Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

13 Teves 5759, December 22, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Home and Family
Battle of the Spirit in Tzoran
by Chedva Ofek

Rikva A. and Rachel R., women employed in the secular workfield in top positions and formerly of the secular society of the settlement, Tzoran, tell of the spiritual upheaval in their lives, and of their struggle to establish a Chinuch Atzmai Torah school in their settlement. These are pioneer women who sent their children to a school which was comprised of a mere three students, and who stood staunchly against brutal secular resistance and fierce anti- chareidi opposition.

"Three students were enrolled in the room of an apartment that was rented for the school. A pure and wholesome kriyas Shema reverberated from their mouths and echoed sweetly beyond the walls of this erstwhile school. It fortified us, the persecuted parents."

Rivka A. reminisces about those difficult moments that strengthened her bond to Yiddishkeit, faith in the Creator, and a realization that their eventual victory was a heaven-sent miracle.

Tens of violently opposed demonstrators besieged the gate of the Torah school: people not only far removed from religion but virulently determined not to allow the datiyim a foothold in their town. Hatred blazed from their eyes, almost fumed from their nostrils, screamed out from their every sinew. They held placards against `religious coercion' and the establishment of a Torah school in their secular town.

When the dedicated teachers arrived, these demonstrators, whose ranks included professionals and high positioned employees in government offices - in other words, the elite - began to whistle-shriek and pound loudly upon makeshift kettle-drums.

"It was the first time that I was ever confronted with such an outburst of violent hatred towards the religious," Rivka recalls with recoil. "I don't know what sudden strength suffused me during those moments, but it must have partly been a self-defensive instinct. After all, I myself was not that strong yet in my religious beliefs, still, I fought like a lioness defending the survival of the Torah school in this place.

"They screamed demonstratively: `Down with the chareidi invasion of Tzoran! This town is a secular stronghold and it's going to stay that way! We won't have any infiltration of your ilk. You won't open any religious school here!' My husband retorted forcefully, `When we came here ten years ago, we were from the pioneers of Tzoran, even before there was running water and electricity. I have a right to have my child attend school here, in whatever school I feel is right for him!'

"We scheduled a parents' meeting in the school one day. We came to the school - three parents, one teacher and the principal: five women all told. No announcment had been made of this meeting, but suddenly, without warning, dozens of incensed demonstrators surrounded the building and were shouting us down with screams and threats. They spray painted and tarred the building disgustingly and smeared all kinds of offensive graffiti on the walls. I surveyed this savage, bestial scene with hot tears rolling down my cheeks. Did their hatred really reach such drastic proportions? My throat was dry and choked at the sight of this hatred directed at innocent children who only wanted to study Torah. When such incidents take place abroad, the authorities are quick to come to the rescue of the Jewish community. What was happening here?

"The demonstrators kept up their abuse. They pointed to us three mothers and screamed, `You brought this tzora to Tzoran! You datiyim will lower the value of our homes!' How did we succeed in keeping our cool? We reassured ourselves that it was to our credit that we `brought this `tzora' to Tzoran. We could only be proud that we were not part of that savage rabble outside.

"The demonstrators saw that we were not reacting, and this incensed them all the more. They stamped their feet, hissed, screamed savagely and shouted, `You belong to our camp! What are you doing on the other side of the fence!'

"We remained entrenched, fortified by our determination not to budge, strong in our spirit, in our faith. We would fight it out and not surrender an inch."

Rachel R., Rivka's companion, who played an equally vital role in defending her child's right to a religious education, tells, "The frequent mass demonstrations attended by inflamed mobs of people acting like animals, only served to reinforce us to persevere, to see it through. I suddenly asked myself, `Had I really been concerned once of what these people would say about my return to Torah Judaism? These, who are considered progressive, modern, enlightened people? The elite? People who are out to scare six- and seven-year-olds with big dogs, who behave like wild Indians? And I once belonged to this society? Never again!"

Rachel says that the majority of the demonstrators did not even understand the issue; they were just blindly taking their cue from the others. They stood there and shouted because they had been told to do so. They were convinced that the local council was supporting the school financially, which was a big lie, since this was a Chinuch Atzmai project.

