For the past several years the Ethiopian community in Beit Shemesh held a communal Pesach Seder in three locations in the city mimicking their ancient tradition. In past years the Bet Shemesh municipality helped subsidize these Seders to the tune of 10,000 – 13,000 Shekel per year. This year the subsidy from the city was denied.
Apparently, according to the mayor, Moshe Abutbol, the subsidy was denied because the Ethiopians were not acceding to a city demand that the 3 separate Seders be combined into an enormous single Seder in the new community center. Why the city chose to contribute nothing vs. even a reduced amount that was felt appropriate for the single Seder is a serious question. Also, let’s keep in mind that 13,000 Shekel is pocket change for a city the size of Beit Shemesh. It’s likely that the “jumping castles” the city provided prior to Passover cost well in excess of that amount. And that’s without even discussing the highly controversial decision by the city spend 180,000 Shekel to bring in a singer for Yom Haatzmaut who is alleged to have serious issues surrounding his behavior.
One has to wonder if the decision not to fund the Seders was based on more than purely economic reasons. Attorney Emanuel Hadane, is an Ethiopian community activist who ran with Eli Cohen in the recent elections and worked tirelessly to get his community to vote for Cohen. Hadane is also the son of Cheif Kes Hadane, a leader of the community. Naturally, Abutbol has denied any connection, yet it remains highly suspicious that the city would create this very condescending demand, that the community change their custom, as virtual extortion for receiving such a relatively trivial amount of money.
The story, however, does have a happy ending. The Anglo community in Beit Shemesh got wind of this situation and began a campaign to raise the money to help fund the Seders. They raised several thousand Shekel but there was still a shortfall of about 8,000 Shekel. MK Rabbi Dov Lipman, aware of the situation, reached out to his party head and finance minister Yair Lapid in hopes of getting the finance ministry to kick in the remaining funds. Within a day, the remaining 8,000 Shekel was received. But, as it turns out, the money did not come from the Finance Ministry. It was a personal donation from Yair and Lihi Lapid!
Hopefully, the irony of this situation is not lost on anyone. During the recent campaign, the ceaseless drumbeat from Abutbol’s supporters was that it was critically important to elect an orthodox candidate, as he would ensure the religious integrity of the city of Bet Shemesh. Indeed, a number of leading Rabbis, from as far away as Baltimore, were paraded before the electorate to stump for the incumbent Abutbol and drill in this point. In some cases, voting for Abutbol was even elevated to a “do or die” command. To add to this delicious irony, not only was the religiously traditional challenger, Eli Cohen, impugned and degraded for his religious status, but the ultimate (false) insult hurled at him was that he was a puppet of Yair Lapid!
So, just to spell out it out, when our mayor, the vanguard of Torah in Beit Shemesh, has the first opportunity of his new term to do something truly religiously significant he strikes out and abdicates this, small but important, task to the “devil” himself, Yair Lapid. You can’t make this stuff up!