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Freie Jüdische Umschau / International

A Lesson in Intolerance:
Arsonists destroy Reform kindergarten

MEVASSERET ZION (September 2) - Forty-one children whose parents are affiliated with the local Reform congregation in Mevasseret Zion got a lesson in intolerance yesterday morning, after discovering their school was torched overnight.

The fire forced the youngsters to start the first day of school in temporary quarters.

"We got here at 7:20 this morning to welcome the children. I opened the door and I saw black, because everything was black: the ceiling, the walls, the floor. Everything was charred. We called the police and a fire inspector arrived who ruled the fire arson," said Aliza Landau, the kindergarten's educational director.

"We didn't have any threats of any kind," Landau said. However, she noted that about a year ago, when the local Reform congregation, Kehillat Mevasseret Zion, sought a plot of land to build on, "There was some loud opposition from some religious residents, particularly those from Shas. They cursed us and yelled at us that we weren't Jews," she said.

No group took responsibility for the blaze at the Kamatz kindergarten on Rehov Hahazav (Kamatz is an abbreviation of Kehillat Mevasseret Zion).

"Not even in my wildest dreams would I have thought that such a thing could happen," Landau said. "I can't understand how anyone could hurt three and four-year-olds like this. In the end we're not on strike, but a fire forced the closure of the building."

The kindergarten that was torched, which was to begin its third year, is named after Rachel Shami Munk, a kindergarten teacher and former Mevasseret resident who was killed last July by terrorists along with her husband, Ze'ev, and father-in-law, Uri, in a drive-by shooting near Beit Shemesh.

However, despite the fact that the fire destroyed most of the wall containing a tribute to her memory, "Raheli's picture wasn't touched. The whole wall is burned, but the picture of her and the children was untouched," said Landau. "And I promise her that this kindergarten will reopen and continue functioning."

Kehillat Mevasseret Zion's Rabbi Maya Leibovich said yesterday, "There's discomfort among certain elements in the community over the fact that there is a Reform congregation. There's a bit of jealousy over the fact that we've established such a successful kindergarten here. Apparently the people who decided to try to put a stop to it only want one type of religious education here.

"We can only hope that local officials will defend the idea of pluralism in our community," she said. "They should make themselves heard about someone who dares to pour flammable material into a kindergarten on the eve of the opening of school."

Local council head Eli Mouyal said in response: "We take a very grave view of the torching of the kindergarten by unknown elements. For the past six years, the education system has operated very peacefully. The matter is being investigated by the police, who must bring those responsible to trial immediately, and draw the proper conclusions."

Rabbi Uri Regev, director of the Reform Movement's Israel Religious Action Center, said yesterday: "We can't lose sight of the fact that this isn't an isolated local incident of violence against Reform Jews, but unfortunately has to be seen in light of hate speeches that were made against us by national religious leaders."

"On Sunday, Chief Rabbi Yisrael Lau equated Reform Jewry with the suicidal Jihad terrorists. Recently, both Rabbi Aryeh Gamliel and Rabbi Moshe Gafni equated Reform Jewry with Hamas," he said. "It's painful to realize, with the memory of Rabin's assassination, that leaders are not aware of the horrendous consequences of such hate speeches. We call upon them with the coming High Holy Days, to reconsider their role and responsibility for what has transpired last night and what may yet happen if they do not understand the need for mutual respect rather than Jewish civil war."

Mevasseret Zion officials were reportedly trying to find an alternative site for the kindergarten until repairs can be made. The youngsters spent yesterday at the home of one of the children, and aLandau and Leibovich vowed to reopen soon. "It won't help anyone trying to close the kindergarten down," said Landau, "you can't burn hearts."

ARYEH DEAN COHEN Jerusalem Post / Sept.'97

1997 / 5758 - Freie Jüdische Umschau

content: 1996 - 1999