Israeli Girl’s Plight Highlights Jewish Extremism

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BEIT SHEMESH (ISRAEL) – A shy 8-year-old schoolgirl has unwittingly found herself on the front line of Israel’s latest religious war.

Naama Margolese is a ponytailed, bespectacled second-grader who is afraid of walking to her religious Jewish girls school for fear of ultra-Orthodox extremists who have spat on her and called her a whore for dressing “immodestly.”

Her plight has drawn new attention to the simmering issue of religious coercion in Israel, and the increasing brazenness of extremists in the insular ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.

“When I walk to school in the morning I used to get a tummy ache because I was so scared … that they were going to stand and start yelling and spitting,” the pale, blue-eyed girl said softly in an interview with The Associated Press Monday. “They were scary. They don’t want us to go to the school.”

The new girls school that Naama attends in the city of Beit Shemesh, to the west of Jerusalem, is on the border between an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood and a community of modern Orthodox Jewish residents, many of them American immigrants.

The ultra-Orthodox consider the school an encroachment on their territory. Dozens of black-hatted men jeer and physically accost the girls almost daily, the students say.

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