Yeshurun in RBS, Founder of Torah Lab, will open the The Second Annual "Awareness Evening" organized by "Magen", the Beit Shemesh Child Protection Organization, with Divrei Bracha.

Dr Pelcovitz will be the Keynote Speaker on: "What Every Parent Needs to Know to Protect Their Children".

Rabbi Yakov ("Yanky") Horowitz, Founders of Project YES and Founder/Director of Darchei Noam Yeshiva in Monsey, will be talking about Child Safety in the Community, joining us live by Video Link.

A Child Abuse "Survivor" will (for the first time) tell their powerful story. 

Rav Horowitz recommends, for preparatory reading, the following articles:

There will be an opportunity after the formal event for individuals to ask questions to Dr Pelcovitz and other child abuse experts.

A year ago, Dr Pelcovitz also spoke for Magen, and addressed a packed crowd - a moving, passionate and highly educational evening.

Magen can affirm that, specifically due to that presentation, several local children were saved from devastating harm.

The whole community is warmly invited to this important event - we are looking forward to seeing you!

*** Tonight 19th January, 8pm, at the Ramat Beit Shemesh Matnas, Nahal Dolev, RBS ***.

      Recommended Donation at the Door - 20 NIS. (No one will be turned away through inability to pay).

"Magen" - Creating a Safer Community for Kids

Hotline: 052-765.2929
Sunday thru Thursday - 9am-12am; 8-11pm
Fridays - 9am-12am
Motsei Shabbat - till Midnight

Magen Office

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Getting Better Connected

I don't think this applies to me, as I can spend seconds at a time away from my email and internet.

You too?

Monday, 16 January 2012

"Tag Machmir"

"Tag Mechir" (literally: Price Tag) is a tactic allegedly used by some extreme right wingers, whereby any actions taken by the Government, Army or Police against Jewish settlements, village and towns in Yehuda & Shomron are met with retaliatory actions.

The concept of physical retaliation against our own people, even or particularly when in uniform, or to innocent (Arab) bystanders, is anathema to the overwhelming majority of the National Religious camp. These "tag machir" tactics are resoundingly and correctly condemned by the community leadership.

In the same way as the National Religious tend to have a chip on their right shoulder about religious observance, sometimes imitate aspects of our Ultra-Orthodox brothers's ritual stringencies, I conjecture that the "tag mechir" is a tactic learned also from the Ultra-Orthodox.

The battle cry in Meah Shearim in Jerusalem and Ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods of Beit Shemesh, could be that of the Three Musketeers – "All for One, and One for All!".

It appears that whenever any ultra-orthodox person is arrested for any crime, the streets fill with angry rioters, trash is burned in the streets, cars and buses stoned – in short, pandemonium breaks out.

It seems to be immaterial the nature of the alleged crime.

This week, it was a gang of alleged fraudsters, who are reported to have pocketed millions of shekels of tzedaka funds.

Over this past summer, protests turned to riots in Jerusalem, after police Police accompanied tax authority and municipality officials, who raided a chicken slaughterhouse belonging to Yoelish Krois, the unofficial "operations officer" of the Eda Charedit.

In another incident, weeks of riots broke out in Jerusalem when a mother, apparently suffering from M√ľnchausen syndrome by proxy (MSbP), was arrested on suspicion of starving her own child.

Here in Beit Shemesh we recall the riots which broke out in Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet when a body of a young woman was found in the local fields, in suspicious circumstances, and her body was taken for an autopsy. The husband was reportedly suspected of murdering the wife. Due to the riots, the autopsy was abandoned and 'suspected murder' category downgraded to "unknown causes".

I have no doubt that this "tag mechir" - which I hereby dub "Tag Machmir" - policy of the ultra-orthodox is indeed effective – and the police must think a thousand times before arresting ultra-orthodox criminals.

