TORONTO — The poster child for the recent conflict between radical haredim in Beit Shemesh, Israel, and their modern Orthodox neighbours has a direct link to Canada.
Na’ama Margolese, the eight-year-old girl who in the past few weeks came to prominence by speaking out about her increasing anxiety of walking to her nearby school for fear of being attacked by haredi men and boys who consider her manner of dress immodest, is the granddaughter of Arlene Margolese, manager of the faith and cultural services department at Reena, an agency in Toronto started by activists in the Jewish community that provides services for people with developmental disabilities.
Contacted by The CJN last week, Arlene said her granddaughter was coping well, but she laments the growing tensions in Beit Shemesh.
The hardest thing for Na’ama is that she’s “growing tired” of all the media attention, Arlene said.
“But she’s a typical little eight-year-old. One of the stories in the [Israeli] newspapers said she was seven. Her response was ‘I’m not seven. I’m eight.’” Arlene said. “She’s also had other kids ask her for her autograph, which is hysterical.”
Arlene said that all the kids at Na’ama’s modern Orthodox Orot school are “pretty well traumatized” after all the verbal and physical attacks they’ve endured from those haredim who continue to harass them on a daily basis.
The senior Margolese characterized the whole situation as “disgusting.”
She said her granddaughter, as well as her schoolmates, have been spit on and had water bombs thrown down on them by haredi men and boys standing on the rooftops along their route to school, and the school’s property has even been littered with dirty diapers containing feces.
But her family wants to emphasize that while many in the media are making the story a “Jewish issue, which the world loves, of course,” not all haredim conduct themselves this way or condone the actions of those harassing the children.
“It’s just a small group of extremists. That has to be clarified. It’s not a ‘them versus us’ situation. We’re all Jews. Am Yisrael chai. We’re all one,” she said.
“These kids just need to be left alone and be part of society. Certainly they should not be terrorized like they have been,” she said.
Asked whether her family would consider moving Na’ama to a different school if the attacks continue, Arlene responded “absolutely not.”
“Orot is a brand new school that was built for these dati leumi [national religious] Zionist families,” she said.
“I don’t want this [conflict] to split the Jewish community. It’s not all haredim. We all need to stick together as Jews. When something like this happens… when one of our children is affected, all of our children are affected. We all need to stand up for this,” Arlene added.
She also noted that Na’ama’s family has received support and encouragement from many haredim throughout this affair.
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In related news, last week two haredi children said they were attacked in Jerusalem by non-Orthodox Jews in recent days.
An 11-year-old haredi boy filed a complaint with Jerusalem police on Jan. 3 alleging that two non-Orthodox teens attacked him and shouted at him at a bus stop in Jerusalem, and tried to prevent him from getting on the bus because he is haredi.
Two days earlier, a haredi girl, 11, told police that a non-Orthodox bus passenger on a Jerusalem bus spit at her and pushed her, saying “We will destroy the haredim.”
The haredi news website Kikar Hashabbat reportedly opened a hotline for haredi people to report violence against them. It has reportedly received numerous responses.
With files from JTA