The funny thing about a story that involves Haredim is that Haredim then become the story!
For those that are not familiar with the story here it is:
We begin with the previous Mayor, Daniel Vaknin. Many years ago Daniel Vaknin designated a plot of land in the center of Ramah Alef’s Haredi section for a “school for languages and culture,” with the express purpose, in his own words, of curbing the growth of the Haredi populace in the town. The students in this school are bused in to the school from their homes in the Old City at the municipality’s expense to the tune of hundreds of thousands of shekels a year. Discrimination against the Haredi population with building proper schools in Ramat Beit Shemesh goes as far back as 1999. This battle has been going on for 15 years and sadly is still going on today.
The secular school Safot V’Tarbiyot has 144 students in a building that is large enough for 500 students and there are many empty classrooms and rooms that are used either very rarely or not at all.
In fact, this past Tuesday, the principal gave a tour of the school and pointed out in the downstairs area a room that had some books in it. She said that was the library. They then went to another room that had a smaller amount of books in it and she said that was the room for the small library. They then went to a 3rd room and she said that this is the room for when it rains and the kids can’t play outside so they play in that room. There is also a room that is used about once a year for art exhibitions. They claim that the 144 kids need and use every room in the entire school, yet when the downstairs area was being cleaned out it was reported that there was dust all over the bathrooms and that it looked like the place and most of the rooms weren’t used in many months.
A few blocks away you have Mishkanos Da’as. A Bais Yaakov school that has almost 800 students and is constantly growing year after year. There is no more room for these girls! They have caravans not only on their own property, but also on the property next door and even a caravan down the road from where they are! Yet with all the caravans last year you still had several classes that were taught in the school hallways as well as in the small teachers’ lounge where obviously the teachers were never able to use.
In 2009 there was a plan from the city to move Safot V’Tarbiyot to their own building in Old Bet Shemesh. (There are many empty classrooms in the Old Beit Shemesh vicinity). This would have freed up the school for those who actually lived in the area and would have been fantastic for the students of Safot V’Tarbiyot to be closer to home. Not to mention the hundreds of thousands of shekels saved from not having to bus in the students to Ramat Beit Shemesh every day. It was the perfect idea and it should have worked, but it was blocked by the parents and politicians who were afraid that the Haredim would be taking over the city and they invoked the help of Gideon Sa’ar who was then the minister of education. Sa’ar successfully canceled the city plans while at the same time promising to come up for a solution for Mishkanos Da’as. Mishkanos Da’as after four years is still waiting for that empty promise.
We need to be clear that it is the city that owns the school buildings and they are allowed to move schools around in order to make sure every child in the city has the best educational set-up for them. It was only because the education minister at the time, Gideon Sa’ar, got on board and vetoed it. Dear reader, please ask yourself honestly why was this plan canceled? We all know the ugly truth and that is because it was for a Haredi school. If it was for another secular school you can be sure that the move would have happened with a social dance attended by both schools celebrating the happiness it would have brought to both sides.
But we are talking about Haredim, and not just any Haredim, but Haredim from Beit Shemesh. There are many people that still cannot let go of losing the mayoral elections not once but twice! They can’t accept the fact that the majority of people living in Beit Shemesh voted for a Haredi Mayor. The Press and media love any and every opportunity they have to bash the Haredim and Mayor Moshe Abutbul. And because most Haredim avoid the internet they don’t have as loud a voice and can really use a hasbara (PR) agency to share their side. People think because it is written on Facebook it becomes the truth. But let’s try to see the other side of the wall and explain what really happened over the last weeks.
Mishkanos Da’as knew they absolutely had no more room for the coming school year and went to the municipality begging for a solution. The city knew that the only possible solution they had (since the education ministry once again failed on their promise to find a solution) was to use the space available in the very large Safot V’Tarbiyot school building. It was the only place that was in a location where the students could comfortably walk to and that was large enough to accommodate 200 girls.
Over the last few months both the mayor and the general director reached out to both the principal of the school and the head of the school Parents Association on several occasions. Their phone calls were never picked up or returned. The leaders of Safot V’Tarbiyot knew exactly what the municipality wanted to discuss with them and they avoided them at all costs. When they finally reached the principal by SMS she agreed to come to a meeting. She claims that after 45 minutes of waiting for the Mayor she left. Now, I personally have waited for haircuts longer than 45 minutes and the mayor is an extremely busy man. This was the day that the new President of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, came to Beit Shemesh and of course the Mayor was catering to the President.
The city was so frustrated! They needed a solution for the girls of Mishkanos Da’as, but no matter what they tried or how hard they tried it seemed the principal and head of the parents association did everything they could to avoid them. The city council met on August 27th to decide what to do.
At the meeting they discussed all the options and the only realistic solution was to use the unused space in Safot. It was really sad that Safot V’Tarbiyot refused to meet with them and work out things amicably. They wanted to come up with something together, but it was obvious that they had zero interest in helping the children of Mishkanot Da’as. They had an amazing opportunity to show love and unity. They could have put Bet Shemesh in the news for positive reasons and continued the strong feeling of achdut that was reached during the summer of war. Instead they let their bias take control of them and together with the opposition decided to fight for all its worth.
The decision was made to go on Sunday MORNING August 31st to the school, as was their right by law, and prepare it for the girls that had nowhere else to go. They went with the hired contractor in the morning to begin the work and they were met with fierce resistance from the opposition.