On the other hand, who would want to live in a community where suspected criminals of every description, protected by the local powers-that-be, can walk freely in the streets – like Harlem in the 1990's – a no-go zone for law and order? 

Thursday, 12 January 2012

When Does Accommodation become Capitulation?

The latest episode in the saga of spin-off stories emanating from the Beit Shemesh Orot Banot 'spitting' video, is the Machon Puah fracas.

Machon Puah is a fertility research center and clinic, established by the National Religious community.

Over a decade ago, Machon Puah decided to reach out to their ultra-orthodox (Chareidi) colleagues via a conference - “Innovations in Gynecology, Obstetrics and Jewish Law”.

At the time, the managers of Machon Puah asked Rav Mordechai Eliyahu whether they should have a men-only line-up of speakers at such an event, and the Rav said they should only have male speakers, I understand in order to encourage attendance from their target audience.

The press outcry this year to this 'discriminatory' policy, banning women from talking (bedavka!) at a fertility conference, was initiated by Rachel Adatto a Kadima Member of Knesset and an obstetrician.

In their response, Machon Puah pooh-poohed the press criticism, and announced the show would go on – and indeed it did this past week, with an estimated 1000 attendees.

I have seen comparable 'discriminatory' behaviour patterns at institutions throughout Beit Shemesh.

Events which are not specifically 'religious', but where seating is separated out by gender.

Professional events where women are excluded from speaking, solely due to their gender.

Newspapers and magazines which do not ever publish a picture of any woman.

Community organizations which exclude women from all managerial or directorship positions.

And of course we have the now-famous Beit Shemesh women-in-the-back buslines and women-on-the-other-side-of-the-street pavements.

I am not aware of any 'mainstream' rabbi who argues that these issues are addressing halachik issurim (religiously forbidden activities). In religious terms, these are considerations of chumras, minhagim, and 'mehudar' branding.

They are therefore principally issues of Chareidi culture and lifestyle choices.

I believe the crux of all these issues is the question as to what differentiates Accommodation of various cultural mores, as against Capitulation by a dominant culture, to the behavioural demands of a sub-culture.

When on a State visit to Abu Dhabi, the Queen of England covered her hair (see picture), in order not to offend her hosts. I think this is entirely reasonable and unremarkable.

However, if the Queen of England was required to wear a Muslim headscarf every time she appears in public in Britain, so as not to offend the sensibilities of the British Muslim minority – the British public would go bananas.  The Sun (popular newspaper) would demand that the Queen revert to exposing her hair, and shout out "Stuff You!" to the Muslim minority. 

By covering her hair in public in London, the Queen would be seen as capitulating to the unreasonable demands of a minority of her subjects.
Meanwhile, back in Israel, I believe there is consensus that a synagogue is entitled to have separate gender seating arrangements, and so for example can a wedding banquet (although individual guests may be miffed).

And that a woman in a tank-top would be unwise, and culturally insensitive, to walk around Meah Shearim. She would be well advised, like the Queen visiting Abu Dhabi, to cover-up. (I am not saying the tank-topper is "answerable for the consequences" – the locals would not be entitled to harass the lady in any way).

Did Machon Puah do the right thing by banning women from speaking at a medical conference aimed at Charedi rabbis and professionals, as this was simply pragmatic and sensitive to the needs of that 'market'?

Or did Machon Puah, and do all the others, who adapt their own behaviour to meet Chareidi cultural mores, sell out their principals and thereby capitulate to the unreasonable demands of a minority?

Where are the red lines?

Monday, 9 January 2012

POSITIVE Initiatives in Beit Shemesh!

Activists in Beit Shemesh are starting to prepare for the Day After, when the Press Vans go home, and the name of Beit Shemesh and the fractured community relations within the city, will need rehabilitating.

Recent initiatives include the Flash Mob dance by over a hundred women from Beit Shemesh. This event was the brain-child of Miri Shalem, Brenda Ganot, Orna Nachmany, Etty Ben-Ami Suissa and Paz Corcus.

