Judging by the number of flyers distributed and posters hung,
Rechovot City Hall should have been overrun by hordes of
enraged residents and reduced to a smoldering ruin. But at
six o'clock -- a full hour after the protest was meant to
begin -- the building was still standing, and there were no
more than four or five youths loitering in the foyer. One of
them held a bullhorn self-consciously and stood next to a
pile of shiny new placards stacked against the wall.
"What's going on?" I asked him in a friendly tone. "Where's
the protest?" I looked meaningfully at my watch.
"They went to get some more guys," he stammered, his face
turning crimson red. He shifted uneasily and looked away.
The truth is that I too felt kind of foolish for driving all
the way from Yerushalayim to Rechovot to cover this
nonstarter of an event. I should have known better, since the
same pattern keeps playing itself out: Every time the Reform
Movement tries to rear its ugly head in Eretz Yisroel -- and
it's been trying very often lately -- all it manages to
generate is lots of hype but no deeds. Plenty of extravagant
media campaigns, but no substantial message; dozens of hired
politicians parroting their vacuous slogans, but no public
support; an overabundance of figureheads, but no real people
behind the empty masks. Reform in Israel is a movement
without followers; its local chieftains are leaders without a
The failed protest in Rechovot was initiated by the Israel
Religious Action Center (IRAC -- the Reform Movement's
operational arm in Eretz Yisroel) in response to the
construction of Lev L'Achim's new facility in the
predominantly nonobservant neighborhood of Ramat Yigal.
Supposedly representing the interests of local residents,
IRAC joined in an unholy alliance with Am Chofshi (Meretz's
social action wing) and embarked on a multi-pronged attack
against Rabbi Tzvi Schwartz, director of Lev L'Achim's local
branch. The terms of the partnership are simple -- IRAC
provides the funding, and Am Chofshi's Chairman Arnon
Yekutieli takes care of the fieldwork.
The purpose of the City Hall protest was to pressure the
municipality's Building Committee, which was then in session,
to issue a work-stoppage order to prevent Rabbi Schwartz from
completing the new facility. A source in City Hall reports
that when the expected wave of local protesters failed to
materialize, Am Chofshi hired two busses and imported a group
of die-hard supporters from out of town.
At seven o'clock -- about one hour after my enlightening
conversation with the youth holding the bullhorn -- two
Meretz busses pulled up next to City Hall and disgorged
approximately seventy protesters. With placards aloft they
stormed into the building and burst into the chamber where
the Building Committee was in session, banging on tables and
creating a major disturbance.
Rechovot's mayor made a valiant attempt to restore order. He
had chairs brought in for the protesters, and when everybody
was seated, he patiently explained to the mob that all of the
necessary building permits had been granted to Lev L'Achim,
and that the construction project was perfectly legal. Even
Meretz's own municipal council representative tried to
explain to the protesters that all the permits were issued in
accordance with the law. But nothing helped, for the
protesters had come to shout, not to activate their brains
and think. And that is exactly what they did -- very loudly.
When screaming didn't get them anywhere they started getting
physical, pushing and shoving council members around. At this
point the mayor made a very smart move: he adjourned the
meeting and everyone but the protesters went home.
Faced with this municipal defeat, IRAC and Am Chofshi have
taken the battle to its next logical stage -- into the halls
of the Supreme Court, from where leftist politicians seldom
emerge without big smiles on their faces. The class action
suit is comprised of thirty pages of thick legalese.
Mr. Tomer Glass, Lev L'Achim's attorney, let out a deep sigh
when he saw the size of the complaint. "Don't these Reform
people have anything better to do with their time than to
write Supreme Court suits?" he asked rhetorically.
No. That's exactly the problem.
The class action suit, representing eighteen local residents,
is based on a vague legal precedent issued in 1997:
"It would seem inappropriate to allocate to a religious
educational facility a plot of land situated in a non-
religious neighborhood. Such an allocation could hurt the
interests of both sides and pose a potential threat to the
public's safety. A municipal council has the right -- and
perhaps the obligation -- to take into account the feelings
of its constituents."
This then is the underlying premise of the class action suit:
that local residents oppose the construction of the new Lev
L'Achim facility in their neighborhood. The good news is that
Rabbi Tzvi Schwartz has evidence indicating the opposite.
Consider this letter to the mayor written by a woman living
in the building overlooking the planned facility:
"As someone who has been living in this neighborhood for over
twenty-one years, I would like to convey to you how I, and my
friends, feel about the new Lev L'Achim building going up
next door to our homes.
