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Beit Shemesh Complaining and Building
As has been globally reported, Beit Shemesh is a city which, despite its significant assets and advantages, suffers from some serious problems. There is the verbal and physical violence by extremist charedim against non-charedim, and the lack of interest in combating this among mainstream charedim. There is the disenfranchisement of the non-charedi population, such as with the various public statements made by mainstream (and even Anglo) charedi rabbonim in RBS, as well as various statements and policies issued by city council. There are frustrations about the way that the city is developing, with the new areas of land going primarily to charedi communities and public sectors of land being given only to charedi yeshivos, even from outside Beit Shemesh. Beit Shemesh is probably the world's worst situation of friction between different streams of Jews.
There's a lot to complain about, and a lot of people complaining, myself included. However, complaining alone is not enough. People have to be proactive in engaging in constructive ways to improve things. You can't solve the problems overnight, but there are all kinds of ways of improving the city.
One of our guides teaching the laws of kashrus to a chassidic group,
straight from the horse's mouth - literally!The Biblical Museum of Natural History is the only place in Beit Shemesh (and indeed all Israel, and even the entire world) where all streams of Jews come to learn Torah in a positive environment. We have secular visitors, we have chareidi visitors, we have national-religious visitors. We are visited by school groups from the most extreme sectors of the charedi population - schools where the children only understand Yiddish, schools which never visit the Jerusalem zoo because it is open on Shabbos, schools from communities which house the thugs that make the headlines. They come to us and they learn Torah from our guides, which is probably the first time in their lives that they are ever learning Torah (or indeed anything) from people outside of their communities. And they love it, and they also learn to love and respect the world around them.
A happy encounter - and note the background observer,
a chassidic guide-in-trainingBeyond the tours, the museum also offers other benefits to the city. We have a Sherut Leumi program. We are now joining the Sherut Ezrachi program, which is a program for charedim who will not go to the army, which enables them to work for society in non-profit institutions and then integrate into the workforce. We have many volunteers, including teenagers who have not found their place in their school/social environment but who thrive in the museum. We house leadership workshops, smachot/events, and weekly chugim (children's workshops).
A memorable hug!The museum is also a leading tourist attraction in the Beit Shemesh region. It's pretty much the only thing that brings people from outside Beit Shemesh into the city. In Israel, that includes groups from Ashdod, Petach Tikvah, Modiin, Bnei Brak, Herzliyya, Raanana, and Jerusalem. We also receive many international visitors and groups from around the world. For many people outside our city, Beit Shemesh is known only as the city of Jewish religious violence and tensions; but for the many thousands of people who have visited us, it is known as the city with the terrific museum about animals in the Torah.
So, to my fellow residents, and to all those who criticize Beit Shemesh, I say as follows. You can complain and complain. But, if you really care to make a difference, you have to do something. And one of the things that you can do is support The Biblical Museum of Natural History. Help us take the museum to the next level, such that we can accommodate more exhibits and more visitors and implement our programming vision. Help us advance towards being a national treasure, by moving out of the cramped premises and crummy street that we are on, into a larger and much more beautiful building, in a much better (but still local!) location. You can be part of transforming Beit Shemesh! Please donate to our campaign for a new home, and share it with others. Thank you!