Security camera footage of a Sicarii member wearing a hood shattering the front door of Manny's/Ohr HaChaim Bookstore earlier this year
Manny’s suffered NIS 250,000 in property damage after refusing to adhere to ‘modesty standards.
After 20 months of attacks and a quarter million shekels in damage, a religious bookstore in the ultra-Orthodox Mea She’arim neighborhood of Jerusalem decided on Monday to accede to the demands of extremists responsible for the violence.
Under the terms of the compromise, Ohr Hachaim/Manny’s put up a large sign requesting that all customers dress modestly. A mashgiach, who checks the store’s inventory to make sure there are no controversial books, will go over the books in the coming week and require that some books be removed from the shelves, though they will not be permitted to remove any English books, said Marlene Samuels, one of the store’s managers.
A haredi group called Sikrikim deemed the store as “promoting immodesty,” and since Manny’s opened in March 2010, the group has smashed its windows more than a dozen times, glued its locks shut, thrown tar and fish oil at the store and dumped bags of human excrement inside. The owners were also personally threatened multiple times.
At the end of September, police arrested one of the central figures responsible for the attacks. Since the arrest, and with the construction of steel shutters to protect the store at night, violence against the store has decreased. However, a large demonstration outside the store on Sunday night convinced the owners of the bookstore to meet with the Sikrikim to come to a compromise.
“Even though it looks like things have quieted down there were still problems looming,” said Samuels. “The truth is it’s very hard to get the better of these people… you can never beat them.”
Samuels said the damage caused by the attacks, including hiring security guards to watch the store, has cost more than NIS 250,000 over the past year-and-a-half.
The store is popular with Anglo residents and tourists and carries many English-language holy books and Judaica items in addition to Hebrew books. The harassment stems from the bookstore’s past refusal to accept demands made by the neighborhood extremist group, which would require all businesses to observe specific “modesty standards.”
The Sikrikim, a small, violent group that numbers less than 100 families, had previously demanded that all English books be removed because the store attracted many tourists who were not properly dressed. They also condemned the store for carrying Zionist books and demanded the store shut down its website to avoid attracting foreigners.
Other store owners in the area have called the Sikrikim the “Mea She’arim mafia,” and said it was pointless to try to beat them. Almost all of the stores in the area have the same sign requiring customers to wear modest dress, and other bookstores said they allow Sikrikim mashgiachs to check their inventory to remove “non-kosher” books.
Manny’s provoked the ire of the Sikrikim by refusing to acquiesce until this week.
“In the beginning, the owners thought it would stop, that it was temporary, but it didn’t stop, it got worse and worse,” said Samuels. In September, after multiple complaints to the police, the bookstore appealed to the media, including The Jerusalem Post. Samuels said pressure from the media spurred the police to arrest one of the central figures responsible, which frightened the extremist group.
“[When] the police started to make arrests and became more active, it quieted them down, but it didn’t stop them, and it’s never going to end 100 percent,” said Samuels.
However, the arrest and police pressure gave them “bargaining power,” said Samuels, frightening the group into accepting a compromise rather than the extremists dictating the terms.
“It’s such a losing battle… So much money was lost in the damages, they realized they needed to come to a compromise,” she said of the owners. “It’s not going to be that terrible,” she added.
“They might continue demonstrations, but the demonstrations will be mild.”
The name “Sikrikim” comes from the Latin “Sicarii,” a term applied – in the decades immediately preceding the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE – to an extremist splinter group of the Zealots who tried to expel the Romans and their partisans from Judea using concealed daggers.