Apr 21, 2009

Fighting over park equipment

The latest trend in park equipment is outdoor gym equipment. The cities get what is basically low level workout equipment, versions of equipment you would see in a gym if you visited one (which i religiously avoid), and stick them in parks.

Israel has been installing such equipment in parks all over the country over the past year. At first I thought it was strange - why would someone want to work out on equipment like that in public, waiting in line with other people, etc.?

I still don't know why, but I have gotten used to it. You can drive (or walk) by many parks anywhere in Israel and see adults and kids enjoying the exercise equipment. I personally have never used them, as I hate waiting in line, and the lines are always very long. I don't think my kids use them either.

Anyways, on erev chag, while everyone is busy with Birkat HaChama, burning chametz and general Pesach preparations, the mayor of Bet Shemesh found it to be the opportune time to send a tractor in to one of the RBS parks and remove the gym equipment. This was done without any discussion in the City Council and with no debate or vote, and no prior announcement to the local residents. Unfortunately for the mayor, this was also done a few days after he successfully removed the equipment from the central park in RBS. Unfortunately for him because people saw what was happening and ran to stop it. A group of people literally stood in front of the tractor and would not let him pull out the equipment.

After a lot of screaming, police and council members getting involved, the mayor agreed to leave the equipment in place and open a discussion after the holiday about removing it.

The reason given for removing the equipment is safety. It seems a number of children have injured themselves on the equipment, someone [with connections] complained and possibly threatened a lawsuit, and the mayor reacted with a decision to remove the equipment.

People in the know, including a number of council members including at least one from the haredi party UTJ who is unhappy with the direction things have gone, have confirmed that the real reason, perhaps in tandem with the safety issue, is that a number of local rabbonim have been pressuring Mayor Moshe Abutbol to remove the equipment. The pressure has been incessant and their reason for pressuring him to remove it is that they consider it not tzniyusdike to have the equipment in the park - perhaps one can see girls exercising, perhaps because it is boys and girls mixed in close proximity, depends who you ask you will get a different explanation of what is not tzniyusdike about it.

It is very difficult to ascertain what the real reason is. It is probably a combination of the two. It is a fact that the rabbonim and a few kannoim have been pressuring Abutbol to remove the equipment, and it is a fact that a number have kids have suffered injuries on the equipment. It seems likely that the city took the opportunity of a recent injury to the child of someone "well connected" to also relieve the pressure from the rabbonim and just get rid of the equipment.

Abutbol has taken the stance that it is purely a safety issue and has nothing to do with pressure form kannoim and rabbonim. So his spokeman, Mati Rosenzweig, says while comparing it to a bottle recycling crate that was unsafely installed in the neighborhood which fell on a young girl killing her a few years ago. So says his top adviser and assistant Asaf Metri.

The truth is that nobody wants unsafe equipment in the park. if the equipment is unsafe, it should be made safe. I don't know that it is unsafe - it has passed all the standards requirements and is placed all over the country. there is no reason it is any more unsafe in RBS parks than it should be considered anywhere else in the country.

Perhaps some adjustments need to be made. Perhaps parents should be responsible and not let their younger kids on the equipment (the equipment has signs saying that it is unsafe for kids under the age of 14). Perhaps the iryah needs to make adjustments to the equipment or to their location to make them safer. Fencing them in to a specific area was a suggestion being considered by the mayor. Distancing them from general park equipment where young kids play is another suggestion. Perhaps there are other solutions.

Another point is that I know kids that have gotten injured on the regular park equipment as well. My own kid lost two teeth a number of years ago on regular park equipment. Other kids have fallen off of monkey bars and broken arms, there are slides in parks that the slide is cracked and can seriously injure sliders, kids fall off swings, kids get their heads banged as they walk under see saws, etc.

It is also unusual that out of the whole country, out of the whole Bet Shemesh, the only place the equipment is being considered unsafe is in RBS.

Removing the equipment "like thieves in the night" raises serious doubts whether the real reason is the safety issue (if the issue is real at all) or whether it is caving in to local extremists. All safety issues should be addressed, and removing the equipment is not the solution. On the new equipment along with the old equipment. All parks should be safe for kids. All over Bet Shemesh and all over Israel. But if the issue is really the "tzivyon" of the neighborhood, I protest the removal.

I have heard that tonight there will be a meeting between concerned residents and the mayor at the Matnas in RBs at 8:30pm. Anyone concerned should try to attend. Of course, be aware that attending and requesting the equipment be returned will also likely mean your kid will get thrown out of school (if he or she is in a haredi school), so I guess there is no real point to the meeting because not too many people will stand up and protest the removal. Because of that, this fight will be led by the Dati Leumi community and will then be depicted as a DL-Haredi fight, when the truth is that most local regular haredim have no problem with the equipment. Depicting it like this will then force many of the normal haredim to take sides, and they will be forced to side with removing the equipment. That is a shame.


  1. In Efrat there is a park with this equipment. There is a sign there stating that it is forbidden for kids less than 14 years old to use the equipment. Never the less, there are plenty of little children there and I have heard of kids getting hurt.

