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Oct 28, 2013

If only we had displayed Ahavat Chinam

This letter was written by someone in RBS. Initially he sent it out to some of his neighbors, and then he spread it further asking for it to be distributed widely around RBS. Following the [original] letter is a response. This letter generated a lot of debate, though I do not know how wide of a reach in RBS it obtained.

Personally I feel that the original letter expresses a nice sentiment. Unfortunately, it is premised on incorrect information and its proposed solutions are completely one-sided, pointing outward rather than inward, making the nice sentiments seem sanctimonious rather than worthy. Nobody likes to be preached to...

I'll start off with a song about the topic of the post...

below is an open letter that i felt needed to be written regarding the current situation in bet shemesh after the mayoral elections. please feel free to distribute it widely in our neighborhood.

dear friends,

imagine the following hypothetical scenario:
a school is built just outside of an english speaking dati leumi neighborhood, on the edge of a charedi neighborhood. mothers of children in the school come walking down the block in their usual manner of dress to drop off and pick up their children. some are wearing skirts down to the ground, but others are not even covering their knees. some wear only long sleeves but others do not cover their elbows or wear shirts that are open well below the collar bone. some (being married women) cover every hair, while others merely put on a symbolic kerchief, or don't cover their hair at all. now, being that the school is next door to buildings inhabited by traditional charedim, these mothers become the object of allot of attention. they are observed by charedi women who have been raised from a very young age to believe that it is undignified, even debasing to go out of one's home without stockings let alone a married woman parading in public with her hair uncovered. these women are shocked and horrified, in their eyes these mothers are not just debasing themselves, but are offending jewish women everywhere. it is very much how most of us would feel if an institution would open in our neighborhood that would attract women from tel aviv in their beach attire. (it makes no difference whether or not that is a fair comparison, that is how they feel about it in my hypothetical scenario, as well as in real life). these women speak to their friends, who in turn speak to still more friends, and soon it is the talk of the town. soon women are turning to their husbands and demanding that something be done about this offensive behavior. most of the husbands decline to get involved. they explain to their wives and daughters that even though we live in eretz yisroel, we are still in galus. we can't fix everything or make the world run as we feel it should. but a few, perhaps those who are in unstable marriages, or those who have hot headed personalities, decide to go out and demonstrate against this school being in their neighborhood. soon there is goading and counter goading, spitting on the ground in front of people, and all types of unpleasantness.

the situation is about to get out of hand, when suddenly a community activist, well respected in th DL community steps forward and says:
"friends, neighbors, countrymen" (my apologies to Shakespeare) "we are facing a difficult situation. our neighbors, who are after all, fellow jews and therefore our brothers, are offended by our behavior. they think that by our mode of dress we are insulting all jewish women including them. they are wrong, we have every right to dress however we like, but it still behooves us to understand where they are coming from. it is only an insignificant number who demonstrate against us but there are many more who share their complaint and therefore don't condemn the excesses of the tiny minority. friends, let us take advantage of this opportunity to teach our children a lesson more important than anything that they will learn in this school. sure, by strict justice we are right and the law supports us as well. we were promised this school building even before their neighborhood was built. none the less, we always preach to our children that we believe in ahavat chinum (baseless love), that does not mean loving jews that we identify with and feel comfortable with. it means loving jews whom we disagree with, find annoying, and to some extent are stepping on our toes. that's why it's called BASELESS love. let us go beyond the letter of the law. the mayor has offered us an equivalent building on the other side of our neighborhood. once we are sure that he can deliver on his promise, let us be mvater and turn this building over to our brothers , who at the moment are our opponents".
except for a few hot heads, most people could see the value in what the community activist was saying. if the suffering of this exile was brought upon us by sinat chinum, and the way to correct that is through ahavat chinum, then surely hashem will not test us to see if we can get along with those who don't offend us, rather the test will be can we see the legitimacy of other jews (even if only from their point of view) who do offend us.

and so it was, the dati leumi community decided to practice ahavat chinum, and while not suffering any great harm, they decided to forgo their "rights". of course this made quite an impression in the charedi community. soon they were inviting each other over to their homes for shabbat (after all the two neighborhoods where only across the street from each other), old grudges were forgotten, and a new generation of children was being raised in both neighborhoods, that truly understood what ahavat chinum means, and how to see the best in another jew.

except that this scenario is not so hypothetical. hashem tested the residents of BS/RBS with something very similar not so long ago. who knows, if we had passed the test, perhaps that would have brought us to the tipping point, and our long bitter golus would have come to an end. BS would have gone down in history forever as the city that brought the geula. but we didn't pass the test, we failed terribly. there is blame enough to go around for every one, but i am writing this letter to my fellow english speaking olim, so i will focus on what we can do. we can't change others, but we can change how we relate to them.

