Orthodox Israelis rail against women's gym in 'their' area

Intimidation and vandalism against instructor in Benè Braq

04 December, 17:46

    (by Aldo Baquis) (ANSAmed) - TEL AVIV, DECEMBER 4 - A female physical education instructor has been struggling to defend her gym for Jewish women in the Benè Braq area, just outside Tel Aviv.

    An influential rabbi initially ''beseeched'' her to close the gym and then began engaging in a psychological battle, resulting in an intimidating atmosphere in the area. This week the instructor, Sara Ganot, spoke to Israeli non-religiously-affiliated media to denounce the fact that public institutions were making things difficult for her instead of helping her. The accusation was denied by the local authorities.

    To set up the gym, Ganot - who has been working in the sector for 10 years - chose the ground floor of a building on Rabbi Bloi Street. Unfortunately, the building is close to Aqiva Street, the busy main street of Benè Braq, an area with 170,000 Orthodox Jews. She soon received a letter from Rabbi Yehoshua Karelitz, who ''beseeched'' her to give up on the initiative in order to not alter the ''modesty'' of the area, since the gym would increase the number of women in the street. The rabbi hinted that this would have in turn bothered those attending rabbinic schools in the zone. Ganot said that her clients, all observant Jews, were hassled on the street. 'Pashqevil', rabbinic messages stigmatizing the activity, appeared on the walls. Her surveillance videos later caught on tape acts of vandalism, including tampering with locks by young Orthodox Jewish men and, at night, the leaving of rubbish bags on her car. What will become of the gym now seems uncertain. Though located near the liberal Tel Aviv, Benè Braq is a sort of autonomous enclave where the Israeli state and police are often nowhere to be seen, and where the general 'tone' is set by the rabbis. A few years ago, Head of State (at that time ) Shimon Peres praised the Ponevizh rabbinic seminary on a visit to Benè Braq, calling it a ''large intellectual gym'' given its educational activities. Mental gymnastics seem now to be the only type freely practiced in the suburb. (ANSAmed).

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