Three Ladies – Three Lat­tes

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Dear Ladies,

I am a dati-leumi woman liv­ing in Beit Shemesh and I’m so proud and happy that Al­iza Bloch, an­other na­tional-re­li­gious woman, was voted in to be our mayor.

What ad­vice would you give her to unify the city ex­pe­ri­enc­ing some of the most re­li­gious (haredi) – sec­u­lar ten­sions in the en­tire coun­try? – Hope­ful but ner­vous, Beit Shemesh

Kill mis­un­der­stand­ings via col­lab­o­ra­tive meth­ods that pin sec­u­lar and re­li­gious to­gether: feed­ing the poor, plant­ing city gar­dens and dis­cussing bul­ly­ing in all forms

Tzippi Sha-ked:

You did it! What an un­be­liev­able achieve­ment, which will send a sig­nal to the en­tire coun­try, pos­si­bly chang­ing the nar­ra­tive of not just the re­li­gious di­vide, but also the gender one. This is a tough gig, I’m so thrilled BS elected a woman for the job. Can you bring about mean­ing­ful and con­struc­tive di­a­logue on is­sues that po­lar­ize not only Beit Shemesh but our en­tire coun­try? Can you bring dis­parate groups to re­spect each other and re­frain from the blame game? This gap­ing, aching, bel­low­ing, Jewish di­vide that you’ve in­her­ited, Mayor Bloch, will test you at ev­ery turn and per­ma­nently whiten any dark hairs on your head (good thing you cover yours!)

Oh, how I re­late to your chal­lenge. This chasm was ex­actly the sub­ject of our book: Three Ladies Three Lat­tes: Per­co­lat­ing Dis­cus­sions in the Holy Land.

My sug­ges­tions for building bridges:

Strive for co­ex­is­tence by cre­at­ing com­mon­al­ity. Work on projects such as male and fe­male or­ches­tras. Pro­mote a com­mon Bible Quiz in all of Beit Shemesh schools. Cre­ate two Ju­nior Town Coun­cils, bring­ing chil­dren from all sides of the re­li­gious spec­trum into sep­a­rate but equal fo­rums, where the kids weigh in on is­sues that af­fect their city, hold­ing their own elec­tions, con­sult­ing and prob­lem-solv­ing with one an­other. Reach flex­i­ble youth be­fore they turn into un­pli­able adults. Kill mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tions and mis­un­der­stand­ings by col­lab­o­ra­tive meth­ods that pin sec­u­lar and re­li­gious to­gether: feed­ing the poor, plant­ing city gar­dens and dis­cussing bul­ly­ing in all forms.

Lastly: Hire me to work for you.

Danit Shemesh:

Al­low me to con­grat­u­late you on your re­solve to change the face of Beit Shemesh, to show the rest of us that Jewish co­ex­is­tence is pos­si­ble, that plu­ral­ism can be a fact and not merely an idea. If you in­deed ac­tively bring re­spect and ac­cep­tance into your city, you will in ef­fect demon­strate that we are all one, that we all be­long; that there are no black sheep or “dis­owned” in our fam­ily. You have this one-time op­por­tu­nity to prove that it can be done, that we can rise above hu­man frailty, that we can po­lit­i­cally re­strain our grem­lin of fear or ha­tred of each other.

Can we be cu­ri­ous rather than threat­ened? Can we be mag­nan­i­mous rather than petty? Can we rein in our prej­u­dices?

If we fi­nally find a bet­ter re­al­ity, and at the hand of a woman no less, all power to you! Per­haps that’s a sign that it is our turn to take the lead ev­ery­where?

Haredim are es­sen­tially about learn­ing To­rah; that is our eter­nal ani ma’amin. To that end, we need demo­cratic free­dom to es­tab­lish our ed­u­ca­tion un­der our ju­ris­dic­tion. To­rah needs a nour­ish­ing con­text such as mod­est streets, kosher butch­ers, and a re­spect for the sanc­tity of the Shab­bat. We don’t want to bother any­one; we sim­ply want to live our lives ac­cord­ing to our prin­ci­ples. I trust you will con­tinue to fa­cil­i­tate that life­style, in har­mony with oth­ers in your town.

Stay true to your re­solve; stay loyal to your dream.

Pam Peled:

Some years ago I wanted to buy flow­ers in Beit Shemesh for a friend’s birth­day. I was in jeans, and a (mod­est) T-shirt. A sign on the door pro­claimed that only wrapped-up women were wel­come, but my shekel proved as kosher as those car­ried by women in skirts. I grabbed my glad­i­ola and fled, feel­ing soiled. Not for wear­ing im­mod­est cloth­ing, but for be­ing too lazy to drive to an­other town for my bou­quet.

So, yes. I hope Mayor Al­iza Bloch can calm the crazi­ness of spit­ting, scream­ing loonies who fear the sanc­tity of their streets is threat­ened by the sight of seven-year-olds’ el­bows. Good luck to her; I’m glad she won. I’m sad she did it by for­go­ing her pho­to­graph on bill­boards in “sen­si­tive” ar­eas of her town; I’m go­ing to try to be­lieve it was a prag­matic step on the way to form­ing greater free­dom.

Bloch’s vic­tory al­most lulled me into a safe space. I en­vis­aged Ofer Berkovitch tak­ing Jerusalem; the se­duc­tive har­mo­nious vi­sion of ac­cep­tance seemed poised to go forth from Beit Shemesh to the whole of Zion. Alas, it was not to be: we seem doomed to more years of re­li­gious stran­gle­hold in our cap­i­tal’s streets. Not to men­tion garbage.

I’d say to Beit Shemesh’s new mayor: clean up, reach out, and re­mem­ber that not ev­ery­one in your town be­lieves God has the plan. Some look to you to make it. I wish you ev­ery suc­cess; the whole of Is­rael is wait­ing and watch­ing.

Next time round, please give Ofer Berkovitch some cam­paign­ing tips.

Com­ments and ques­tions: 3ladies3la­t­ Three Ladies, Three Lat­tes is avail­able from

(Marc Is­rael Sellem)

LIGHT­ING HANUKKAH can­dles in Jerusalem’s Mea She’arim neigh­bor­hood. Both re­li­gious and sec­u­lar can unite around the joy of the hol­i­day.

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