"The entire story of Beit Shemesh can be explained in one moment through one little girl. Her name is Na'ama and she's in third grade." These words, which opened a television news show last Friday night, turned Na'ama Margolese from a victim into a heroine. A media heroine.
Beit Shemesh's process of becoming more ultra-Orthodox has been underway for several years, but who other than the residents gives a hoot about that town, Tiberias, Ashdod, Safed or other places considered outlying areas? Were it not for Na'ama Margolese, how many of the thousands who went this week to Beit Shemesh "to light the Hanukkah candle of equality" would have joined the struggle that should have taken place years ago? Struggles need heroes, living symbols with a familiar face in whose name one can go to war, someone whose story can explain the entire affair in one minute on television or in the newspapers.
And there's no better face than that of a little girl. We've had real girls, like the one from Kiryat Shmona who complained about the Katyushas in a Likud campaign ad. And we've had fictional girls, like the one from the song who came out of a bomb shelter at Kibbutz Gadot. And there's the one, in another song, who in our collective imagination will stand with her red dress and two braids and ask "why?" Because she's a lone and innocent little girl, she'll stop the world with this question.
In our eyes, little girls are the symbol of naivety and vulnerability. They're the ones any psychologically sound adult would want to protect against anyone trying to harm them, especially very wicked people, perverts, for whom children are sex objects and particularly easy to exploit. People who in a sane society are called pedophiles.
But something that's a symbol of one of the most revolting of illnesses becomes the sign of righteousness for fanatical ultra-Orthodox men. To them, the more you can imagine that even little girls are a symbol of temptation, the more God-fearing you are.
While a terrified little religious girl symbolizes the darkness threatening us all, the 16 gifted children on our television screens represent all our hopes for a better future, especially since they're still naive and "unspoiled" - as viewers of the Channel 2 program "Music School" say about them. These children who were chosen so that their talents can make them famous in the future don't suffer like Na'ama. On the contrary, they have a great time for several weeks and enjoy tremendous popularity. Despite all the intentions of the program's producers to protect them, it's reasonable to assume that most of them will suffer some kind of depression after their television experience ends.
Even adults feel that way after their temporary fame passes, and Na'ama Margolese, who became a television star willy-nilly, will likewise suffer if we don't stop using her as the symbol of a struggle that is dozens of times bigger than she is.
It can be said the little girl is being exploited by both sides: The extremists in Beit Shemesh need her and others like her to lord it over the weak, while we who in normal times don't even try to find different hues among those clad in black need her because we've never had a pale little religious girl who is sobbing and so articulate.
Through her, we can lie to ourselves that to us, not all the ultra-Orthodox represent narrow-mindedness or a dark worldview; that there are also "good Haredim" who don't spit at little girls in Beit Shemesh. We can say it's only the "fanatical Haredim" (as if any Haredim are not extremist in our eyes ) who make us feel the hatred and anger that prove our moral superiority.
But Na'ama, whom our hearts will forget next week, doesn't need us. Let her grow up in peace.
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