Bridging Beit Shemesh: Israeli community activist in W. Hartford June 8-9

At the unity rally in Bet Shemesh, Dov Lipman lights the menorah with Hadasa Margolise and Tatiana Iluz, a secular Russian immigrant.

By Cindy Mindell ~

Last September, when the Israeli city of Beit Shemesh was rocked by extremist religious protests of a new Orthodox girls’ school, Rabbi Dov Lipman found a new cause and a new political movement. Lipman will visit West Hartford as scholar-in-residence at the Young Israel of West Hartford on June 8-9.
The Maryland-born educator and author gained international attention when he defended the girls of the national-religious Orot Banot School, who sustained verbal and physical attacks by ultra-Orthodox men.
A resident of Beit Shemesh, Lipman made aliyah with his wife and four children in 2008. He teaches at Machon Maayan in Beit Shemesh and focuses much of his effort on the tensions between the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and other populations in Beit Shemesh and throughout Israel.
Lipman received his ordination from the Ner Israel Rabbinical College in Baltimore and a Masters in education from Johns Hopkins University.
He is the director of “Anglos for Am Shalem,” the English Speakers Division of the political movement founded and led by Shas Member of Knesset Rabbi Haim Amsalem in January 2011. Am Shalem seeks to combat extremism and religious coercion, and will be a candidate for Knesset in the next elections.
During his weekend as scholar-in-residence at the Young Israel of West Hartford, Lipman will discuss his experiences as a community activist in Beit Shemesh and will give a class on the Am Shalem approach to conversion, a proposed unified conversion policy for all of Judaism.
“Living in Beit Shemesh, I see so clearly how we are a divided people and how this is the cause of most of our problems,” he says. “It was truly horrible to see what was happening. Someone can be dressed in the most religious manner externally but not represent any God that I am familiar with. These are bad and violent goons who need to be punished to the full extent of the law. I must emphasize that it was not about how the girls were dressed but about control of the neighborhood and power. Am Shalem, which means ‘complete nation’ is a movement which seeks to heal those rifts on a number of levels and I felt like I had to become a part of it.”
Lipman e-mailed MK Rabbi Amsalem’s office and, during a subsequent 15-minute meeting, inquired how he could help; Amsalem asked Lipman to arrange an event in Beit Shemesh. From that successful evening, the relationship between the two men grew to the point where Lipman became part of Amsalem’s inner circle, intimately involved in every aspect of the movement.
“The way we defeated extremism in Beit Shemesh, unifying the nation against the extremists, is the answer for the rise of extremism and coercion throughout the country,” Lipman says.
According to Amsalem, who launched Am Shalem in January 2011, the movement aims to combine keeping mitzvot and tradition with open-mindedness, while dealing with the challenges of the era and generation, guided by the great sages of Israel.
Am Shalem proposes strengthening “moderate Judaism” by implementing four policies across all of Israeli society: “livelihoods with dignity, ““revamping the rabbinate,” “sharing national responsibilities,” and “solutions for conversion crisis.”
“Every single one of those goals, once implemented, will lead to greater unity,” says Lipman. “A very exciting dimension in all this is the role that English-speaking immigrants to Israel are playing. In Am Shalem, the English-speaking activists are the strongest and there is talk of me as being high on the Am Shalem Knesset list. This is a remarkable development in terms of our influence and perhaps how we bring a unique perspective and energy which help us lead the way on these issues which are so deeply rooted among native Israelis.”
For details on the June 8-9 scholar-in-residence program at Young Israel of West Hartford call (201) 694-3946.

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