An 8-year-old American girl has unwittingly found herself on the front line of Israel's latest religious row. Naama Margolese is afraid of walking to her religious Jewish girls' school for fear of being harassed by ultra-Orthodox extremists. (Dec. 26)
This shy, 8-year-old girl has become the face of a national battle against extremist ultra-Orthodox Jews. Israel is outraged by the story of Naama Margolese _ a second-grade student who fears walking to her religious girls' school because of ultra-Orthodox radicals who have cursed and spat upon her for dressing in a fashion they consider "immodest." (English SOT) Naama Margolese: "When I walk to school in the morning I used to get a tummy ache because I was so scared." Her plight has drawn new attention to the simmering issue of religious coercion in Israel, and the increasing brazenness of extremists within the insular ultra-Orthodox community. It has also highlighted the tensions in her hometown of Beit Shemesh _ a mixed city of 100,000 just outside Jerusalem that has turned into a symbol of the growing violence. (Standup on camera) "This quiet boulevard has become ground zero of Israel's latest religious war. On the one side live pious, ultra-Orthodox Jews who want to impose their strict lifestyle on their neighbors. On the other side of the street, more modern, observant Jews who say their daughters are being targeted on their way to school." (15 seconds) The city's ultra-Orthodox leadership has strongly condemned the violence, but insists the perpetrators are only a small, fringe minority. Even so, the tensions in Beit Shemesh follow efforts by the ultra-Orthodox to segregate buses and sidewalks _ and remove female faces from city billboards. It all has Naama's Chicago-born mother Hadassa worryed about the future of the city and religious life in Israel. (English SOT) Hadassa Margolese: "I think the whole issue it shouldn't matter what I look like _ someone should be allowed to walk around in sleeveless shirts and pants and be able to walk down the street and not be harassed." She's an observant Jewish women who covers her hair and wears long sleeves and a long skirt. But that's not modest enough for some of the city's ultra-Orthodox _ Israel's fastest growing sector. (english SOT) Professor of Political Science Ira Sharkansky: "There is a tendency to become more extreme on the notion of women and how they should be treated and separated from men in public places." For young Naama, though, all she wants is to walk to school in peace. Aron Heller, The Associated Press, Beit Shemesh, Israel.