A Gur hasid walks in Arad
A Gur hasid walks in Arad Miriam Alster, Flash 90

In the wake of Health Minister Yaakov Litzman's (UTJ) involvement in the disagreement between Arad's municipality and the local Gur community, Arutz Sheva turned to Arad residents in an attempt to learn the incident's background.

According to the Chabad community of Arad, two years after Gur's failed attempt to wrest control of the central Ashkenazi synagogue from the hands of its community, they forcefully took over the synagogue by electing a mayor who was sympathetic to their cause and gave them the keys. This enabled them to force their will on the public and turn the synagogue into a Gur-only place of worship.

This Ashkenazi synagogue, which had previously served any of the city's residents who wished to attend, and was forcefully taken over by Gur, is the same synagogue in which the "provocations" and "desecration" took place last Saturday.

According to residents, the secular Jews who "provoked" the Gur hasidim want the Gur hasidim to leave the synagogue, and want Arad to return to its previous status quo.

As a result of Gur's forceful takeover, both the Chabad and Ashkenazi communities were subsequently forced to move. The Chabad synagogue is now located within the campus of the Chabad boys' school, where it is less accessible and has less space.

The Ashkenazi community, who are not completely comfortable entering a school campus to pray, no longer has an official synagogue. Instead each person prays in a different place, and some do not attend synagogue at all.

"In the past, anyone who wanted to use the Ashkenazi synagogue for bar mtizvas, events, and prayers, had a synagogue to go to. The Ashkenazi synagogue is very centrally located and easily accessible to both residents and those who visit the city using public transportation. Now, residents are still technically allowed to use the synagogue, but none of them feel comfortable walking into a synagogue where every eye is on them and the community wonders if they are even Jewish. They have no place to go anymore," explained E., a Chabad resident of Arad.

Arad's Gur community has explicitly stated their intention to "turn Arad into a haredi city."

The Gur community in Arad has grown exponentially in the past decade, due to the low cost of housing. They have also influenced the city's infrastructure, and even use the municipal community center to house their girls' preschool.