February 16, 2019

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Among Israel’s Ultra-Orthodox, It’s (Sort of) the Year of the Woman

Among Israel’s Ultra-Orthodox, It’s (Sort of) the Year of the Woman
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Ms. Bloch promised to bring fairness to the delivery of city services, reverse the exodus of young people and attract new employers in technology and other desirable industries. Mindful that Beit Shemesh’s population growth has also included worldlier English-speaking ultra-Orthodox, she also promised to hire English speakers in the schools and city offices to make their adjustments easier to life in Israel.

But she also faced challenges unique to Israel’s ultra-Orthodox milieu. A self-described religious woman herself, if not Haredi, Ms. Bloch demonstrated great deference to Haredi sensibilities in her campaign, by keeping her own face off nearly all her campaign posters. “I was really challenged in a male-dominated area,” Ms. Bloch said in a phone interview as the votes were being counted. “I’m a religious woman who made herself aware to others through very hard work — even harder because I did not post photos of myself in synagogues, or reading the Torah.”

Tal Schneider, the political reporter for Globes, an Israeli business newspaper, said she was bowled over by Ms. Bloch’s restraint in her advertising. “Now she can change policy, but to get there she had to take out the most important component of democracy, which is the person,” Ms. Schneider said. “It’s mind-blowing.”

It also worked. Thousands of ultra-Orthodox voters — voting their own minds, rather than their rabbis’ dictates — split their tickets, voting for Ms. Bloch for mayor and for Haredi candidates for the City Council. Many more, unwilling to defy rabbinical authority outright, simply did not vote.

As the final votes were being tallied early Thursday, one more twist clinched the victory for Ms. Bloch.

The violence in Beit Shemesh had not just affected women and girls: Ultra-Orthodox Jews have even beaten up religious soldiers who dared to be seen around town in uniform. But it was the soldiers of Beit Shemesh who put Ms. Bloch over the top. After trailing by about 250 votes with all precincts reporting, she pulled ahead thanks to overwhelming support from army bases and others whose ballots were counted last.

“She did what I think most of us thought was impossible,” said Mr. Goldman, of Gesher. “I’m eating my hat with mustard today, and it’s the best meal I’ve had all year.”

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