Monday, August 29, 2011

A nice day for a protest...

Really, is there EVER a nice day for a protest?  Ironically or not, it was atypically cloudy in Beit Shemesh today so perhaps that was our first clue.  I have had blog entries swirling in my head for about a week, but nothing crystallized or brought me to that "I MUST tell the world" place.  Today's events have. 

The very short version of the story is this.  Orot Banot (an elementary girls school) is slated to move into a new building this week.  Plans for the girls to move into the building adjacent to the boys' school up our block have been contractually agreed upon, given mayoral blessing, and received oodles of supporter money.  The Chareidi community near by (Chareidim are what many people refer to as the "ultra Orthodox") has been accepting of this endeavor which is a great step forward in the struggle for Jewish unity, at least 'round here.  There are however, a group of Chareidim who have decided to protest the opening of the school by vandalizing it and surrounding property.   After the school was broken into this week, the mayor told school reps that he is rescinding his approval for the girls to attend the school because he cannot guarantee their safety. explains it like this:

The girls at the national religious “Orot” school had been due to start the new school year at the site, but were relocated due to the protest. Last week, Beit Shemesh Mayor Moshe Abutbul sent a letter to the parents’ association, warning that he had received serious threats from ultra-Orthodox residents of the city, who vowed to cause physical harm to both to the mayor and the students should the school open as planned. Abutbul told the parents that in light of the threats, he could not guarantee the safety of the girls, and had decided not to open the school for the start of the academic year.”

I was at the first of the protests this morning.  I’m an emotional gal by nature, but it takes a lot to make my stomach LITERALLY turn.  Standing in the courtyard of the school though, I took in the image of men in long black coats with banana-curled payot (side burns) exit the school with their tallitot (prayer shawls) covering their faces and later, engaging in prayer in a football huddle.  I watched as they told one woman that she is like a “dead body” and “piece of trash.”  I watched as they debated what hatred really means with a gentleman from “the other side” who, G-D bless him, tried so beautifully to engage meaningful discourse.  I watched angry Dati-Leumi (religious-nationalist) Jews yell in disgust.  One woman, a physician, yelled “We take care of your wives and your children and you try to take away our school?”  Other people said that they simply couldn’t understand how these men could ask for tzedaka (charity) at one moment and then pull a stunt like this.  One person said ‘if you don’t like it, go to Gaza,’ while another said, “Go join the army!”

There aren’t enough words to describe how nuts this is.  There are not enough ways to describe how wrong this is, how divisive, how foolish, how logic-defying.  There was dancing, singing, flag waving, and an amazing display of Jewish and Zionistic pride by Dati-Leumi children and teens who let the Chareidi protesters know that they were both appalled and ready to explain the importance of this school and the Torah education our daughters all deserve.  But there were also guards, policemen, the media, border and riot patrol with machine guns, hand guns, and riot gear.  My family saw stink bombs thrown and balloons filled with sewer water tossed at the protesters. I was present for a war of words that started with a shove and a push.  At one point a wall of women formed after a Chareidi man pushed one of them, and the police told the Chareidim to leave for their own safety when fists, not so surprisingly, flew.

All of these details almost don’t matter though.  That anyone would want little girls out of a school because of the potential for salacious behavior or sexual allure is criminal.  That anyone would publicly state that 6-12 year old girls have the potential to sexually sway ANYBODY is sick, perverse, and pedophilia, plain and simple.  That a political official who was hired (or paid) to equally and loyally represent his ENTIRE constituency would out and out lie is, well, crazy!  The whole situation is insane, reinforces a divide between us and them, creates horrific animosity, makes coexistence painful, and hurts not only us and our children, but I’m guessing, G-D too.

And here’s what really kills me.  We are ALL Jews.  We were ALL at Har Sinai (Mount Sinai) when G-D gave ALL of us the ONLY version of His Torah.  Riot gear against other Jews?  Jews calling each other Nazis and coming to blows over women’s education? Why would anyone want to deny these girls, or torture them in the process, when they are our future mothers, wives, teachers, and respected, contributing members of the entire world?  We’ve had enough dealings with people who want to kill us.  Heck, we have that going on now as rockets blast through the skies from Gaza to Be’er Sheva and runaway cars attempt to plow teens in Tel Aviv.  Do we need to turn on ourselves?  Do we need to virulently try to kill the spark of Judaism that I squarely believe cannot go out?  How do we get this to stop so that we unify for the good and not because some of our own have clear done lost their minds?  

We don’t have to love each other and sing Kumbaya, but we do have to respect the space we each take up on this earth, and here, in this G-D given country that embodies what Judaism REALLY is.  I don’t have to understand why someone wears layers of black in the dead of summer in the desert just as no one has to understand why I like to wear funky mitpachot (head scarves) and sport the world’s ugliest ankle brace. Perhaps I’m naïve; no, I know I’m naïve.  But I also know that I am now left with the task of carefully discussing this with my kids who have already formed opinions on the matter.  I must remind them that not everyone of ANY group is all bad, and that the men in the black hats and coats are not “always” this or that.  I must now re-explain that some of the stuff done by “our side” was wrong, too.  There are no guidebooks for dealing with stuff like this, though.  I’d grab the first copy of “How to cope when your own are out to get you” or, “How not to hate people who sound like you but are nothing like you at all” if I could.

I’ve turned and twisted and mulled this over all day and am left with a heart wrenching inner struggle.  It sickens me, devastates me, and makes me wonder why we use some of our best skills- negotiating, advocacy, and passion, to destroy who we are.  It simply makes no sense and if it doesn’t end, we will.

Post script:  News reports now state that the school will open this week as originally planned. While this is surely a success we still have so much to do.

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