Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight


Window into the Charedi World | Mordecai Plaut, director







New Torah School in Israel Vandalized by Anti-Religious Fanatics

by Moshe Schapiro

The angry mob of one hundred men and women marched swiftly toward the school, determined to drive away the vermin that had invaded their city. Armed with stones, empty bottles and rusty iron bars, they steeled themselves for the task at hand. By the time they reached the school their leader was already waiting for them.

"Unless we get rid of those parasites immediately," he said to his followers, "they will take over our homes, our businesses and then run us out of town." The people murmured their assent and nodded their heads in agreement. "Now they've had the audacity to open their own school," the leader continued. "It's time for action. It's time for us to take the initiative and get rid of them once and for all!"

With cheers and applause the mob expressed their agreement. The leader signaled to his deputies, who began deploying the mob according to plan.

They fanned out and surrounded the school. Two conscientious citizens strapped their Doberman Pinscher hunting dogs to the school gate. The dogs, sensing the mounting tension and the thrill of the hunt, loped nervously back and forth, sniffing the air for a scent. Friendly back slapping and animated conversation broke out as a spirit of pre-combat excitement tinged the air.

"Here they come!" someone shouted. The men threw away their cigarettes and got ready. Reaching for their clubs, they stood tall and looked tough.

Twenty-five little Jewish three-year-old girls, accompanied by a Bais Yaakov teacher, approached in the distance. Trembling with fear, they followed their teacher toward the gate. The mob closed in on them and the dogs lunged at the girls, baring their fangs and straining wildly against the leash. Panic-stricken, the girls flung themselves against their teacher and hung on for dear life.

The leader stood before them with arms crossed and legs firmly planted on the ground. "Leave, or we'll kill you!" he declared in his flat, metallic voice.

"Yeah, get out of here, you dirty cockroaches!" one of his followers chimed in.

Then the unexpected happened. "I don't know where I got the courage to do such a thing," recalls the teacher, "but I clutched the girls' hands and charged right through the gate. We just made it to the door when a barrage of stones spattered the wall all around us. Thank G-d no one was hurt. I managed to get all the girls into the school and lock the door, but then another barrage of stones crashed through the windows and sent shards of glass flying in every direction. We huddled together in a corner as more projectiles sailed over our heads and ricocheted off the freshly painted walls. The mob eventually dispersed, and then we cleaned up and began class."

* * *

When and where did this incident occur? Sixty years ago in Nazi Germany? Wrong. It happened less than 90 days ago in Tzoran, a middle-class town in the center of the State of Yisroel. This may seem difficult to believe, but it's true.

It all began last summer, when P'eylim / Lev L'Achim launched a national school enrollment campaign which resulted in 6,500 children from non-religious families being enrolled in Torah schools. Rabbi Avrohom Sa'ada, Lev L'Achim's man in Tzoran, registered 25 of the city's children. However, Tzoran lacks even the most rudimentary elements of a religious lifestyle, and there was not a single Torah school within a 30-mile radius of the city. Where would the newly enrolled children go to school?

Similar problems were encountered in various cities around the country -- numerous parents had agreed to send their children to Torah schools, but there were no such schools in their vicinity.

At this stage the gedolei Torah of Eretz Yisroel convened and decided to establish the Development Fund for Torah Chinuch in Israel, a special fund to finance the establishment of new schools in cities like Tzoran. This decision resulted in the historic visit of the Gerrer Rebbe and HaRav Aharon Leib Shteinman to the United States last spring. The fund was subsequently named "Nesivos Moshe" in memory of the late Agudath Israel leader, Rabbi Moshe Sherer z'l.

Working in unison, officials of P'eylim / Lev L'Achim and the Nesivos Moshe Fund located and leased facilities in five "trouble spots" and converted the buildings into schools. One of those spots was Tzoran. Nesivos Moshe provided seed money to renovate the Tzoran facility and build classrooms in time for the opening day of school. Chinuch Atzmai agreed to undertake the operational costs of running the new school. Rabbi Sa'ada was very pleased with how things were turning out. That's when the trouble began.

A group of residents closely aligned with Meretz found out about the new school and instigated a major media blitz. "Ultra-Orthodox Invade Tzoran," newspaper headlines blared. "New School A Threat -- Stand Up for Your Rights," posters announced. That same night a huge torch-lit procession was held before the school building. Hundreds of Meretz activists from Tel Aviv were bussed in to bolster the ranks of the protesters.

