HAREDI: From Beit Shemesh, a spark that exposed a simmering fire

By Leila Miller, Editor-in-Chief

Last fall, an insular community that does its best to separate itself from the outside world was thrust into the spotlight after Haredi men were accused of having spat at, and otherwise harassed, a Modern Orthodox second-grader for the way she was dressed on her way to school.

The girl’s family said that far from being a one-time occurrence, it was part of a pattern, and the men involved did not deny it.

While many members of the Haredi community in Los Angeles said they don’t consider those involved to be part of their community, others tried to explain what they did.

Elchonon Cohen, 22, went to Toras Emes elementary school on La Brea Avenue before going on to study at yeshivas in Calabasas and Lakewood, N.J. He said he had a mixed reaction.

“I disagree strongly with what they did but have an understanding of the ideals that they live with,” Elchonon said. “To them and any Haredi, the rules of Torah are not just suggestions. They’re a reality – they’re something that’s serious.”

“A person can get carried away with trying to keep that. In no way should you react in the way that was done but recognize how important those things are.”
Daniel Pomerand, a junior at Yeshiva Gedolah High School on Olympic Boulevard, was horrified by the Beit Shemesh incident.

“We don’t associate with those people,” said Daniel. “Those people make Haredi people look disgusting, cause chilul Hashem  (desecration of God’s name), and they make people question religious people. I would not spit on anybody or an eight-year-old girl.”

Rabbi Yoel Bursztyn, Educational Director at Bais Yaakov High School on Beverly Boulevard, said what happened was understandable.

“The injustice to Haredi Jews is unbearable,” Rabbi Burstzyn said. “What the goyish world is trying to do to the Jewish world, that’s what the non-Haredi community is doing to the Haredi community.”

He said the spitting incident “was another way to bash the people who make us feel most guilty. You start feeling guilty – ‘Why can’t I live the way I want to live?’”

But Rabbi Avrohom Czapnik, director of the Jewish Learning Exchange, said he doesn’t recognize those who spat on the girl as Haredi.

“It’s not the Haredi community, it’s extremists dressing like Haredi,” Rabbi Czapnik said. “The vast majority of people in Beit Shemesh don’t agree with that group, and now the entire Haredi community is plastered with that.”

“The most painful part is that so many people are working so hard to show the beauty of Judaism to fellow Jews, and in one swoop this makes everyone run to the hills. If you fear God you don’t spit at the girl.”