now hashem has given us a make up test after we failed that first one. the make up test was the elections that just went by. i remember the last election 5 years ago when moshe abutbul and shalom lerner acted like such perfect gentlemen towards each other (yes there was some nastiness from over zealous supporters here and there, but the candidates themselves treated each other with respect). this time was different, there are allot of reasons for this, but none of them are an excuse. we the english speaking olim, who do not carry the burden of grudges (many of them legitimate, but grudges none the less), that go back to the 1930's at least, need to lead by example. we must demonstrate ahavat chinum. some of us supported abutbul for ideological reasons, others for practical reasons. likewise, some of us supported cohen for ideological reasons, others for practical reasons. whatever our individual views, we must remember that our neighbors are still upstanding people even if they're misguided!

the elections are over, let it go. crazy rumors and gross exaggerations are swirling around the community. police raid an apartment and find 200 teudot zehut, an ignorant person speculates that it was meant for use in election fraud and people believe it. why? because we are motivated by sinat chinum instead of ahavat chinum. does any one ask how did the police know to go to that apartment? don't those who are against voting in elections on principle (of which there are many in RBS B) usually collect their teudote zehute in a central location on election day so as not to be tempted to vote? is it not more likely that that is what the police found, since that location would have been well known, rather than an attempt to commit fraud which would have been kept secret? (or do we all think that the bet shemesh police are such super sleuths?). if we are motivated by love we would think the best of our fellow jews, if we are motivated by sinat chinum we will believe the worst.

make no mistake, we are being tested, and throughout history there has always been a terrible price to pay for failing these types of tests. let us realize the importance of this historic moment, and save ourselves from a terrible error, and the tragedies that such errors cause, and let us be a good example to our children, so we can raise a new generation steeped in ahavat chinum.

yechiel reit
a resident of RBS A

Response by Shoshanna Jaskoll

I am posting an open response to yechiel's letter here because I have no way of knowing how far or to whom this letter has gotten, and because who knows how many also see the situation as yechiel does. But it needs to be addressed. 


Given the sentiments you express in your letter. I doubt you intended or have any idea of the pain you caused those who lived through the Orot trauma or those of us who tried, tirelessly, to end it.

It was traumatic on many levels, some of which were the reasons you speak of. We made aliya to live in EY with other Jews- brothers and sisters. And learning that there are those Jews who just do not see us as Jews is for many of us, the most painful part of living here.

I will briefly touch on Orot.  I live here in RBS and was one of the few from here that went down during the day to see what I could do to help.  I refuse to allow continual denials and misjudgments on what went on there.

You write that this was about tznius. It was not. It was a turf war. They want the DL away. They pulled the same shtik with the boys’ school.

You write that OROT was offered to move to another comparable building.  A.) they were offered to switch boys for girls which would not solve ‘the mothers’ in whatever dress you claim was an issue.  B.) they raised money for that school and built it for their girls. They need not go ANYWHERE because a group of terrorists- and that’s what they are- terrorists who call little GIRLS whores and shiksas to scare them away.

Perhaps- and this is the most galling to me- if the people of RBSA had bothered to take themselves down there to see first hand what the girls and their mothers had to go through and had they ONCE gotten together in a fit of Ahavas Chinam as you say, they might have stood there as a human barrier between the thugs and the little girls like I did when I was spit ON not ‘spit at on the ground’.  (Should you doubt the veracity of my claim, it is on video.)

Had the greater community come together to say NO to this terror, the thugs would know that they had no chance to continue to terrorize little girls. I know it is hard to imagine if you weren't there. But I was there and I can tell you that it was horrific. A rabid, sneering, mob of thugs calling LITTLE GIRLS whores- And you think we should APPEASE THIS BEHAVIOR??

Honestly, Yechial, you might as well go tell the citizens of Sderot to go to the Gaza fence and hug a Hamas guy and empathize with where he’s coming from, And FTR, the citizens of Sheinfeld took Mishloach Manot to all the neighbors across the road. They made sure it was all bedatz, only the men delivered them, and it had a beautiful letter in Eng, Heb and Yiddish. A little known fact which I think says a lot.

It was not about tznious and you do a great disservice to say it was.  And you do not mention the rocks, feces, vandalism, and other acts of terror perpetrated on an elementary school.

And where was the mayor? NO WHERE. We personally spoke to him and begged him to come to the school. Did he stand there and tell the thugs to go away? No. He did not. He did not stand up for his kids and his people. Not once.

As to the elections. I ask how it is that you expect Ahavat Chinam of a population that has been trounced upon. I ask how you can expect those of us who have had our intelligence insulted and our choice for proper leadership stolen to smile about it. Are we to accept fraud and crime with a smile? http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/my-city-was-stolen/

But don’t take my word for it http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/mounting-evidence-beit-shemesh-votes-stolen-election-tainted/2013/10/28/

I see nothing in your letter appealing to Abutbol and his followers and their wretched campaign of Sinah.  I see nothing in your letter appealing to the “haredi’ camp asking them to display some Free Love and understanding to those of us who feel robbed and made to feel like unwanted citizens.

