We at the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington respect the due diligence of the Montgomery Sister Cities group in considering a relationship with Beit Shemesh, a partnership that our federation has enjoyed for 15 productive years.
Mateh Yehuda and Beit Shemesh are thriving communities of more than 80,000 people, most of whom have been resettled from countries around the world, and include hundreds of Ethiopian Jews from Gondar (a region being considered by Montgomery County as sister city). Mateh Yehuda/Beit Shemesh is a beautiful region, with excellent schools and job opportunities for thousands of hardworking residents. Most important — like all of Israel — it is a vibrant democracy, with the rule of law and guaranteed civil rights for all.
We do not need to lecture Israelis about democracy, civil rights and free speech. This past summer’s protests — with up to 400,000 Israelis taking to the streets to demand affordable housing and better education — are a recent example. In December, thousands of residents of Beit Shemesh protested the despicable acts of harassment and violence by a small group of extremist ultra-Orthodox. The federation also spoke out forcefully against the activities of extremists and continues to work closely with ordinary citizens of Mateh Yehuda and Beit Shemesh in school twinning projects, business development, ecological issues and tolerance. We are currently working with our partners there to make sure that these acts remain the aberration they are.
Stuart S. Kurlander, Washington
Steven A. Rakitt, Potomac
The writers are, respectively, president and chief executive of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.