The nationally televised image of 8-year-old Na'ama Margolese - the Beit Shemesh schoolgirl so traumatized by taunting Haredim that she refused to cross the street in their direction even with the aid of her mother - has gripped the country, turning the shy daughter of North American immigrants into a poster child for the searing national debate over the exclusion of women.
"I'm frightened," cried the youngster, paralyzed by fear, as she stood on the street next to her school, refusing to budge. It was the same corner where she and her classmates have been cursed and spat at by ultra-Orthodox Jews for the past year.
"We'll walk just a little bit," her mother, Hadassa, assured her as she held her hand. "No, no!" Na'ama shouted, her cries turning to a chilling, shrieking squeal. Less than 24 hours following the Friday night broadcast on one of the country's leading news magazines, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a rare Saturday night statement, condemning what he called "religious violence against women in the public sphere."
According to the statement, the prime minister has instructed Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch to "act aggressively" against such incidents.
The outpouring of support for Na'ama has been matched, if not surpassed, by the public outrage at "Moshe," the Haredi driver who, in the televised report, sat behind the wheel of his car and explained, ever so casually, why spitting at a girl he was told was seven years old was justified.
"To spit on a girl who does not act according to the law of the Torah is okay," said Moshe. "Even at a seven year old. There are rabbis who empower us to know how to walk in the street and how a woman should act."
In fact, Na'ama is an Orthodox girl. In the report, she and her mother are shown wearing long-sleeved blouses, with their skirts extending past their knees. Hadassa - who together with her parents immigrated to Israel from Chicago in 1983 - is wearing a kerchief over her hair, as is the practice among some married Orthodox women. "As far they [the Haredim] are concerned, I'm not a religious woman," said Hadassa, who has branded her daughter's attackers "terrorists" and called for their arrest and incarceration.
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