    If it came to a vote, I could easily see myself voting to remove the equipment.

  2. As you say, there is much circumstantial evidence pointing to this equipment removal being a frumkeit. Personally, I probably wouldn't use the equipment anyway; it's just not my stuff - but I am very troubled by what appears to be yet another battlefront of this creeping extremism in our fair town.

  3. So safety issues alone would not be enough to justify the removal of the equipment? We need the tsnius?
    חמירא סכנתא מאיסורא...

  4. I'm in favor of it being removed - from where it was - for saftey concerns. As whenever I've been at the park, particularly on Shabbos, I see long lines of kids waiting to get on the equipment.

    I think that it might have been a poor choice of placement, perhaps in some other green area, or even another park, that's not as popular.

  5. I personally don't care about the equipment, as neither I nor anybody in my family uses it.

    If the issue is really safety, then it should be dealt with properly. not by removing it like thieves in the night. Fix what needs to be fixed. fence what needs to be fenced. move it to a more secure location where young kids will be less likely to use it. Teach parents to be responsible for their kids. etc.

    The fact is that the lines for these mitkanim are always so long, obviously many more people are enjoying it than those that are getting injured by it. And as I said, people get injured on the old fashioned equipment as well.

    If there are safety issues, they should be dealt with. if the only way is to remove them, so be it.

    But it looks more like the safety issue is being used as an excuse and not the real reason.

  6. I would be 100% totally against taking these things down on the tznius count, and it is really annoying that folks take a 'tremp' on the safety issue to enforce a different agenda, BUT putting up colorful park equipment with a sign saying it's forbidden to under 14 year olds is dumb.
    I have seen these things both here in Rehovot (where I live) and in Givat Shmuel (where I babysit 18 month old twin granddaughters) and they are very attractive to under 14 year olds who don't read yet too. Also I have heard (although not witnessed first hand) of adults who have injured fingers or hands when gripping certain equipment. It seems that it isn't always clear how to use it even if you're over 14 and know how to read.
    This is too bad because it's a nice idea and physical fitness should be encouraged (for others, hmm).

  7. If there is a tzniyus issue, I dont see how anyone can say that we dont care about it. All you can say is that you argue on IF it is a tzniyus issue. But surely IF you would concede that it is an issue, then you would concede that it shouldnt be there? Are we in agreement here?

    Next point - In case you missed it, the level of tniyus in eretz yisroel in a chareidi neighborhood - which is where these new pieces of equipment were - like it or not - has a different level of tzniyus that we had in America. Like it or not, this is a fact, and it is a fact that we all knew when we moved here from America. And if not, well, we didnt do our research properly. Clearly, if the Israeli chareidim find it lacking in the tzniyus dept, they will fight with all their might, and it is clear as day that they have a much stronger way of fighting than any American living in this wonderful country. Back to point #1 - YOU agree that if it is Tzniyus, it should be removed, the only issue is IF its tzniyus or not - and in Israel, do like the Israelis - so they win here.

    Next point - I have to agree with Risa that I am not sure there is anything dumber than putting playground equipment in a playground and writing a sign dont use if you are less than 14. I would be surprised if that sign stopped more than 1 child from using it.

  8. I agree - if it really is a tzniyus issue, then there is room for discussing removing it. But does the fact that a small group of people requested it removed because of tzniyus mean the whole city/neighborhood has to act on the standards of that group? One could say that perhaps that is an Israeli haredi standard (it could at least be argued even if it is not true for the most part), but there is a large anglo community in RBS with different standards. There is also a large Dati Leumi community with different standards. So the group who keeps the standards considering it untzanua is imposing their standards on everyone else.

    But let's say their argument has value and should be considered. i can accept that. But it should be discussed, at least in the moetza. Maybe their are other valid opinions or solutions. not just one day ripped out.

    Furthermore, as to the tzniyus issue itself, while it is clearly debatable, I do not see why it is untzanua. I have personally never seen any adult using the equipment, let alone adult women. I have only seen kids using it. I would estimate the ages of kids using it generally between 5 and 10 or so. So what makes it untzanua? That kids are on "walking equipment"? is it any less tzanua than girls swinging on the swings or using other park equipment? or are those going to be rmeoved next because some hold by the stabndards that that is not tzanua? And then what is next - the park benches because girls can, and do, sit down together on the benches and it is not tzanua for them to congregate like that?

    Again, the community we live in is not a pure haredi, let alone Israeli haredi, community. It is a mixed community. We do not live in Kiryat Sefer or Beitar where one could say we are all haredi and these are our standards (within some sort of range) and this equipment goes against those values. We live in a mixed community. We all need to respect each other. if the equipment needs to be adjusted to comply with safety issues, make the necessary adjustnments. if it needs to be adjusted to comply with tzniyus issues, make the adjustments. If it is some people trying to impose their standards to set facts on the ground of the tzivyon of the neighborhood so everyone will think the neighborhood is run by their standards, that is wrong.