All the big guns of the political left were in attendance, including the leader of Meretz, Yossi Sarid. Spitting venom, he lividly denounced this attempt by "the forces of darkness" to infringe upon the freedom and the legitimate rights of the people of Tzoran. Of course, he neglected to point out that the 25 parents of the newly enrolled children were themselves residents of Tzoran. We who live in Israel are used to this strange phenomenon -- popular catch phrases such as "freedom" and "legitimate rights" do not apply to anyone who has even the slightest religious leanings.

"Let those who want religious schools for their children leave and go elsewhere," yelled the local leftist political candidate, Gidi Bleicher. "We will stop them at all cost! If left with no alternative, we will take the law into our own hands." This last hysterical pronouncement elicited a loud round of cheers and applause from the angry mob.

Ever since that first massive demonstration, groups of well over 100 protesters -- as well as a number of fierce-looking attack dogs -- have stood vigil in front of the school and subjected the 25 students to unspeakable verbal and physical abuse. The ghastly confrontation described above took place on September 1st, 1998. However, there have been many other similar incidents accompanied by acts of violence:

On the night of the 16th of November 1998, the school's administration held a PTA meeting attended by all 25 parents. While the meeting was in progress, the citizens of Tzoran padlocked the front door of the school and trapped the group of parents and teachers inside the building. They then shattered the windows of the school and hurled rocks, iron bars and canisters of hot tar at their helpless victims trapped inside. At this point the police were forced to step in, and as a result four suspects were arrested on the following morning. Representatives of Nesivos Moshe filed charges against the four suspects for property damages in excess of $40,000.

The police force's long overdue intervention discouraged further acts of violence and caused the number of demonstrators to dwindle to less than twenty. As the public's interest waned, the leaders of Tzoran's anti-religious movement decided to move the struggle to the courtroom, filing charges against the school for supposedly violating zoning regulations.

On December 3rd the court vindicated the school's administration of all charges. A group of infuriated demonstrators responded by breaking into the school on the night of December 6th and vandalizing the building. Walls were defaced and furniture broken.

On the following morning demonstrators armed with stones and attack dogs again surrounded the building and refused to allow students or teachers into the school. However, this time the school's principal had the foresight to bring along a video camera. She filmed the entire episode and reported the incident to the police, who promptly arrested four suspects.

In view of these recent setbacks, anti-religious activists have now adopted a different strategy: terrorizing the parents of the newly-enrolled children. They and their homes are bombarded daily with eggs and rotten tomatoes, and piles of garbage are deposited before their front door every single morning.

Ironically, the instigators of the anti-religious movement in Tzoran belong to a registered nonprofit organization called, "Freedom for the People of Tzoran." It is an interesting brand of freedom they have chosen to promote. Freedom cannot be gained by terrorizing innocent citizens, vandalizing property and pitting attack dogs against defenseless children. If that is freedom, what then is oppression?

Rabbi Avrohom Sa'ada and his group of 25 courageous parents are the greatest enigma in this saga. How do they stand the pressure? What keeps them going?

"The children are coming back to the ways of Torah," Rabbi Sa'ada explains, "and they are pulling their parents along in the same direction. This alone gives me the strength to go on."

Rabbi Sa'ada illustrates the point:

"On Rosh Chodesh Kislev a group of 8 parents attended a weekend kiruv seminar and made leaps and bounds in their commitment to Yiddishkeit. Recently they circulated a signed petition requesting the municipality build a mikveh and set up a kosher eruv for the residents of Tzoran. Yesterday the school held a Chanukah party attended by both teachers and parents. Tomorrow -- the third day of Chanukah -- fifteen more parents will be going off to one of Lev L'Achim's kiruv seminars. Next week we hope to open an after-school enrichment program for the 25 pupils of our school as well as for the children of the community at large. Plans are already under way for next year's enrollment campaign, which we expect will add at least three new classrooms to the school. The school's establishment is directly responsible for all of these encouraging signs of spiritual growth.

"You can't imagine," Rabbi Sa'ada says, "what a sensation it is to know that I am playing a role in this process. I wouldn't give it up for all the riches in the world."

Yoram Buskila, one of the Tzoran parents, offers a similar explanation: "We've discovered something very precious in this school," he says. "My children are gaining a familiarity with our people's heritage that I myself lack, and the beauty of these teachings simply astounds me. Lev L'Achim is helping my wife and I to make up for all those lost years and discover more of this beauty. It's something that is definitely worth fighting for."


All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.