As a result of this campaign I am embarrassed as a Jew and mortified as a citizen of this city. The campaign was run on lies about Eli and rotten insinuations and fraudulent claims of Daas Torah.  Abutbul’s camp tore up this city with fear mongering and claims that to not vote for him was a sin.

On election day itself, crimes, illegal voting, ballot tampering … You know, there were disguises found with the hundreds of TZ in that apartment. Lending further credence to the use of them to perpetrate fraud.

Your letter is insulting to a population that has taken hits and come back again and again to try and make things work.  It is a further insult to a population that has seen their children chased, had rocks thrown at them, had their overtures rebuffed,  and has been left to fight for its kids and city all by itself.

To insinuate that if we had hugged the thugs they would smile and invite us for dinner? Your blaming of the victims is really quite stunning. If you think for one second that those thugs would be ok with you and your wife and kids, you are 100% wrong. But you don’t live on the border like the people in Sheinfeld do.

I’m curious why you only ask for the ahavat chinam to come from one side and not from the other.  How can you blame the situation on the ‘DL’ lack of ahavat chinam, and not on the lack of ahavat chinam of the other side? If you would like to see change, you’d really have to start by dialoguing with the side that writes threatening letters and destroys property and get them to the table…

You know what a true show of Ahavat Chinam would be, Yechiel? For those in RBSA (including those Rabbanim that refused despite our pleas to come and add their voices to ours) to say, “It was wrong what went on there in Orot.  We should have stood with you. We were wrong not to and we will never leave you alone again. Together, we will fight hatred and evil no matter what it wears and will not divide ourselves by dress or hashkafa again. You are our brothers and sisters.’

That would be a real call to ahavat Chinam. That call I would add my voice to.


I’m posting here a response to your letter from a resident of the area: 

Yechiel - There were houses on Rehov Gd for a few years before houses were built on herzog. Houses sprung up on Herzog and as a way of introducing themselves, the new residents on Herzog sent messages to their new neighbors on Gad. They did not say. “Hi, we are your new neighbors pleased to meet you “ Despite the fact that the houses were separated by a 4 lane road with a divider the notes put in the letterboxes went like this. “We can see your televisions. If you do not remove them “WE WILL NOT BE RESPONSIBLE FOR WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO YOU”  A community activist stepped in and negotiated. He negotiated and then simply gave in to their violent and bizarre request. Shutters closed or television removed. Some of us were horrified by his capitulation to violence...but then what happened? THEY THREATENED HIM further and further.

The election fraud is ENORMOUS

Today I met someone whose 85 year old mother voted in the election- ....even though she has been in Canada for 5 years . I heard of someone who voted for Eli Cohen. At her Kalpi not a single vote for Eli Cohen was recorded 7 people were arrested using fake TZ- (none of them were those secular)

One of our neighbors caught someone cheating (he could not recite his number and did not know the name of his children) but the misrad hapnim representative said to just not allow him to vote, gave him the TZ back and let him go!! In the national elections there were 270 votes not allowed (psulim) in Bet shemesh in this election there were 800 about psulim to Eli Cohen alone, many ripped. There are so many complaints that there is a team of lawyers trying to handle them all. There are asking for more volunteers.

This is not Sinat Chinum. This is wanting to live in a non violent/honest country where people don’t study each other’s dress and pass judgments based on that.

Please do not say that we live in galut- it implies that you have no connection to the land or others that live here . It is what gives people permission to lie to each other and destroy the beauty of the country...
Some people live in the Galut. I live in the wonderful land of Israel . I love the land and I am part of all the people and want to grow as one nation. In order for that to happen we cannot tolerate violence and aggression . We must pursue Righteousness and cannot rest when we see the most horrible chilul hashem occurring in our midst.

Dear Yechiel. I am assuming that you did not know the extent of the election fraud , Now that you do, I a interested in what you have to say- how should it be handled?.

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  1. "how most of us would feel if an institution would open in our neighborhood that would attract women from tel aviv in their beach attire"


    There is no such concept when you live in a mixed neighborhood. Therefore, the person who wrote this letter thinks in a charedi way (that neighborhoods are to be segregated based on how people choose to dress).

  2. Imagine the following scenario:
    Your next door neighbor chooses not to work, but instead has a very large family with lots of mouths to feed. He feels that he should be supported by you, since he is learning Torah (with a 10-week paid vacation, of course).
    Now, at some point, you feel that this arrangement is not so fair, so you decide to take away about 30-40% of the support you give him. Unfortunately, he's not so happy about this, and decides to tell you that you're a Rasha, that you're Amalek, that you're destroying the world, etc.
    Imagine what would have happened if he had practiced Ahavat Chinam and invited you for Shabbat (or even Shabbos). Maybe you can bring a kugel or two since his situation is not so great anymore. It's true that he's in Galus, so he can't force you to cough up the money, but shouldn't he love you anyway.


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