Beit Shemesh: Activist Leaves after Mikveh Controversy
Hadassah Margolese, whose daughter became a symbol in a high-profile political struggle between hareidi extremists and their more "moderate" neighbors, has announced that she is leaving her hometown of Beit Shemesh, where the struggle took place.
Contrary to initial rumors, however, Margolese denied that her decision to move had anything to do with her famous face-off with local extremists.
On her Facebook page, she explained that she is leaving because of the negative reactions she received following an opinion column she published on the NRG website in May, in which she described invasive conduct by the staff of a mikveh (ritual bath). Other Beit Shemesh residents were angered by the column, which they said unjustly cast a stain on the local mikveh.
Margolese became famous when her daughter, Naama, then 7, was featured in a television report on Channel 2, in late 2011. Hadassah could be seen trying to persuade Naama to walk with her toward her school, with a tearful Naama begging her mother not to make her go.
The reason for Naama's traumatized behavior, the report explained, was the fact that she had recently been spat on by hareidim from the extremist sikriki sect, outside her school. The sikrikim used to hold protests outside the local girls' school, Orot, which serves the religious Zionist public, and intimidate the girls, angering local parents and traumatizing many of the young students. The school had moved into a new building, adjacent to the area where the sikrikim live, and the group was protesting at what it saw as the "immodest" dress of the girls, some as young as 7 or 8 years old.
Amid huge press coverage, Margolese vowed at a rally that she would not leave Beit Shemesh.
Those events helped boost the profile of Beit Shemesh “moderate hareidi” activist, Rabbi Dov Lipman, who was active alongside Margolese in the Orot struggle, also received a boost. Lipman joined then-MK Rabbi Haim Amsallem's party (Am Shalem), which called for a moderate alternative to the existing hareidi parties, but later moved to Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid, and was elected to the 19th Knesset.
In one particular incident Lipman (seen in the embedded video below) had to escort one of the mothers to the school, through a crowd of sikrikim gathered a block away.
Following that well-publicized dispute, Margolese used her profile to become involved in other issues, including Women of the Wall, for whom she expressed public support. She then went on to publish the article about the mikveh, which she described as making her feel "humiliated and unclean," supposedly after the mikveh attendant stared at her as she entered the immersion pool and as she climbed out of it, and made her clean her eyelids of makeup when she had already cleaned them.
This article, along with her support for Women of the Wall, appear to have made her unpopular among other members of the religious Zionist community, who accused her of serving external agendas.
“The bottom line is that the story with Orot Banot was 100% true,” explained a member of the local religious Zionist community who asked not to be named. “And worse, because you had to be there to believe it. Hadassah and her daughter are both clearly sensitive people.
"Hadassah tried to use the voice given to her to affect change in areas she felt needed changing. It was not the best forum, or the best way to help make that change and in the end wound up (in many people's eyes) just doing damage to a community, institution and neighborhood already battered.
“So, when her friends told her that they felt it was counterproductive to go to the media with it, she was hurt.
“I think that perhaps Hadassah learned via the Orot issue that going to the media is the only way to solve things since so many other avenues were tried (local, government, police etc.) and failed. She likely felt that going to the media would hopefully start an open and honest debate on the the topic. She did not expect people to feel that she was embarrassing anyone. But unfortunately, they did. In addition, it also made people outside of the area label her as a complainer and thus question the Orot story.”