"We took turns, we parents, to stand guard. Each day another parent would stand by the school to make sure that nothing happened to our children. We accompanied them to and from school and were very fearsome that the demonstrations would affect them negatively and have traumatic repercussions. We even considered having a psychologist come and talk to them.

"There was one great point of light, a source of heavenly encouragment: our children seemed to take it all in stride, with no bad emotional effects. it can even be said - to the great credit of the staff - that our children enjoyed attending school, and during vacation, actually missed their lessons. Even if I had harbored any doubts about my role in fighting for the right of the school to exist in view of the terrible difficulties that its establishment encountered, I had them resolved very quickly. The children returned home each day very calm, polite, happy, full of respect for all religious values, obedient - exactly what we had hoped to reap from this kind of education.

"One day, my children invited some of their friends over. They sat around the table and discussed which brochos to make over the refreshments. No longer the raucous exchanges reflecting an empty world and its even more vapid entertainment media. This was measured conversation, serious, thoughtful, intelligent discussion al taharas hakodesh. Pure and beautiful, music to our ears. And when they finished eating, they unanimously said `Thank you'! and began clearing off the table without a word on my part. I was deeply moved. This behavior was altogether new to me. I was enchanted.

"Up until that time, our children had regarded anything done for them as something coming to them, their perogative. It was only normal procedure that Mother prepared food, did the cleaning, saw to it that the house ran smoothly with all the work it entailed. When and how did they develop this sensitivity, this awareness, this consideration towards me? It can only be attributed to the religious education they were absorbing at school. It had changed their entire attitude and outlook!

"Even before I became religious, myself, I had recoiled from much of the so-called value system of secular education. I had always told myself that I would want to raise my children differently than the accepted social norm; there was something repellent and wrong with it. But what could I do? I thought. Swim against the current? Be socially different? I had never agreed with the attitude that `parents have to be friends with their children'. This was not right. Parents deserved respect, and it was our Torah school that truly realized my aspirations with regards to child upbringing. I was convinced very quickly that I was swimming in the right current."

The most amazing incident that took place with the school was the court case, Rachel reminisces, in which her husband represented the parent body. "Very often, court orders were issued to shut down the school. The biggest absurdity was that the demonstrators complained about an educational institution being housed in a residence, when Tzoran has twelve private kindergartens that were not under any supervision whatsoever, in private homes. But no one ever complained about them.

"In the final court session, we were witness to phenomenal Divine Providence. The courtroom was filled that day with half the residents of Tzoran, people who were brazenly, arrogantly fighting to shut the school down. The atmosphere was charged and tense when the judge announced that this would be the final, determining hearing. `I am not prepared to deal with this matter any more.'

"The hearing was constantly punctuated by catcalls from the spectators. During the recess, my husband phoned me and said brokenly, `Rachel, it looks like our school is going to be closed down.' I felt my head spinning and my stomach turning over. A shudder ran through me at the thought of all our efforts coming to naught. And then I felt a counterforce surging up from inside. It couldn't be! That a place where innocent little children were learning Torah be closed down? My trust in Hashem assumed a new concrete dimension. My shock made way for a firm stock in my faith in Hashem.

"My husband came home from the trial smiling from ear to ear. `Rachel,' he said to me, `if not for an outright miracle, I don't know what could have saved us today! After the recess, the lawyer representing the school looked very agitated. I was sure we had lost the case. He was groping for some lifeline, something to latch on to, as he burrowed among his papers again and again. Suddenly, he discovered that a crucial document stating that the building was being used for something irregular and was not fit for a particular use, was missing from the file. A search was made in the court files but this paper was missing here, too. This very document could not be found anywhere. How this came about, I can't imagine, because as far as we all knew, a copy of it appeared in each file, and this was the very basis for the whole trial."

An outright miracle. Even though the chances for winning this case were close to nil, the salvation came at the last moment. From Heaven. No need to describe the chagrin of the demonstrators, who left the courtroom abashed, heads bowed. They were convinced that their lawyer had collaborated with us...


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