Noam Pinchasi is a secularist agitator with as much fire in his belly as some of Israel’s religious hard-liners.
He heads a small cell of activists in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Kiryat Hayovel who have one simple message: Charedim are not welcome.
Charedim set up a community in this neighbourhood a decade ago, but for the past five decades it has been predominantly secular, with a modern-Orthodox contingent.
In the early years of Israel’s existence, Kiryat Hayovel was populated by traditional and religious immigrants, but Mr Pinchasi, a 50-year-old driving instructor, remembers the neighbourhood as secular, and insists that it should remain so.
The Charedi community only accounts for around 15 per cent of Kiryat Hayovel’s residents, but Mr Pinchasi and his group, A Free Kiryat Hayovel, say that it is too much for them to bear. When Charedi residents erected a neighbourhood eruv — a boundary of poles and wires that allows Orthodox Jews to carry on the Sabbath — Mr Pinchasi says that he took wire cutters and repeatedly sabotaged it.
This eruv was not legal, but Mr Pinchasi says that he is not motivated by legal concerns. “My problem is not that Charedi conduct is not legal, but that they want to change the character of Jerusalem one neighbourhood at a time, in a systematic manner.”
According the Central Bureau of Statistics, some 29 per cent of Jerusalemites aged 20-plus are Charedi — or were at the last count in 2010 — and many of them make their homes in areas that hardly had any Charedi residents a decade or two ago.
Mr Pinchasi objects to the establishment of any religious facilities in his neighbourhood, such as Charedi schools known as Talmud Torahs, or ritual baths. “I agree that they can do everything here — build Talmud Torahs and ritual baths [only] if they let me open a nightclub in Mea Shearim,” he said, referring to the most hard-line Charedi neighbourhood in Jerusalem.
Mr Pinchasi claims that Charedim will always resent secular neighbours who drive their cars out of their homes on Sabbath and violate other religious rules. He concludes that the only solution is that secular and Charedi Jews live in distinct separate neighbourhoods. “We’re not able to live together if I’m secular and you are Charedi,” he said.
Mr Pinchasi insists that he is not anti-religious. “I don’t have a problem with religion or religious people. I just want to be free.”