Make It About Property Values, Not Religion

If everyone observes the rules, the neighborhood will be a pleasant and desirable place to live.

Reading Yair Ettinger's account of the secular struggle for Kiryat Hayovel ("Can You Pray in a Secular Neighborhood?" Haaretz, April 1) was mightily frustrating for me. In the story of residents of a mixed Jerusalem neighborhood going to court to stop a group of ultra-Orthodox from praying at a private apartment, I felt I was witnessing the same, tired "there-goes-the-neighborhood" scenario.

It's not the "Orthodox invasion" per se that frustrates me, but rather the predictably inefficacious, hand-wringing response of the neighborhood's veteran residents. And even though a judge subsequently ruled in favor of the veterans, I am convinced that ultimately, a court case is not the way to preserve the character of the neighborhood. In going after a minyan held at a private residence, they are no more empowered than hunting hounds chasing a mechanical rabbit. They may have succeeded in squelching a Haredi outpost in Kiryat Hayovel this time, but it's almost certain that 10 more will take its place, as a hundred new ultra-Orthodox families spring up in the neighborhood. Is that what they want?

Instead of looking to the government to referee their dispute, the non-Orthodox must change their approach. The issue isn't about another minyan or yeshiva in the neighborhood, but rather a total shift in mindset - that is, does one group have any right to curb everyone else's rights? More to the point (repeat as needed): The government should not be involved in matters of religion. That's right: Not who can and cannot marry, nor who can and cannot live, study or pray in a given locale.

Instead of looking to the government for salvation, the Kiryat Hayovel residents and others in their predicament should learn two words: community organizing. Ettinger's article described "an organization that seeks to preserve the neighborhood's [secular] character." Note that I put the word "secular" in brackets. That's because though it was in the quote, it's superfluous. The terms "secular" and "Orthodox" need to be removed from this discourse entirely. The important issue is that the veteran residents want their neighborhood to remain an appealing place to live, as it was when they arrived and as it has been until now.

Instead of disrupting prayers, which only makes them look bad, they should show up for said prayers en masse, while taking the following practical steps: A neighborhood association representative should visit every newcomer business and institution and inform the property owner that the following will not be tolerated:

1. Graffiti or signage of any type, including pashkavils (the often-shrill handbills that paper the walls in Haredi neighborhoods), and notices stating "Daughters of Israel, dress modestly" and the like;

2. Noise or pollution including garbage, sewage and dog droppings;

3. Harassment or assaults of passersby, including spitting;

4. Blocking or obstructing any byway to pedestrian or motor traffic, at any time, including weekdays, Sabbaths or holidays;

5. Soliciting, either for a business or for a non-profit cause.

By the way, the above must apply to the corner kiosk displaying drug paraphernalia or girlie magazines, and to the (God forbid) local drug dealer. Should any property owner ask why the above are prohibited, he or she should be given a two-word response: property values. That's all. Nothing more. No mention of religion or freedom therefrom. It's quite simple: We bought homes here, we pay municipal taxes, and if any of the above violations occur, our homes will be worth less.

If there are violations, the residents should receive backup from City Hall, and no, it doesn't have to be in the form of Meretz city council members. Political parties are irrelevant here. The point is that a neighborhood ordinance has been violated and the neighborhood association must show "early and often" that it means business, i.e., that violators will be prosecuted.

I believe that if this plan is followed, including removing religion from the equation entirely (a difficult concept for us Middle Easterners, I know), newcomers and veterans will fall in line, as they will see that the same rules apply to all. If everyone observes the rules, the neighborhood will be a pleasant and desirable place to live and conduct business, and all will benefit. Plus it surely beats taking on every micro-minyan separately, which is about as effective as a drowning victim flailing to keep her head above water. Kiryat Hayovel, you're a symbol for us all: Don't flail - swim!

Miriam Erez, a freelance translator, immigrated to Israel in 1981. She blogs at