Last week, security guards at the swanky Ramat Aviv shopping mall refused to allow an Ultra-Orthodox man in, claiming that they were acting according to instructions from the mall's management. A few mall workers who knew the man tried to intervene, to no avail.
When asked to explain the incident, the management said that it had received numerous complaints from both store owners and shoppers saying they felt harassed by Chabad representatives active in the mall.
The incident was brought to light by singer Yehoram Gaon, who witnessed it and told listeners about it on his Kol Israel radio program. "I was amazed when I saw the hassid standing there, arguing with the guard and asking to be let in, only to be refused," Gaon said. "Everyone (was allowed) in, but this man's clothes, his beard, and his peyot didn't allow him the same freedom as everyone else."
Gaon said he asked the guard why the man was kept out, and was told in reply that the guard was acting on orders. "You heard right – orders from the mall management. The Ramat Aviv shopping mall. The order is to not let people like this in because they make others uncomfortable."
Gaon went even further, comparing the incident to the humiliations that Jews were subjected to under the Nazis.
Starting Friday afternoon, Israel's Ultra-Orthodox media outlets had a field day, accusing the mall management of anti-Semitism and racism. However, the central figure in the drama – Chabadnik Shneour Shneourson – was much less bothered. In an interview to an Ultra-Orthodox news site, Shneourson said he hadn't been offended at all, and added that "the rebbe says that when there are obstacles, it's a great mitzvah and there are good things about it."
"The Ramat Aviv mall is a place where we are privileged to put tefillin on a lot of people," Shneourson said. "There is a great awakening in the neighborhood. Thank G-d, a lot of store owners are interested, and they leave the door open. I go there every day and with G-d's help I'll keep going. Am Yisrael Chai, and we all want to put on tefillin. It seems like as usual, this time the hassidim have the upper hand. We'll try to keep up with our holy work."
Ultra-Orthodox businessmen have demanded that the mall apologize and fire the managers and guards involved in the incident or face legal action. Others have announced a plan to bring a large group of haredi visitors to the mall in protest.
The Ramat Aviv shopping mall noted that "the mall is open to and welcomes the public, regardless of religion, sex, or race. Hundreds of thousands of people come to the mall each year, from every sector of the population. The mall also has a synagogue that's open whenever the mall is, and the mall does not operate on the Sabbath."