The Ultra-Orthodox on the Warpath
The short walk from home to school had become a gauntlet of fear for eight-year-old Naama Margolese, a cherub-faced second-grader at a modern Orthodox elementary school located in Beit Shemesh, about 20 minutes west of Jerusalem. One December morning, she was spat upon and epithets such as shiksa and prutza (the Hebrew word for prostitute) were hurled at her by grown men belonging to a particularly fanatic stream of ultra-Orthodoxy.
The nation was shocked by images broadcast on primetime television, showing Naama sobbing as her mother attempted to convince her to go back to school. A Facebook campaign with about 10,000 followers rallied around the motto “protecting little Naama.” A demonstration attended by several thousands was held in her honor. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres weighed in. Coming as it did after a series of incidents involving gender and very religious Jews—several in which the segregation by sex on public buses was violently enforced by haredim and one in which a group of religious Zionist IDF soldiers walked out in protest during a ceremony when female soldiers began to sing—the Naama incident suggested that perhaps a fault line in Israeli society present from the nation’s founding had finally cracked open.
About the Author
Mati Wagner is editorial page editor of the Jerusalem Post. His article, “The Israeli Left: A Political Obituary,” appeared in the October 2011 issue.