Here's a great video of the Mob strutting their stuff:

This up-beat Beit Shemesh event received national press coverage, including articles on YNet, JPost, Arutz7, and Haaretz.

Another initiative is by the Parnership 2gether branch in Beit Shemesh, which has launched a request for proposals for grass roots cooperative and dialogue projects, aimed at bringing the various groups within the community closer together. Grants of 34,000 NIS are being offered as seed money for winning proposals. This was reported in the Jerusalem Post.

As reported here, there is also the Kiddush Hashem Initative, launched by Rabbi Yaacov Haber of Ramat Beit Shemesh.

If you hear of other POSITIVE initiatives being organized in Beit Shemesh, please let me know - I'll be happy to do my bit to promote them!
Small Print:  There are many halachik issues, even in seemingly harmless and 'no-brainer' public events.  Before initiating or participating in a 'positive' event or project, it is (obviously) important to obtain the 'green light' from your possek/rav.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Kiddush Hashem in Beit Shemesh

Rabbi Yaacov Haber

I had the privilege of attending a “Town Hall Meeting” arranged by Rabbi Yaacov Haber last week, at his Kehilas Shivtei Yeshurun (KSY) shul in Ramat Beit Shemesh.

The rav introduced the event by observing that there had been a huge Chilul Hashem around the world, centered on the recent events in Beit Shemesh.

The purpose of the evening was to have a forum, for all present to float ideas which would (or could) create a Kiddush Hashem.

Rules: one minute on the timer for each speaker; any negativity is forbidden and will be stopped in its tracks. On with the show…!

Out of around a hundred people who attended, over twenty people chose to speak. The attendees were all anglos, and included broad representation of dati leumi and Chareidi people. Men/Women were approximately 50/50. There were also some individuals from Givat Sharett, including those who have been directly involved in the struggle there, such as Dov Krulwich and Daniel Goldman.

In spite of the controversial and highly charged events in recent weeks, I do not recall even a single “negative” remark in the one hour event. The time keeping was rigorously enforced, by the all-smiling MC David Geffen, and so everyone had an opportunity to speak on an equal footing.    

According to the event organizers, the following Kiddush Hashem-Ideas were proposed during the evening:

* Mass Love Your Neighbor Rally (maybe for 100,000 charedim
* Coordinate more closely with the police to arrest and close down trouble makers
* Rabbanim from all the camps meet on a regular basis
* Shul meetings… (maybe a couple of members from each shul)
* Definitive Statement against violence from all the leaders officially posted up on the streets
* Find a symbol (like the orange ribbon for gush katif) to represent “We love all Jews”, that becomes the In-Thing to wear or put on our car etc. (Rabbi Haber would like to buy the T-shirt)
* Invite someone from CNN to see the good side of Beit Shemesh
* In depth academic study of WHY and WHAT can be done
* So that those that want to be separate can be separate, establish areas for re-location
* Keep back tzedaka money for individuals and institutions in BET until Anti-Violence conditions are met.
* Ongoing Dialogue for the leaders
* Vote for a Mayor that can solve the problem
* Produce PR, explanatory and family videos for Youtube etc.
* Different Kehilot meet for kiddushim
* Story books for kids – maybe the adults will learn from them
* Daf Shalom – something like daf yomi that the community does each day for shalom.    
* Large significant delegations visit the Rabbinical leaders
* Nashei Shalom – the women from all the side should meet, strengthen relationships and lay the foundation for genuine achdut
* Organize an immediate response team to violent outbursts
* Anglo Gimmicks such a singing evenings – fun things that bring the communities together
Website for ideas
* Hire a top of the line PR firm to present the good side of Beit Shemesh
* On a personal level to make sure to change our judgmental, distancing, even hateful language that can sometimes unwittingly be used at the Shabbat Table
* Achdut Merchandise in the shops
* When we talk to people, publicize the goodness in RBS BEG e.g. guarding the eyes (love “them” as well)
* Hugging expeditions to various parts of Beit Shemesh, combined with idea 6 to be handed out before the hug J - The 1st expedition leaves from KSY at 11am on Friday Jan 13 ~ 18th Tevet
* A book from Rav Haber