"This organization is true to its name -- it has tried hard
to bridge the social schisms that are tearing our society
apart, and all within the context of teaching non-religious
people such as myself the beauty of our Jewish heritage.
Under Rabbi Tzvi Schwartz's direction, the people at Lev L'
Achim have infused a sense of respect and appreciation for
our heritage among the citizens of Rechovot. They have done
this not by means of coercion, but through open dialogue and,
above all, personal example. I must confess that if anyone is
guilty of coercion, it is the small and unrepresentative
group of local residents who are determined to halt the
construction of the new facility at all costs.
"In addition to instilling traditional values among our
youth, Lev L'Achim organizes free loan societies and food
packages for the city's disadvantaged families, which are
distributed by volunteers at no charge. Furthermore, in
twenty-one years of living in this city I cannot recall a
single incident of anger or violence between non-religious
residents and Rabbi Schwartz or any of his staff members. On
the contrary -- we have always enjoyed an extremely cordial
relationship and peaceful coexistence. The City of Rechovot
should serve as a model for the rest of the country. Whenever
problems have arisen, solutions were found by means of
dialogue and mutual respect.
"Hence I see no reason to oppose the construction of Lev
L'Achim's new facility. On the contrary -- it is comforting
to have such a wonderful chessed organization as my neighbor.
I have discussed this matter with friends and neighbors, and
they too have the highest regard for Rabbi Schwartz, and see
nothing wrong with the location of the building. I believe
that the opposition to the building is political in nature,
and that a group of outsiders who do not live in this
neighborhood are the ones who are fanning the flames of
In only two days of petitioning local residents, Rabbi
Schwartz has collected several letters and over fifty
signatures in support of the building. Quite a few families
in the area participate regularly in Lev L'Achim kiruv
programs, and others have enrolled their children into
Torah schools. Real, live human beings -- this is the chink
in the armor of IRAC-Am Chofshi. Here is where Lev L'Achim is
strong and the enemies of Torah are weak. In this kind of
showdown the Torah world enjoys a major advantage.
Now the Supreme Court is the only unknown factor. Its
legendary capriciousness is a gray area, a question mark
casting an ominous shadow over the construction project. To
preclude work-stoppage orders that may be issued in the
future, Rabbi Schwartz is urging on the contractors to work
around the clock and complete the building in less than half
the time he had originally intended. The underground level
has already been completed, and there is hope that the next
two floors will be finished in a matter of weeks.
Rabbi Schwartz is confident that this crisis, too, shall
pass. He is irritated by only one thing -- the amount of time
and energy he has had to expend in this battle against the
Reform Movement. "All those hours," he says, shaking his head
in despair. "Do you know how many neshomos I could
have reached in that time?"
That's Rabbi Schwartz through and through. The man has a one-
Another Lev L'Achim Building Goes Up
Ironically, Lev L'Achim celebrated the inauguration of its
new facility in Chadera on the very same afternoon when Am
Chofshi protested the construction of the complex in
Hundreds of Chadera residents who participate regularly in
Lev L'Achim's outreach activities jammed the spacious,
tastefully decorated new facility in order to join in the
celebration. This is a partial list of the many Torah
personalities who graced the event:
Rav Aharon Leib Steinman, who undertook the long journey from
Bnei Brak to attend; the Ashkenazi and Sephardic chief rabbis
of the city, Rav Dovid Werner and Rav Shimon Bitton,
respectively; Rabbi Eliezer Sorotzkin, Director General of
Lev L'Achim; and Rabbi Uri Zohar. The Mayor of Chadera, who
played an instrumental role in the allocation of the
building, attended the event as well.
However, the star of the night was Rabbi Yaakov Burshtein,
Lev L'Achim's Chadera branch director, who moved there over
twenty years ago when there were virtually no traces of
religion. In those days the city lacked even the most basic
necessities of a Jewish life, such as mikvo'os and
Torah schools. Nevertheless Rabbi Burshtein spread the light
of Torah among thousands of local residents through sheer
persistence and determination.
Over the years, as ever-increasing numbers of individuals
became fully observant in Chadera, a semblance of religious
communal life gradually formed. Today Chadera's sizable
religious community comprises a significant portion of the
city's population. The overwhelming majority of these
individuals rediscovered their heritage as a result of Rabbi
Little wonder, then, that the Reform Movement and Am Chofshi
are so upset about the construction of the Rechovot facility.
One does not have to be a genius to foresee the long-term
consequences of new Lev L'Achim branches sprouting up
throughout the country. Just look at what happened in
People such as Rabbi Burshtein and Rabbi Schwartz make
Meretz's hair stand on end. And with good reason.