Charedi men argue with secular Israelis in Beit Shemesh following demands that authorities crack down on religious extremists who want stricter gender segregation in the city.

About this time last year, Bet Shemesh was the epicenter of a media storm as we struggled to deal with what was portrayed as a religious holy war, but was mostly about politics and power. The Jewish world (and a not insignificant portion of the rest of the world) watched in fascination as Jews battled each other, furiously, for turf.

As the fall wound to winter (an awesome winter of rain — thank you G-d), more and more stories hit the world. They focused on intolerance and a lack of mutual respect for each other and it seemed as if there would be no end. Of course, in the “online world”, outsiders were quick to weigh in with their opinions, usually uninformed ones.

Many were conflicted. They were aghast that people would turn to the media to raise public opinion against fellow Jews. They were appalled at the Chilul HaShem on both sides; one for their horrific instigation and the other for informing the world, especially because, in their opinions, the media focus would only harden the hearts of the instigators. How could we dream of living in Israel, of attaining the geulah, if we could not figure out how to get along?

Charedi men argue with secular Israelis in Beit Shemesh following demands that authorities crack down on religious extremists who want stricter gender segregation in the city.

Yet, it worked. The PR blitz gained the attention of the national politicians. They in turn took it upon themselves to investigate (personally, in a couple of cases) what was going on and extended themselves to put an end to the crisis. And someone, somewhere, was successful. Someone, somewhere got the message through that the instigators were harming only themselves and their benefactors and that they needed to stop.

And they faded away. Not right away. But slowly.

They are still here. They are still my neighbors and we still pass each other on the street. I am sure that they are ready to “roar” at a moment’s notice. Yet, not today. And perhaps not even tomorrow. And with the elections coming up in about 15 months — perhaps not for quite some time.

The fact that there have been no flare-ups reinforces my belief that the whole thing was about turf and power. If it was really about religion and tzniut, it would STILL be a religious issue and the problems would continue. As a power play, everything folded when it became clear that there was no “winning hand” to be played.

So, I am quite proud to say that my kids started school this week with nary a camera in sight. My neighbor’s kids too. Girls walked freely to their classes, without being hassled or harassed (especially my 2 nieces, who began 1st grade in the now infamous Orot Banot school) and a good time was had by all.

I am amazed by the difference in the city atmosphere with the passing of just one year. I am not naïve enough to think that this confrontation is over or that there will not be others. Yet, I am hopeful. I am hopeful that we can find some common ground to develop together. I am hopeful that the sense of “peace”, even if it might just be camouflage, is enough to buy us the time and space needed to get past our problems and be an Am Echad B’lev Echad in Artzeiny Hakedosha.

Oh, and for all of you who still have their kids home driving them nuts, summer vacation ended a week earlier here and will continue to do so. This allows more time for the schools to teach about the Yamim Noraim and Sukkot before vacation begins again. Yet another reason to make Israel your permanent home.


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