Israeli Town Offers Yeshiva Students ‘Fun Day’ on Holocaust Remembrance Day

The April 12 event is part of a series of subsidized activities overseen by Beit Shemesh's Deputy Mayor. ‘This isn’t an accident or a one-time event,' says one of the city's Zionist activists

A haredi man walks the streets of Beit Shemesh
Alex Libek

The Beit Shemesh municipality has invited yeshiva students and other men to a subsidized “fun day” to take place on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The April 12 event, one of a series of subsidized activities that will take place during the yeshivas’ three-week Pesach break, is being overseen by Deputy Mayor Shmuel Greenberg. It has been advertised in the papers and appears in a booklet of subsidized activities published by the municipality.

For the fun day, men can choose between a trip to a nearby park that features rope climbing and athletic activities, and a jeep tour of the area around Beit Shemesh, including the ruins of the biblical town of Sha’arayim. The booklet’s cover states that all the subsidized activities were approved by Mayor Moshe Abutbul.

But by law, public festivities aren’t allowed to take place on Holocaust Remembrance Day, and anyone who violates this law can be fined.

More than half of Beit Shemesh’s 100,000-plus residents are ultra-Orthodox, and the ultra-Orthodox generally don’t observe Holocaust Remembrance Day. But the rest of the city’s residents do, including some Holocaust survivors among them.

City residents who saw ads for the event were furious. One, Chen Attias, wrote on Facebook that she was initially outraged that the city was using taxpayer funds to subsidize events for men but not for women. But then she noticed that it was scheduled for Holocaust Remembrance Day and became even angrier.

“They begin with segregation, and this is where they end up,” she said. “It’s a disgrace.”

Miri Shalem, the CEO of the Institute for Zionist Strategies, said, “This isn’t an accident or a one-time event. Last year, a similar event was advertised but was canceled due to our protest. Two years ago, on the eve of Memorial Day for fallen soldiers, there were dance groups with loud, pounding music at the community center and we went there physically to protest. There’s an ultra-Orthodox community here that chooses not to observe national memorial days, but there’s a difference between not observing and desecrating the day, which is important to other parts of the population.”

Eli Ben Moshe, a spokesman for the city’s community centers, responded on Facebook on behalf of Greenberg, the deputy mayor. The official who actually planned the event couldn’t be reached because he’s on vacation for the Pesach holiday, Ben Moshe said, but Greenberg promised that if any activity was scheduled “by mistake” for Holocaust Remembrance Day, “it will be canceled and will not take place.”