Why are the ultra-Orthodox afraid of internet cafes? On the eve of Memorial Day, a group of a few dozen ultra-Orthodox youth chose not to pay much attention to the ceremony held on Har Herzl. Instead, they set out on a march from the neighborhood of Mea Sharim, and within minutes arrived at a central street in the capital.
They stopped outside the Strudel internet café, and began shattering the display window and computers. Jerusalem police were called to the area and arrested five of the rioters. They were released at the end of the investigation, and were banned from entering the city center.
During the same evening that the zealots attacked the internet cafe, Maxim Kondertaiv was working the night shift at the café. He will never forget that night. "At around nine thirty in the evening, suddenly an entire ganger arrived, filling the whole street, and they started causing trouble," Kondertaiv recounts. "Six months ago they began to arrive, and even offered money for us to close the place – but of course we didn't agree and there is no chance we will. I know they are violent, but I'm not scared of them."
Shlomi Rozolio: 'Talked into' closing down internet cafe (Photo: Yoav Galai)
The phenomenon of yeshiva students using internet cafes has caused rabbis sleepless nights for a long time. The opening shot was fired six months ago, when leaflets were dispersed in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods with photographs of religious young men surfing the internet in the cafes. The faces of the youths were not fully shown, and a black line covered their eyes. "Next time we'll uncover their full identity – you've been warned!" the leaflet said. Every ultra-Orthodox youth studying at a yeshiva knows the significance of the message well: If the rabbis of his yeshiva will learn of his acts in the evening and late-night hours – his studies at the yeshiva will end immediately.
Two weeks ago, a large procession of major rabbis and Torah scholars took place in Jerusalem, condemning the growing internet usage by religious youths. "Every day, Israeli young men are falling to the terrible internet plague, which is killing many victims, God help us. How can we say our hands did not spill this blood, if we do not immediately do everything we can to destroy the abomination and stop the plague," the Rabbis said, and called on parents to take part in the ceremony. Despite, yeshiva students have continued to surf in chat rooms and various internet sites.
Formally, there is no connection between the body of respected rabbis which organized the protest, and the gang of lawbreakers who call themselves the "guardians of holiness and modesty."
'Like Islamic Jihad'
One ultra-Orthodox youth, who wishes to remain anonymous, said: "They are like the Islamic Jihad in the ultra-Orthodox sector. This is a very violent group that works through means of terror. If this internet café does not close, they will simply burn the place one night, like they did to Photo Alan (a photography store). There is no public condemnation by the rabbis towards them, because they are simply scared of them."
Shlomi Rozolio, 20, who studies at a Jerusalem yeshiva, opened a computer store two years ago. With time he turned the store into an internet café, to which yeshiva students flock. "A few days ago, my rabbi called me after all the trouble and told me: A few rabbis turned to me and I don't want you to get hurt. I'm asking you to close the place immediately." Rozolio listened to his rabbi's advice and closed shop.
"The first thing I think of is my father; I don't want anyone to hold a demonstration against him or burn his house down. At the moment I'd rather close and I'll see what I can do later on."