It is true that, in the cold light of day, many of these ideas sound zany; and surely questions will be asked what was in that pipe we were passing round....
Indeed, as I drove away from the KSY shul, in order to do some errands in Beit Shemesh, I passed dozens of RBS Bet residents, crowding around an incident involving a bus, and a large dumpster. I believe protesters had thrown stones at the bus and tried to block the main road with the dumpster.

For a blessed hour, perhaps we had experienced the eerie quiet and peacefulness of the eye of the storm.

I do hope that some of the ideas will spawn practical projects, as the need for "Beit Shemesh" to have positive associations tomorrow, instead of the negative ones today, is a supremely important mission.

However, as Rav Haber said (I paraphrase): if the only thing to come out of this evening, is this evening, and Hashem delights in our efforts to bring about a Kiddush Hashem, then this has been worthwhile.

Please send further ideas and questions to:

If you have some nice photos of the evening, please email to me, so I can post them here (with credits!).

Friday, 6 January 2012

Right Mood (Can't Wait for Sukkot!)

The newspapers/news-sites, magazines, blogs around the world are (quite rightly) not looking kindly on the protests and nefarious misdemeanors in Bet Shemesh. 

Lest things get too depressing for we residents of Beit Shemesh I offer this locally produced simcha video. It's not Sukkot, but we need the fun and joy right now. I can't wait for Sukkot....

Kudos to: David Bar-Cohn, Moshe Hamburg, Stuart Schnee and Dr. Efraim Rosenbaum.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Beit Shemesh: When Thugs Run Schools

"Six of the Best" was the expression wryly used to describe the formal punishment of being beaten on the buttocks six times with the headmaster's wooden cane.

Over thirty years ago, I was educated in posh English boarding schools – Malsis School in Yorkshire, and the world-renowned Rugby School (where the game was invented); corporal punishment was encoded for over four centuries into the school rules (Rugby was founded in 1557).

You had to have done something pretty 'bad' to deserve the cane, particularly the top-score of six strikes.
Lesser offenses received lower counts, and there was a range of non-caning corporal alternatives, such as the ruler (across the hand), the shoe and the slipper (on the buttocks). 

I myself managed to complete eleven years of posh schooling, without my buttocks ever meeting the headmaster's cane. (I lost count of the milder slipperings etc).
Although outlawed in England for well over a generation, and in Israel since child protection laws were enacted in the 1950's, many chedarim (religious primary schools) in Israel still practice corporal punishment.

Those responsible for chedarim have pointed to the classic Jewish texts to support this practice:

"He that spareth the rod hateth his child, but he who loveth him chasteneth him betimes" (Proverbs 13:24)

A teacher may employ corporal punishment to cast fear upon [the students]. However, he should not beat them cruelly, like an enemy. Therefore, he should not beat them with a rod or a staff, but rather with a small strap." (Mishne Torah, Chapter 2, Halacha 2.)

A full discussion on the pros and cons of corporal punishment in a school setting is beyond the scope of this article.

Indeed – such a discussion would actually just be a smokescreen…

What has happened in some chedarim is that, under the guise of "corporal punishment", teachers/rebbes are behaving as thugs.

Violence by adults against children under their care has become the accepted practice, by some cheder/school administrators, the teachers, the children (nebech), the parents, the rabbonim, their whole community.

We are talking about teachers allegedly:

* beating small children across the face
* smashing the children's glasses while on their faces
* smashing the children's heads against walls,
* drawing blood,
* permanently scarring skin tissue;
* causing permanent damage to ear drums (from being beaten around the ears)…

and along with inestimable damage to these children's psychological health – and spiritual welfare.