  9. You know what? After all the stories and some close friends stories about RBS, I simply cannot understand why anyone non-Charedi would want to remain living there anymore?


  10. Mark, we don't want to live here anymore, we just don't know where to go...

  11. I am told the mayor did not come to the meeting last night. he sent his deputy mayor Meier Balaish, who it seems had nothing to say and claimed he is not familiar with the issue. He requested the group set up some sort fo group representing them of 5 people who will meet with him regularly to discuss this and other such issues.

  12. I'm sorry, I have to object to this negativity. RBS is a great community, filled with a huge majority of peace-loving, chessed-inspired, yarei shamayim people - of all stripes and colors. Yes, there is a small, vocal and sometimes violent group of biryonim who sometimes cause trouble to us - but let me tell you, the greatness of this community far, far outweighs the problems we're having with the biryonim. There is nowhere else I would rather be.

  13. and for anyone who wants to move, there is no lack of places - either within the "green line" or outside of the "green line". to name a couple such spots off the top of my head that are popular places for those leaving rbs are Yad Binyamin and Modiin, among others. People I spoke to stay not because they do not know where else to go, though there might be some such people, along with people who cannot afford to move, but because they like it in RBS despite these isssues. These issues are not daily occurrences and do not disturb the daily living in the neighborhood. the people are [mostly] great in all the different communities int he neighborhood. you can stick to your own or you can mix with others - either way there are great people in all the communities and it is mostly a wonderful place to live.

  14. most people wouldnt even know about the issue - or care- if it werent for blog posts like this one..Most people don't use the equipment - the park was fun for the kids before the equipment - and probably safer ...why make things to fight about? life in RBS is like any other place - and most if not all of these issues affect very few people - and the rest involve themselves emotionally after reading posts like these - maybe it is not loshon hara but it definitely feelslike "news" can be motzi shem ra....dont judge rbs by the reported fanaticism - if you live here - think about how many times it directly affected your life - if you dont live here -ask someone who does. Just like people in the US think that they might get blown up bu going to jerusalem - and are scared to visit the kotel- or go to efrat because it is the other side of the green line. Sensationalism sells papers - but it is not an accurate deptiction of day to day life.
    my 2 agurot - sorry Rafi G

  15. I agree for the most part, and what you write is mostly what I wrote in a previous comment..
    But the issue is important to a certain degree, because if it is left to go on as it has been, then our great mixed community will become less and less mixed.
    People moved to RBS knowing it is a mixed community and not a [more or less] homogenous one like Bietar or Kiryat Sefer or Neve Daniel or Efrat, so trying to change that is disturbing.
    But yes, day to day life is generally not affected by these things, and the fights are not day to day either.
    I disagree people would not know about it. These issues come up on the local email lists, forums, people talk about them, they are mentioned in the local papers. people know what is going on.

    Sometimes this blog provides a forum where people can discuss the situations, as the email lists often do not allow discussion, and sometimes I write about something that is not as widely known, but in general people know what is going on. It is rare that I am writing about something that is "not known", even if I am making it known to a wider public.
    Sometimes it is just me writing my opinion.

    No, it does not usually affect daily life, and yes, people live just fine without getting worked up because of a blog post. Does that mean I should not post about such issues? I don't know but I don't see why not.. [almost] nothing I write about is not already in the public forum and knowledge...

  16. I have seen women using the equipment! In fact there are a lot of ladies who do. They tend to go when the kids aren't there (who has the patience needed to compete with 7 eight year olds?)

    But then again Efrat and RBS are different. Are there many women joggers in RBS aleph? I can't imagine that women joggers would be accepted in RBS bet or am I wrong?

  17. there are some women joggers, walkers, runners and power walkers.. most of the time, I think, they are out at hours the neighborhood is quiet and not buys - early morning, night, etc. But they are also out during the day at times.
    I have seen them running through bet as well, and am always surprised by that, but generally these things pass without incident. Life is generally peaceful.. it is the exceptions to that that make the noise.

  18. To contrast Rafi's posting of 9:49AM I will quote an email we (and others, presumably) received this morning from "Tov for Bet Shemesh". I hope it's OK that I post this - it seems public enough.

    Subject: Summary of Exercise Equipment Meeting
    From: Tov for Bet Shemesh
    Date: 11:48 AM
    To: undisclosed-recipients:;

    The meeting was attended by four members of the Moatzah - Meir Balaish (Deputy Mayor), Jackie Edri, Reuven Cohen, and Moti Cohen.
    There were approximately 40 residents at the meeting.

    To make a long and loud meeting very short:
    Meir Balaish is the person responsible for parks and such matters in the city. He insists that the decision to remove the equipment from park Ayalon was his alone and it was made after receiving numerous letters concerning the safety of the children (younger children) on the equipment. His intention was and is to move the equipment to another area that will not be so full with younger kids.
    He apologized for not understanding the politcal issue this would cause and plans to setup further meetings with residents to understand the dynamics of RBS and how he can help out.

    Thank you,
    TOV Bet Shemesh


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