A few days ago, we received a notification of the following cry to public action: http://shemeshnet.co.il/articles/1769 (Hebrew article). The link relates to a round table in Beit Shemesh, which we helped to establish and operate a few years ago. Incidents in Beit Shemesh included the harassment of religious girls on their way to school, which quickly broadened to larger outcries throughout Israel against Haredi discrimination against women in the public sphere. After two years of dialogue amongst leaders from the different communities of Beit Shemesh – from the Eidah Haredit, Hasidei Gur, Shas, other Haredi communities, rabbis and central activists from the modern orthodox and secular communities in the city, the round table has finally come to a point where it could come out with a public cry for working toward common goals peacefully.
To the untrained eye, and to those who are not from the city, this declaration might seem a bit wishy-washy. What’s so exciting about a public cry for unity and public participation of all groups? But one first needs to remember that this is a very brave declaration in the face of the current situation: on the one hand, a mayor who refused to include non-Haredi city council members into his coalition, and who has not yet understood that it is his role to try and unify the city. On the other hand, a city council opposition that is so disappointed by the mayor that it began a campaign to divide the city. So, this is the context of the so-called pale declaration for unity and joint efforts. But it is very significant. Despite what made the headlines, everyday life in Beit Shemesh is quite nice, and the negative image that it gets in the headlines have the potential of wiping out any hope that had been there, more than any internal rifts. Our involvement was rather limited, since Beit Shemesh is still not (yet) Jerusalem. But, when the crises arose, it was clear that our experience and knowledge of all sides would be of significant assistance to them. In addition to the article, the group has also opened a Facebook page, and we’re helping to promote that as well.