Describing Beit Shemesh in a state of religious war (“Is Tide Turning In Beit Shemesh Religious Wars?,” Jan. 24) does not accurately depict the ambience of the town. Over 40 years ago I married into an Orthodox Sephardic family in what is now known as the “old” Beit Shemesh. In those days there were virtually no Americans and few Ashkenazic Israelis who ventured into what was considered a poor development town.
Now, many decades later, I have a daughter and three grandchildren who live in Ramat Aleph, which to my amazement has become a thriving enclave of fervently Orthodox American, South African and British Immigrants who often have a high level of secular education and engage in a variety of professions. This area represents about one third of the entire town. Another third are comprised of the original North African immigrants who are often traditional, Sabbath-observant Jews engaged in the blue-collar professions.
Now retired and living in New York, I spend several month per year visiting with my daughter and her family in Beit Shemesh. In all my many visits I never witnessed a woman forced to the back of a bus, harassed for improper dress or told there were separate areas in a store or medical clinic. I frequently drove through the ultra-haredi Ramat Bet to get to the municipal pool and gym, which provides hours of both mixed swimming and separate hours for men and women. I made it a point to pick up many haredi hitchhikers (male only). They were all polite and friendly despite my decidedly non-haredi appearance. After the famous spitting incident, several felt the need to apologize, wanting me to understand they did not approve of that behavior. What did disturb me was the large number of able-bodied haredi beggars who would approach me for assistance in paying for their daughters’ weddings or other urgent financial needs.
In short, the greater problem in Beit Shemesh, in my estimation, is not the isolated cases of harassment by haredi zealots (as despicable as that is) but the large numbers of people who are products of an educational system that does not prepare them for economic independence.
Fresh Meadows, Queens
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