A secular Israeli related that he had been brought up orthodox, and when he was in cheder, the teacher used a whip with three leather thongs to beat him and his classmates. The teacher gave a name to each of the three thongs: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Due to the dreadful associations, the boy gave up praying (the central prayer the Amidah opens with "the G-d of Abraham, the G-d of Isaac and the G-d of Jacob"), and eventually entirely left the religious fold. He does not know of even one boy in his cheder class who remained religiously observant into adulthood.

Such violence by adults against small children under their care must be immediately stopped.

Parents and community leaders need to abandon their passive and accepting response to this violence against their own children.

It is not behaviour which can be glossed over as "traditional", "part of the culture" and explained away by using smokescreen halachik arguments which are about corporal punishment in schools.

Even in my posh English school, the lines were clear. Yes, to corporal punishment. But if any teacher had dared, for example, to strike a child across the face (I don't recall even one such incident in ten years in these Christian institutions), the teacher would have been immediately dismissed and in all likelihood the police called in.

And this is not an issue for rabbonim to 'quietly sort out'. The rabbonim (I have spoken to) are well aware of the violence, and have been unable or unwilling to take measures to stop it.

Such in-house hush-hush 'classic' community responses have failed these children miserably.

Unfortunately, the parents themselves have been unwilling to report the violence against their children to the appropriate authorities, due to an overwhelming dread of reprisals. They have a point - there have been several cases in Beit Shemesh/RBS where parents who dared to report child abuse in chedarim have been intimidated and chased out of the community, the city, even the country. 

A community rabbi, well acquainted with the violence, warned that the parents have every reason to be fearful – physically. He claimed that a particular cheder, known for its institutional violence to children, is run by people also capable of violence against adults. "It is an evil empire", he said, grim faced. 

The time has come to call the violent behaviour in some chedarim what it is – criminal thuggery.
These 'teachers' face around nine years in prison (on each count) for their routine crimes against the children. 

And the rings of adults who protect and even justify the thugs, are enabling child abuse – they are themselves criminals under Israeli law. They face six month prison sentences for failing to report these crimes.

The correct and only effective address for parents of these children who are victims of violence by adults, is to report both the thugs and their enablers to the social services and the police.

Parents - All it requires, is to finally put the safety of your child, ahead of protecting the thugs and their cohorts.  

Sunday, 1 January 2012

The Beit Shemesh Partition Plan

Even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has put up a trial balloon this week, proposing that Bet Shemesh be divided.

This is a new map showing Bet Shemesh, divided at the mid-point... between Men and Women.
(Thanks: Moshe Abelesz) 

Further Beit Shemesh/RBS Horror Stories

This Channel Two News story is about two Ramat Beit Shemesh families, and the treatment they suffered at the hands of ultra-orthodox extremists. 

The first item focuses on the Kadosh family, consisting of a single mum and five kids. Three of these kids are severely disabled by a degenerative genetic disease.

According to the report, the Kadosh family were harassed and intimidated by extremist ultra-orthodox thugs, forcing them out of their home in Ramat Beit Shemesh Aleph.

The Kadosh family have financial problems, due to their situation; the local "Charity Fund" raised money for the family; the Kadosh family then obtained significant help from that local charity fund.

The thugs apparently successfully arranged with the directors of the Charity Fund for the Kadosh Family to be struck off, resulting in additional financial hardship (not to mention the emotional pain caused by such  treatment).

I understand that the Kadosh family did subsequently relocate to a more sympathetic location in Ramat Beit Shemesh Aleph, where they are now helped by the community.

The second family, the Browns, are a National Religious family who lived in Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet; however, the Browns were systematically bullied and intimidated out of that neighborhood by thugs - and now daven in my shul (Soloveichik) in Ramat Beit Shemesh Aleph.

To the Brown Family - Welcome!!