Lahava in an interview with CHAREIDIM 10: “In most of the cases that come to Lahava, the girls come from are ultra-orthodox families. The blame: The ultra-Orthodox community is not supporting these young girls and sometimes they are even kicked out of the educational institutions or from their homes for misbehavior. They find comfort among the Arabs.” He warns: “This happens in the best families, even in the homes of rabbis”
Bentzi Gopstein, chair of “Lahava”, is currently on a family vacation, but he also takes his worries with him – worrying about the fate of the girls who were “taken captive” by Arabs.
Although the HAREDI 10 phone call catches him in the middle of the vacation, he does not let that bother him, and gives lengthy and thoughtful answers to our questions.
We reached out to him after the serious accident that took place yesterday (Monday) morning near Yotvata. Two Jewish young women from ultra-Orthodox homes and an Arab youth were riding when their vehicle overturned. One of the young women was killed, the young Arab was critically wounded, and the other young, a Jewish girl was moderately injured.
Charedi 10: I need to understand the situation a little better. Yesterday a traffic accident occurred, a Jewish girl was killed. The person who was with her in the car is an Arab. It turns out that this is an ultra-Orthodox girl … As the head of Lahava, the organization that deals with such girls, can you expand a little more about this incident?
Bentzi: First of all, in the car was another girl (from an ultra-orthodox home) and another young man. She is just one, among a group of girls, from ultra-Orthodox homes who, unfortunately, Arabs simply exploit and use them for all sorts of things. Things that I am reluctant to talk about.
Unfortunately, this is a group of Arabs who take girls from Jerusalem or Beitar Illit. It leaves their families devastated. They appeal to us for help.
The girl that perished actually had met with one of our counsellors in the Lahava apartment. (This is an apartment where girls, who go out with Arabs, are kept). This young girl told our counselor, “I want to come to you and leave the Arab, I’ll come back to you soon.” Unfortunately, she was not able to leave quickly enough and was killed in the accident. At the very least, we know that she had every intention to leave him. The Arab driving the vehicle did not have his driver’s license. This is just one example, but we see many girls and we try our best to warn them and coax them to leave.
Right now, we are working with a case in Beitar. A known Arab has taken two daughters and brothers from their family, and continues to walk around freely in the neighborhood, even though the family has made repeated attempts to have the police intervene. This Arab keeps the girl frightened to leave with threats to burn down her family’s home. This is a very sad and difficult situation.
Every case of we hear of, when a Jewish girl becomes tangled up with an Arab, is unfortunate. But there is such a myth in the ultra-orthodox community, “It won’t happen to us. Because we, and the entire religious society, are more private, and we don’t expose ourselves the same way that secular communities due.” Yet, I have given you just a few examples happening within the charedi communities and ultra-Orthodox families – no one is immune.
Unfortunately, an issue that comes up in ultra-Orthodox families are that they are so insular, some girls feel trapped. In contrast to secular society, where there is so much exposure to many walks of life, so many choices, we do not see the same assimilation with the Arab population. The girls who fall victim to this travesty appear to be in some sort of crisis. If the ultra-Orthodox communities are unable to help these girls in their times of need, it opens the door for Arabs to get close, offer them money to leave their communities and exploit these vulnerable women.
These are difficult times in the ultra-Orthodox communities and no family is immune as it even happens to families of well respected Rabbis. Although I will never reveal names, it happens in the best families. Even among families of rabbis. At the moment, one of the best friends of the girl, from Betar, is being threatened by this same boy. It is destroying the family. We must not put blinders over our eyes and think that in the ultra-Orthodox community it will not happen. Even in the ultra-Orthodox community, even in the dati-leumi community, throughout the county. It happens, and unfortunately happens a lot.
- The question is this: Do you know what is happening in the Haredi community? Is there seclusion, is this a phenomenon that has been increasing in recent years, since we see it also happening more in the general public? Is it happening at the same rate? Or were there always cases, only no one spoke about it?
In my opinion it has always been happening, but today it’s happening more. I kind of compare it to an avalanche. If a girl starts to slip away and she is not stopped in time, and unfortunately her family may believe that if she leaves, it will not jeopardize shidduchim for the siblings – but once she’s out of the house, it’s even more dangerous.
I know of a Young Jewish Girl who is exactly in this situation. She stays in a home with 17 other young woman in the same precarious situation. There are those who we can save, but sometimes it’s too little, too late.
A Mother once warned me about some Arab men seeking out Jewish girls in a shwarma store. She turned to the police for help, but they refused. They said that the girls are there voluntarily and they would not interfere. While there may be more incidents, there is always increased awareness of this problem.
We recently had the case of Michal Halimi, 14, from Adam. Before that there were two other women who died. With more awareness and more public conversations, the more girls turn to us, the more girls we can help.
Last Saturday we celebrated the birth of a son from a woman that we had rescued from Eilat last week. So while there are many girls whose stories results in happy endings, we still see many cases.
When we talk about ultra-Orthodox cities, and Beitar is known as a city that has many such phenomena of marginal boys or teenagers who face problems that need to be addressed, the question is: does Bnei Brak also have as many cases?
I will tell you something – there is no city immune to this tragedy. We recently had a case in Bnei Brak where there Arab workers are employed near seminaries. It’s a known issue in Beitar, but it should be noted that we can still help the at-risk youth. To best help them, we need to have understanding and open discussions.
- Did the girls’ parents go to the police?
Yes, but sometimes to no avail. They contacted the police about a specific Arab who worked there, and the police said that since all his paperwork was correct, there was nothing they could do. The parents even tried to suggest that there were drugs involved, but the police still do not pay attention. I have a few other names of potential Arabs seeking out their next victims; but know that the police say they are unable to legally intervene.
- I’m trying to understand. If the police say that they are unable to legally intervene, what do you expect from them?
I expect institutions to be available to youth in distress. When a girl says she wants to leave, or she needs drugs – because she has already at significant risk – so if welfare gets involved, then the youth needs to be placed in a suitable institution, not where they will grow up as young offenders, and get progressively worse. We need to bring our youth back with love.
The police said: “Every complaint filed is treated seriously and professionally.”