Your editorial of March 20, “Beit Shemesh has spoken,” focuses on the re-election of ultra- Orthodox Mayor Moshe Abutbul and the actions of a small minority of extremists in Beit Shemesh who have made headlines over the past several years with completely unacceptable activities aimed at modern-Orthodox and secular members of the community.
As current and past chairs of The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington’s Partnership 2Gether Committee, we agree with the editorial’s observation that Federation has invested significantly over its 18-year partnership with the communities of Beit Shemesh and Mateh Yehudah. Specifically, we have invested in the economic empowerment of women, co-existence programs between Arab-Israeli and Jewish Israeli youth, educational and after-school programs for Ethiopian children at risk and numerous people-to-people programs that create meaningful connections for local Washingtonians and Israelis. In recent years, we also funded dialogue programs to build bridges and defuse conflict between residents from the haredi and non-haredi communities.
Beit Shemesh is one component of our partnership region; the other is Mateh Yehudah. The demography of Beit Shemesh is changing dramatically. The rapidly-growing haredi population in the city can be seen as challenging to the values of tolerance, democracy, openness, and social participation that characterize our own Jewish community. Yet 20 percent of the population is comprised of relatively new immigrants – nearly 3,000 from Ethiopia and more than 6,000 from the FSU, in a city of fewer than 100,000 residents.
Our investments have improved the region’s economy, empowered minority populations and, most importantly, created meaningful connections for thousands of people in our local community who have visited the region or met one of the many delegations that have visited our community over these many years.
Our relationship with Beit Shemesh is complex. The Federation is discussing the future of this relationship internally and with our Israeli partners. Our community will continue to look for opportunities to support the people of Israel.
VICKI BERMAN and BENJAMIN MILAKOFSKY, co-chairs, Partnership 2Gether
FAY-ANN BRODIE, SOL GLASNER, NANCY HAMBURGER, LORI DECKELBAUM HOYLAND, WILLIAM KREISBERG, WENDY RUDOLPH, and CINDY ZITELMANM former chairs, Partnership 2Gether