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Thursday, February 28, 2013 

Some improvements in Beit Shemesh situation

JTA reported that there have been some signs of improvement in Beit Shemesh, but there's still a long way to go:
Next to the Modern Orthodox Orot Banot girls school in Beit Shemesh, fresh mounds of dirt and a huge hole in the ground indicate the spot where a community center is being built.

Orot Banot was at the center of conflict between local haredi Orthodox extremists and Modern Orthodox residents in late 2011, after a group of haredi men spit upon an 8-year-old girl, Naama Margolis, as she walked to school through their neighborhood. The incident marked a high point of internecine conflict in this city of 80,000 near Jerusalem and made headlines around the world.

Today, Beit Shemesh activists are hoping the community center under construction augurs a more harmonious future in which all Beit Shemesh residents coexist peaceably.

“The reputation that Beit Shemesh got bothered everyone,” said Ilan Geal-Dor, executive director of Gesher, a nonprofit group that fosters secular-religious dialogue. “We’re all going to live here, so let’s see what we can do together,” he said. [...]

Orot Banot has operated without incident for a year. Construction on the community center, meant to serve the whole city, continues unabated. A host of programs have been launched to help foster mutual respect and coexistence between the city's various communities.

A roundtable of community leaders, from haredi to secular, now meets every six weeks to try to head off future conflicts and collaborate on issues of shared concern. Several times a month, secular, Modern Orthodox and haredi young men gather to study Torah and celebrate Shabbat together. A mixed group of 16 women has spent a year creating documentary films about Jewish women’s issues. And a larger women’s council spent 2012 encouraging dialogue between Beit Shemesh’s various groups. [...]

Last year, haredi leaders dissuaded their followers from tearing up Israeli flags on Israel’s Independence Day -- previously an annual practice. And the group has collaborated on efforts that benefit all city residents, like pushing for renovations on the city's main road.
There's still a lot to be done. But I will concur that this is good to hear.

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