JERUSALEM (JTA) — More than 24 hours after the polls closed, Aliza Bloch became the first woman elected mayor of the largely haredi Orthodox Israeli city Beit Shemesh.
Block, who is Religious Zionist and had the backing of right-wing and centrist parties, defeated two-term incumbent Moshe Abutbul by 533 votes after 1,000 soldiers’ ballots and another 300 of disabled people cast remotely were counted in the totals. On Wednesday, with 99 percent of the ballots counted, Abutbul of the Sephardic Orthodox Shas party had led by 250 votes.
In 2013, Bloch was the first woman to run for mayor of Beit Shemesh, a central Israeli city of 114,000 about 18 miles west of Jerusalem.
“The people of Israel look today to Beit Shemesh with new hope,” Bloch said in her acceptance speech. “Beit Shemesh decided to cancel its walls. Beit Shemesh decided to tear down its dividers.” She used the term mechitzah, which are the dividers used to separate men and women in a synagogue.
In recent years, the city has become a flashpoint for conflicts between the haredi community and its secular and Modern Orthodox populations. Conflict has arisen, for example, over restrictions on women’s dress and gender-segregated seating on public buses. In a widely publicized incident in 2011, an 8-year-old Orthodox girl was spat on by haredim on the way to school for her perceived immodest dress.