The Bet Shemesh culture clash that's been occurring off-and-on for the past year has been pretty upsetting to watch and read about. While my usual reaction to such stories is to jump on the Haredi-bashing wagon, at this point, hearing about all the negative interactions between the communities, I'm filled less with disgust and more with pity. It's so tremendously sad that these two groups of Orthodox Jews seem to not have enough common ground to coexist, and it adds to the pessimism many people have about the ultimate direction of Israeli culture as well as Jewish diversity and tolerance.
The Bet Shemesh mess is in particularly sad contrast to the book I just finished, The Jew in the Lotus, which while now rather dated (the events in it took place over a few weeks in 1990, which I never considered "a long time ago" until I did some math), radiates with warmth and love as it describes the various dialogues that occurred (both between Jews and Buddhists as well as between Jews and Jews) during a trip by a Jewish delegation to the Dalai Lama to explain the "secret of surviving Diaspora." The author, Rodger Kamenetz, goes into the visit rather jaded and comes out of it filled with, if not specifically hope for Jewish revival, then at least a great deal of respect and passion for the multiplicities of practice and philosophy within Judaism, represented by the individual participants in the Jewish delegation, who ran the gamut from Yitz and Blu Greenberg to Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. It's tragic to go from reading about different Jews gently disagreeing but still clearly respecting each other to hearing about the latest installment of craziness from Bet Shemesh. Though the school protests seem to have stopped, the war on women (or should I say females, as it includes little girls) seems to be ongoing.
Reading about Bet Shemesh, and especially watching the videos focusing on the Haredi crowds who would congregate near the Orot school, made me think of a similar flashpoint ten years ago in the Ardoyne area of Belfast, where Protestant crowds blockaded a Catholic girls' school and harassed the students trying to get in or come out. This led to a twice-daily running of the gauntlet by the girls and their parents, often with police acting as buffers, just to get them in to school. If you watch some of the videos, the hatred and hostility-- directed towards children-- is pretty disturbing.
That for me is what Bet Shemesh really comes down to. It's one thing to have ideological disputes. It's even ok to have very heated arguments. But when you decide that you have no common ground, no common language, no starting-place for discussion and need to take to the street-- and particularly when, as at Holy Cross, you are targeting, and effectively abusing, young children, there is a serious problem, a problem with leadership, as well as culture.
This isn't to say that there may not be two sides to the Bet Shemesh issue, as there were in Ardoyne. But there need to be some basic lines drawn when it comes to what is legitimate discourse and what isn't. Harassing children most definitely isn't, and I hope, hope, hope, that in ten years' time when Na'ama Margolis is interviewed by Israeli TV, she and her classmates don't show the same signs of PTSD as the Holy Cross girls do.