The loudest of them being city councilman Richard Peres whose hostility for Haredim is well known. In a JPost article from November 30th, 2011 Peres is quoted as saying ““We need a separation between the haredim and the residents of old Beit Shemesh or there will be a war with bloodshed,” he warns. “We will use what we learned in the IDF to fight them.” Peres’s party barely got enough votes for one seat in the previous elections and he was a big supporter of Eli Cohen for Mayor. Since Eli lost the election (twice), Richard has been busy pushing his new Agenda, which is separating Beit Shemesh into two different cities and to actually build a physical wall separating everyone from the Haredim. I guess we now know what he meant in 2011.
Peres came for a fight and was ready to battle. He along with parents of children in the “elitist” school and other members of the opposition physically blocked the contractor and his staff from doing their job. The principal refused to give over the keys to the locks as requested from city council members at the scene. The police were called and after many arguments from Peres, the opposition and the parents, they feared for the safety of the contractor and the Haredi council members and told them that it would be better to come later at night when things quieted down. It is extremely important to note that no Haredim were involved in any confrontation. They avoided even verbally sparring with the opposition. They stood to the side and let the police do their job and when the police asked them to leave and come back later they agreed. Before they left the police told the contractor that he needs to hire security guards to protect him and to make sure members of the city do not get into physical fights with other members of the city.
So at around eight p.m. (for the second time that day) the contractor went with his team and the security guards the police (not the mayor as was proclaimed over and over again in the media) told him to bring to do their job and prepare the school for the next morning. Once again they were met with even fiercer opposition and more people blocking them. They broke the locks on the door (again since the principal refused to give the keys to the city as demanded) and entered the building. They were being pushed backed and screamed at by teachers, opposition members, parents etc. One teacher stepped on something and hurt her foot. This one small incident that once again had nothing to do with any Haredim caused Minister of Education Shai Piron to declare that the Haredim attacked the teachers and the principal of Safot. This was a dangerous lie that someone on the level of Piron should not have spread. The school was flooded with police. If any teacher was attacked then how come there weren’t any arrests?? But again the Haredim that were there did not get into any fights and did not hurt a fly. They let the police do their job.
After some time the police once again felt there was a real threat of violence from between the opposition and the security guards and so they cleared out the building and told everyone to go home. The police then told the contractor that he should come back in a couple of hours and come in quietly through a back entrance to do his work so the girls would have a place to go to school in the morning.
On this 3rd attempt of the day, at around eleven p.m. the contractor and his team was finally able to go into the school and prepare it for the morning. They were successful in separating the building so it had an appearance of two separate schools. Originally the plan was to put up a tarp between the schools which is very common when you have two schools next to each other. This happens all over Israel and even with Haredi schools that are next to other Haredi schools. I spoke with a teacher and he said it is natural for kids from one school to shout or yell at kids from another school. Call it competitive nature built within children so it’s obvious to put up a curtain of some kind. The problem is that in this situation it was well known that if they would put up canvas or a tarp it would immediately be destroyed by the opposition. The only option was to put up a wall that could not easily be torn down. Originally I thought it had to do with reasons of modesty or separation, but I was wrong.
Well the next morning the opposition went ballistic! They couldn’t believe a wall was put up and that the city actually did their job. And to be honest it’s a good thing the wall was there. It was very sad and disappointing to see the children of the elitist school of Safot V’Tarbiyot to throw small rocks at the wall and to bang at the wall, yelling at the Haredim to leave! One young girl from the school was asked on video by a reporter what she wants and she said she wants the Haredim to leave. He asked her who taught her that and she said a woman named Galili. This was all done in front of the enlightened teachers of Safot V’Tarbiyot and in front of the principal and the head of the parents association as well as in front of the opposition. This is what they teach their secular children? To hate Haredi children? To throw stones and to yell? And this is the best of what secular society has to offer? Many people were shocked by the behavior of these children but even more upset by their parents and teachers. On the other side of the wall Mishkanos Yaakov was running their first day of school. There was no yelling or throwing rocks from any of the girls and they were for sure not taught to hate. Their behavior was exemplary and what is expected from Bais Yaakov Girls as well as from the parents, teachers and the principal of Mishkanos Yaakov. Some reporters came in but were disappointed that there was nothing worth filming and so they left.
Back to the other side of the wall Richard Peres had spray painted on the wall in bright red “Separation Wall – A Disgrace To Zionism!”. People from every side thought it was shocking. This is what a city councilman does? This is what he wants to teach the children? He also took an axe and tried to break down the wall until the police took the axe away from him. Sad that no teacher or parent or other city council member thought it would be a good idea to paint over the graffiti.
What happened next is one of the most shocking parts of this whole story!
The Opposition then ran to the education ministry to complain and beg them to interfere. Remember them? They were the ones who promised a solution for Mishkanos Da’as four years earlier. Anyway, the ministry ran to the courts and asked them to forbid the Haredi school girls from staying in the school even for one more day! In a shocking decision the courts — WITHOUT asking the city for their side of the story and without giving the customary 30 days’ notice — immediately demanded that the girls leave the premises until the court hearing at ten a.m. Thursday.
Once again, just like with the courts demand for a second election in Beit Shemesh based on the weakest of arguments, their bias against Haredim is showing loud and clear.
Yesterday, Wednesday, hundreds of girls from Mishkanos Da’as literally had nowhere to go. They stood outside in the heat looking across the street at the empty classrooms trying to understand why they can’t share it with the secular kids.
Around four p.m. a message went out for all the Mishkanos Yaakov girls to do what Haredi girls have always done in times like these. Turn their eyes towards heaven, say Tehillim, and pray for a better day.