Thursday, July 19, 2007

Haifa: Religious, secular residents clash

Concerned about Breslov students' 'takeover' of their local synagogue and intention to move into neighborhood, secular residents come to blows with students,7340,L-3426894,00.html
Ahiya Raved
Published: 07.19.07, 08:56 / Israel Jewish Scene

Five people were arrested Tuesday following a violent scuffle between secular and religious Haifa residents fighting over the character of their neighborhood. The secular residents protested what they saw as the takeover of religious elements of their local synagogue, and their fear that these elements were "infiltrating the neighborhood."

The confrontation began about six months ago, after the synagogue gabai (manager) in the Romema neighborhood decided to allow a group of Breslov students to hold classes and pray in the building. The manager, Moshe Honig, complied with the request because the synagogue has stopped attracting worshippers to the point that on some days it was impossible to get a minyan for the services.

However, secular residents soon began opposing this move, especially after some of the Breslov students started inquiring about apartments for rent in the area.

"They started spending the entire day at the synagogue, eating lunch there and bringing their children and families. We are definitely worried about a transition in the character of the synagogue, which has served the residents for many years, as well as about a change in the nature of the neighborhood," one of the residents told Ynet.

Police fails to intervene
Some of the residents decided to fight back by holding their own Torah classes at the place, but after women tried attending these classes, the infuriated yeshiva students called the police, who decided not to intervene and demanded that women refrain from offending the worshippers.

"The Haifa police chief decided to serve as a kashrut supervisor," angry residents said. "Instead of kicking out the infiltrators he wants women to dress modestly and only sit in the area designated for women."

Earlier thiis week, the confrontation came to blows, after the secular residents held a meeting at the place and invited a former religious man to talk about how he became secular.

Honig, the synagogue's manager claimed that the "provocateurs" were seculars who have never stepped foot in the synagogue before. "As part of the struggle they allowed immoral thing to take place at the synagogue and even threatened bloodshed. This reminds me of how it used to be in Hungary, when non-Jews chased us with sticks and stones and yelled at us to go to Palestine," he said.

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