Oct 2, 2013
BS elections guest post: Neglect is not a Torah Value
A Guest Post by Nili Phillip
As a pianist, over the years I had the privilege to volunteer in a variety of musical fundraising events initiated by Anglo haredi women. The heartfelt chesed displayed by the Anglo Haredi public in RBS-A is second to none, and this is why I'm writing to you, because of the priority the Anglo Haredi public place on chesed.
Now that election season is in high gear there are rumors flying that Eli Cohen will bring buses to Beit Shemesh on Shabbat (and lions and tigers and bears!! oh my!!)
Not wanting to delve into too much politics, I'll start by repeating what Eli has said from day one: he respects and will protect the traditional Jewish character of Beit Shemesh and won't do anything to harm it. Eli has received public endorsement and support from many of the city's leading rabbis, and there's a significant representation of Shomrei Shabbat people on his list. In short, Eli will not bring buses to Beit Shemesh on Shabbat.
But this isn't my point. We all lead busy lives staying in our bubbles disconnected from different sectors and neighborhoods in the city. Most of us are unaware how people outside our limited circles live.
For several months now I've joined Eli on the campaign trail through the older neighborhoods in Beit Shemesh. The state of these areas would shock you! Right here in our own city, our own Jewish neighbors live in neglect that's appalling. Broken paths and entrances to buildings that are treacherous to able-bodied adults, let alone frail seniors. Shattered glass and garbage strewn in playgrounds covered with obscene graffiti. On one pathway on Bialik street, a fence had broken exposing a 4 meter drop to a concrete landing. Just thinking about a toddler escaping adult supervision for a fraction of a second is enough to send chills down your spine. And how about the child who was electrocuted before Succot when a live cable was exposed on Rambam street during road repairs in what can only be described as criminal negligence? Miraculously the child survived after being hospitalized in ICU for several days. The meters-tall untrimmed bushes and weeds in these areas are an open invitation to poisonous snakes and scorpions. Most of the people living in these neighborhoods are poor, so poor that they can't afford to move to a cleaner neighborhood. One woman cried that she can't afford the bus fare to visit her daughter and grandchildren, and her daughter rarely visits anymore since there's no stroller access - the stairs leading from the street are broken - and the garbage and graffiti are too much for her to take. There's no shortage of heartbreaking stories, of unskilled people who can't afford the bus fare to find jobs in other cities because there are no local employment opportunities for them.
The list goes on, the only way to grasp the extent of the dereliction is to see it with your own eyes. These images aren't being included in the glossy brochures delivered to your doors recently.
In a world focused on chesed, how can this be tolerated? How can we accept the construction of a new shopping mall adjacent to neighborhoods that look like they belong in a third world country? Why are we obsessing about hypothetical, theoretical movie theaters 10 kilometers away when religious Jewish children are growing up with obscene graffiti in front of their eyes, at the entrance to their homes, in their playgrounds? Why do we fear non-existing buses on Shabbat when used syringes lie in the city's streets, in parks that children play in everyday?
This neglect contradicts Torah values, and it's in our very own backyard. And the people responsible for this negligence are seeking to be reelected. Is the situation worse than it was 5 years ago? Much much worse. Speak to people in old Beit Shemesh, go and see these areas for yourselves, I'm happy to give anyone a guided tour. It's heartbreaking.
If chesed is a priority in our lives, we should care that Jews are living in these conditions at a distance of mere kilometers from our home: the same distance as the theoretical, non-existent movie theater. It's a minuscule part of the city's budget to insure that the elderly can walk home safely withing falling and breaking a hip, that a young mother can navigate her way with a stroller, that the playgrounds are inviting and safe for children not turfs relinquished to delinquents, and that children aren't electrocuted while walking home with their parents. If we're going to demand from our mayoral candidates adherence to Torah values, we should be consistent and not accept lame excuses that it takes more than 5 years to clean some graffiti, trim the weeds, and fix a broken fence.
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