Today, in Beit Shemesh, a young woman, Natalie Mashiah, was doing her job hanging up posters for the national lottery. But certain Haredim in the neighborhood did not like what she was doing. Filled with rage they attacked her and her car with rocks and jugs of bleach, breaking the back window and slashing her tires.
She fled to a nearby building for help only to be attacked by a man inside. She cried out “I’m Jewish” and they continued threatening her. She says was scared she would not get out alive. Luckily she did.
What is as upsetting as the incident itself is the response of fellow Haredi Jews in the neighborhood. During the attack Natalie says that some 50 people allegedly stood by and did nothing. Later on sources interviewed by channel 2 said she provoked the attack by coming near the door of a synagogue. Haredi media outlets excused the behavior of the men saying that she provoked them by lifting up her shirt.
Fortunately, the Haredi mayor had more sense and condemned the attack. The police have arrested three suspects yesterday and are looking for more. Two men were arrested this morning because they fit the physical description of the attacker. They claim to have alibis and sources close to them said they were personally opposed to the violence.
Although she managed to escape with minimal physical injuries, the memory of being attacked by a mob with others standing by and doing nothing while her life was threatened is likely to stay with her for the rest of her life. There are some experiences no human being should ever have to live through. This is one.
Blaming the victim for their own victimization is never right. There can be no excuse for victim blaming, particularly when violence is done in the name of religion.
Abuse is NEVER justified.
Threatening a human body with chemicals that could permanently disfigure them less so.
Making a credible threat on someone’s life even less so.
The protection of life is so precious, that it even justifies violating Shabbat.
A synagogue should be a place of refuge, not the hiding place of another attacker.
Although the level of violence seems to be escalating from name calling and spitting to life threatening acts, so far the Haredi establishment response is the same as before: no word of protest. (so far) This is a community where rabbis and community journals are opinion setters. This is a community that can fill a field with thousands of protester when the cause is serious enough.
When exactly will outrage start overwhelming cliquish fear and the need to justify one’s own?
How far will things have to go before Haredi rabbis en mass condemn this without excuse or qualification?
When will there be black hatted mobs flooding Beit Shemesh to protest extremists?
And what can those who are not leaders in the Haredi establishment do to pressure them to do so before someone is seriously injured or killed? Is there truly nothing?
Leviticus 19:16 says “Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people; neither shalt thou stand idly by the blood of thy neighbour: I am the LORD.” (JPS).
These two command are next to each other for a reason. The verse reminds us that being too afraid of rumors can lead to the opposite sin: standing idly by while others suffer. The second half is emphatic ( לֹא תַעֲמֹד עַל-דַּם רֵעֶךָ.). It literally says on should not stand on the blood. The point is that if we merely stand by and do nothing, if we are idle, it is as if we are standing on the blood and not merely by it. Even if it seems that standing by is our only option, we must not be idle while we do it. Even if we feel that nothing can be done, we must try.
Street violence based on gender or religion is a world-wide problem. The solutions below might not fit our situation here in Israel exactly, but they should give us food for thought.
- The 3A’s of Street Harassment Disruption – resources discussing dynamics and intervention possibilities
- International Anti-Street Harassment Week (March 18-24, 2012) website
- Additional resources for International Anti-Street Harassment Week resources
- Hollaback – You Have the Power to End Street Harassment – international campaign to end street harassment using mobile technology.
As frightening as this story is, it is also a reminder that people and technology can make a difference. Natalie’s brother, a company commander in the Givati Brigade, helped her during the attack via cell phone. During the attack, Natalie contacted the police, also using her cell phone. A significant portion of the attack happened while waiting for the police, but when police finally did showed up, the crowd scattered.
He [Rabbi Tarfon] used to say, it is not upon you to complete the task, but you are not free to idle from it.’ (Pirke Avot 2:21)
- Channel 2, Israel: Video interview with the woman who was attacked
- HaAretz: “Woman in Beit Shemesh Attacked by Haredim”
- Jerusaelm Post: “Three Haredim Arrested for Attacking Woman”
- YNet: “Victim of Haredi Attack: I thought I was going to die”
- Yeshiva World: More Violence and Unrest in Beit Shemesh
- L’Daat (Hebrew Language Haredi world paper): “המשטרה עצרה עוד שני אברכים בלונדינים”
(The police arrested two blond young men).
- Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA): “Three Haredi Men arrested in Beit Shemesh for assaulting women”
- Washington Post via AP: “Police: Extremist Jews Throw Stones at Woman Putting Up Posters in Tense Israeli City”
Beth Frank-Backman is founder of If She Cry Out – a blog and on-line non-profit incubator that showcases the thought and work of survivors of extreme violence who have found ways to use their experience to innovate in the arts, academics, and social action.