TWIN CITIES

A twin city agreement is the definition of two cities from different countries who want to promote cultural and commercial ties with one another. There are many twin towns, twin sister and twin cities around the world. Maryland’s Montgomery County was due to become the twin city of Bet Shemesh, in Israel. Unfortunately, they have delayed their agreement following the recent worldwide media attention.

Articles have been written on this story in both Hebrew and in English

I felt it was important to speak out for our city. Below is a copy of what I wrote:
My name is Hadassa Margolese. I am the mother of 8 year old Naama, from BetShemesh who was featured on newscasts worldwide as the victim of religious extremism in Bet Shemesh, Israel.

בית ספר אורות בית שמש
Welcome to Orot Bant

Orot was due to open the doors to the new building that we have been waiting for, for years, on September first. Ever since I moved into our neighborhood in Sheinfeld, I knew that right down the street is where my daughter will be going to school.

A few weeks before the school year was to start, a group of extreme ultra-orthodox men threatened our mayor to not allow our school to open the doors on September first, or “there will be trouble.” Our mayor decided to give in to the extremists and told the school that we will not be able to start the school year in our new building, and that we should either go back to the old one which was not an option, or go to another building somewhere else.  This was not an option and we put up a fight.  Our girls would be going to the new beautiful school building which was built for them, and no one else

הפגנה בית שמש
Demonstrating that our school will open, Orot school courtyard.

Starting the second day of school, we walked home through crowds of extremist ultra-orthodox men yelling, spitting and throwing objects at fathers, mothers and children… As well as the amazing volunteers, who do not have children at the school but came to escort children through this madness. There was no one occasion. This was a daily occurrence. I have managed to hit international headlines in newspapers, radio stations, and television broadcasts fighting for the rights of my daughter and the exclusion of women.  I would have not gone out and become active, unless I thought I could actually make a change.

Ultra orthodox extremists
Photo: CBS News

Well, a change has been made. We see here in Bet Shemesh that change is possible. Since my exposure on “Ulpan Shishi”, the Friday night news broadcast which aired our story, the extremists have not been back to the school. That is a huge step towards the bigger change that we are working hard to accomplish.

I am writing to you because I have seen a few news articles saying that your county was interested in becoming our twin city, and due to the exclusion of women in Bet Shemesh, has decided that they may not want to be our twin city.

Bet Shemesh is a wonderful, warm city, filled with amazing people. Unfortunately, like any other place, it is not perfect.  However, the reason that our story made it to the media attention is because this city means so much to us, and we are not ready to give up on it, or give in to extremism, and leave.  This is my city, and I will put up a fight to keep it, for the sake of us all.

twin cities
First day of school

Bet Shemesh is a small example of a bigger picture. The bigger picture is extremism trying to take over, all over the country and the Middle East. Extremism of any kind is not a good thing, and must be stopped. Rather than giving up on being our twin city, I think that you should be proud to be our twin city. You should be proud to be part of the people of this city who have made a change, who are doing everything possible to continue making a change, and who are an example for the rest of the country, the region, and the world. We are standing up to bullies. We are standing up to people who are doing something very wrong.  By you being our twin city, you stand up to these bullies and extremists everywhere together with us.

Deciding not to become our twin city because of a small group of bad people, in my opinion, gives into them. I hope that you reconsider your decision, and that we have a lot to look forward to in the future together.

All the best,

Hadassa Margolese, Bet Shemesh

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