Residents of Small Central Town Fear ultra-Orthodox Takeover

Ramot Hashavim resident claims the town has become a 'Bratslav center'; Hasidic resident says her prayer group consists of only 15 people.

Some 150 residents of a small town between Hod Hasharon and Ra'anana are waging a battle against a feared Hasidic takeover of Ramot Hashavim.

The organizers of the campaign are planning to meet a week from Wednesday to recruit more supporters.

Talia Behar, who grew up secular in Ramot Hashavim but became a Bratslav Hasid two decades ago, said she did not understand what the uproar was about, since her group consists of only 15 people who pray in a trailer set up as a synagogue.

But several longtime residents said even that is too much, adding that the core group attracts many Hasidim from outside the town.

"The problem is that Ramot Hashavim has become a Bratslav center," one resident said. "They shout 'Shabbes, Shabbes,'" he said, referring to the Yiddish pronunciation of Shabbat, which ultra-Orthodox Jews sometimes shout at anyone they consider to be violating the Sabbath.

Michael Rothschild, who has lived in Ramot Hashavim for more than 30 years, is concerned that once the ultra-Orthodox start moving in, he and the other nonreligious veteran residents will soon feel like outsiders in their own town.

"We're not the first place where this phenomenon is happening," he said. "Everyone knows the story of Yavne'el, the story of Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh. There's no shortage of examples of places where individual Haredim stealing into an area ended up with the place totally changing, and with secular people fleeing. Here too, there are the first signs of the kind of thing from which people flee."

The group behind the campaign against Hasidim in the central Israel town, which calls itself the Action Committee for a Free Ramot Hashavim, has sent out a letter to all residents stating that the Hasidim have set up illegal structures like a yeshiva and the trailer synagogue.

"Some of the community members live in Ramot Hashavim, and many others throng to it from neighboring towns to take part in the religious activity," reads the letter. "Practically all of us are enlightened and pluralistic, and willing to accept the other. Nonetheless, the bitter experience of other towns has shown that if left undisturbed, Haredi infiltration frequently ends with the total takeover of entire neighborhoods or towns, while the non-Haredi population is pushed out."

A court claim has been filed against her father, Eli Yogev, over the trailer synagogue. A judgment is expected in early February.

But even if the synagogue is allowed to remain, Behar and her husband, Itai, may be forced out.

They have already been informed by the landlord of their rented apartment that they are being evicted, even though they say their lease is in effect for another 10 months.

The landlords, Katy and Nissim Moshe, say the decision has nothing to do with the religious affiliation of their tenants and that they want to knock down the property and build a new home for their family.

But the Bratslav Hasidim in the area say they are convinced the Moshes, who have been in town for only two years, were pressured by longtime residents.

"They're evicting us," said Behar. "People are calling on others not to rent to Haredi families."

"Where are we going to go?" she asked.