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Extremist Charedi Violence and How To Prevent It
A very upsetting incident happened yesterday, in the middle of an exciting day of campaigning for the new museum building.
One of the groups that visited the museum was a Talmud Torah from one of the Deep Chareidi neighborhoods of Beit Shemesh. We underwent the usual preparations for such groups, closing off all the female staff out of sight, instructing our guide to tell them that the video (of me together with lions and leopards in Africa) was a Matzeget rather than a Seret, etc.. They were a great bunch of kids, lively and super-excited to be in the museum. I wandered into the main hall at the end of their tour, and several of them came over to me in excitement, recognizing me from the video. Incredibly, one of them said to me, "Did you see me waving to you, when you were with the lion?" He didn't understand the concept of a video!
Anyway, the group left, after the rebbeim came over to me and thanked me profusely for the wonderful experience. I had the happy glow inside which I have after every group, but especially after the Deep Charedi groups. And then I went outside to my car.
And I saw that the little Israeli flags which adorn my car had been ripped off.
I was pretty sure that it was the kids who had just been at the museum; the museum is on a street which does not see much pedestrian traffic, and certainly not of the extremist charedi kind. I called the rebbe, and he claimed that it wasn't his students that had done it. I don't know the truth..
It was very, very upsetting. It came on the heels of a number of incidents that happened over the last few weeks. My 15-year-old daughter was traveling on a bus through RBS-B (Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet) on Yom Ha-Atzmaut night, with an Israeli flag draped around her. Suddenly there was a hail of stones striking the windows around her, and then kids mobbed the bus and tried to physically damage it. She was deeply traumatized.
There have been countless such incidents. Dozens if not hundreds of flags were ripped off cars and homes. Cars that drive through certain neighborhoods here are regularly ambushed by kids, often to the entertainment of adult onlookers. A friend of mined who davvenned at a shul in RBS-B emerged to find a man setting fire to the flags on his car.
It gets worse. The military section of the city cemetery had all its flags, that had been put there for Yom HaZikaron, stolen, not just once but twice. And on Yom HaZikaron, the people visiting the cemetery were accosted by jeering and curses from the girls in an adjacent school. As the siren sounded, there was yelling from all the windows of a local boys' yeshivah.
What can be done about this? The mayor is worse than useless; he just uses his speaking opportunities with the dati-leumi communities to lecture them about how they need to be tolerant of intolerant people, and about how their role in the world is to financially support people learning Torah. The police, who can't drive through RBS-B without hearing endless yells of "Nazi!" and have been attacked by huge mobs and even had their cars overturned, are reluctant to even enter RBS-B; on Yom HaZikaron/ Yom Ha-Atzmaut, they were nowhere to be seen. The local mainstream/ Anglo charedi rabbanim aren't interested in doing anything or even showing support to victims, lest they be seen as taking the wrong side in the Great War On Torah. Local residents have had some success, such as when filming a man brandishing a stick against some poor dati-leumi kids and taking the video to the police, but it's usually hard to catch the incidents or perpetrators on camera.
There's no magic solution for this ever-increasing problem. You can't immediately transform thousands of people. But there are certain approaches which can be taken, that in the long-term will have an impact.
The kids that tore the flags off my car - assuming it was the ones who had just visited the museum, and not different charedi kids - had no idea that it was my car. These were the same kids who were thrilled to have met me and to have seen the museum. Had I gotten around to branding my car with the museum logo (one of the many items on my to-do list), I really doubt that they would have done it. They didn't tear down the flags that are hanging outside the museum petting zoo!
Yesterday wasn't just the first time that these kids had seen a video. It was probably the very first time in these kids' lives that they had a positive, Torah-learning interaction with people from outside their tiny world. They saw us not as the faceless Zionist Amalek Nazi enemy, but as human beings, and moreover as nice people with interesting Torah messages to share. They learned that the great big world outside their tiny one has many fascinating creatures and people and concepts. I think that the importance of such an experience is incalculable.
Last week, we met with a senior figure in charge of science education for charedi schools nationwide. Most of the hundreds of institutions have barely an hour of poor science education per week. This person struggles to get them to comply with any kind of educational requirements. She immediately saw the value of the museum, and is working with us to increase the number of charedi schools that visit annually from several dozen to several hundred.
But we need a new building! We are hopelessly cramped in our present facility, which is a rented warehouse in a run-down area that has been temporarily converted to a museum. And we finally have the opportunity to get a huge, beautiful new building, in a prime location, right by the entrance to Beit Shemesh. This will enable us to reach hundreds of thousands of people! This will enable us to inspire and educate secular Jews with the beauty of Torah, non-Jews with the Biblical significance of Israel, religious Jews with new insights into Torah and nature, and charedim with a world of nature and Torah and non-charedim that they have never seen before.
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