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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Beit Shemesh

Many men were standing by the edge, all wearing black. They were yelling at a man in a nearby boat. It was a houseboat which he had built with his own two hands, and he was living in it. He was sitting back comfortably, reading a book and sipping lemonade.
An Endless Shabbat
What if tonight, a year of Shabbat began? No games, no music, no blog, no TV shows, no digital comics, no buying things, no forums, no programming, no job, no microwave. A clean slate, with nothing to put on it. For the first month or two, I'd be terribly depressed. Obviously. Maybe suicidal, yes. A person whose every opportunity has been snatched away permanently is not a pretty sight. To be sure, the first month or two would be the worst time of my life. But then I'd adapt. I'd have to.
The kharedim are simple people. They don't work, they don't expose themselves to culture. Walking into a kharedi community is always a shock, seeing how the local gossip and lectures on the radio are the two most interesting things they ever have. I once let a few kharedi kids play an extremely simple game on my Game Boy, and they'd never seen anything like it. Sad. Still, any kharedi off the street can get more joy out of learning Torah than I ever will. They have a different sort of life, one where I imagine they never think they ought to be doing more. Sometimes I envy them and their innocence.

Most of the time, I'm just scared of them. They all dress in identical black-and-white clothes. They live in identical white apartment buildings, and their streets are so uniform that I can't tell one from the other. A kharedi neighborhood is a seemingly endless forest of banality. And it grows. They violently shoo away anyone who doesn't fit their vision of the world. Women they don't find modest are harassed (and they've got a very broad idea of what's "immodest"), people who don't follow Jewish laws have rocks thrown at them. As I understand it, the Ramat Beit Shemesh area was originally supposed to be a mixed community. That didn't last long. As soon as the kharedim moved in, everyone else was forced to move out. And they spread. They marry early, have as many kids as they can, and continue to push their lifestyle further and further into our neighborhoods.

It's easy to forget they exist from our community. There are no kharedim around here, and it's only every now and then that we hear stories of violence against our people. Our people work, we entertain ourselves with music and movies and all sorts of things which would never be tolerated in kharedi society. Every Shabbat, we young types all sit and talk about the latest episode of Heroes. There are lots of programmers around, who talk to each other about all sorts of database-related stuff I don't quite understand. There are lots of people around with videogames. There are buildings painted in weird colors. It's not like this is paradise or anything, but we have… y'know. What to live for. We've got lots of interesting people, with clearly-defined identities, who don't hide everything that's interesting about them under conformity.

So if, in yesterday's election, there had been a mayoral candidate with a platform of "Get out, kharedis!", I would have voted for him in a heartbeat. That's the biggest concern- that by the time we rally against a kharedi takeover, it'll be too late. They'll have such an overwhelming majority in Beit Shemesh that our only options will be to turn kharedi, or move out. But there was no candidate for me, and if there were he couldn't have won.

There were three candidates. One was our mayor of the past 15 years, an incompetent and corrupt politician who knew how to play the game to get elected, but not how to be a mayor. He was running on a "The other candidates are worse!" platform. Then there was the kharedi candidate, who most of the rabbis had told their congregations they must vote for. (If a kharedi rabbi says to do something, their entire community does it, no questions asked.) And finally, there was the candidate whose campaign my mother was helping in every way she could, a guy who by all accounts knew exactly what needed to be done and was running on a slightly naïve "Let's all live together in harmony." platform.

So now we have a kharedi mayor. When my father heard the news, he jokingly asked where we'd be moving to. He's not wrong. Now there will be no one to hold the kharedim in their place. I don't expect to see anything happen in this city which is not specifically designed to appeal to kharedim. That means there will be no malls, no places of entertainment, but lots and lots of identical white apartment buildings. Beit Shemesh isn't going to be big enough to hold all the kharedim who'll want to live here.

I think it's time for our neighborhood to set a policy, that we will not accept any kharedim here. We need to make it clear that they will not be welcome here, as we would not be welcome in their areas. Because if one family moves in, and then another, then another, it's only a matter of time until they're the majority here. Just as they're apparently the majority in Beit Shemesh as a whole. For fifteen years we had a mayor too spineless to do anything against them, and now it's too late. They run this city, and it's only a matter of time before they drive us out of it.



I think I should keep my mouth shut about politics and social issues until.. let's say the end of time. Seriously, if I ever act like I know what I'm talking about with politics, refer me to this comment and e-mail me a virtual slap to the face. It looks like our new mayor's going to do an excellent job- he's already put the guy I voted for (who's his personal friend) in a very good position, even though he wasn't obligated to give him anything at all. And he's talked about preserving the status quo, diversity-wise. A referral and a slap, that's what I ask for.


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