I have long been aware of the discrimination of women by the ultra religious population in the Jewish community. The Haredi extremists prefer a complete separation of women in their daily lives; they want women to be on separate buses and separate sides of the street; they prefer women covered and clothed from head to toe; they are not able to listen to a woman singing on her own; they may not shake a woman's hand, and the list goes on. I really don't care what the reasons are behind these practices, they seem to me to be due for reform. In fact, the very reason my father decided to raise my sisters and I reform was due to the mistreatment of women in the Orthodox sectors of the Jewish religion. It is amazing that not even 75 years after the Holocaust took place, that there can be such vicious inter-group discrimination. It is truly appalling. People like me, in their table talk, discuss their concerns about the negative image that these extremists are creating about Jewish people as a whole all over the world.
Well, let it be said, that the majority of the population is Israel - virtually everyone except the Haredi population themselves - are baffled by and disgusted by the recent happenings in the news. In late December, it made international headlines when an innocent 7-year old girl was walking to school in the town of Beit Shemesh, just a few miles outside of Jerusalem, when she was harassed and spat on from above by two ultra-religious men who deemed her dress to be immodest. A seven. year. old. girl. As you can imagine, the little girl is completely traumatized and I think we can, as a whole, agree that this behavior is completely uncalled for. What was even more baffling was that as the news coverage spread about this incident - which is really one of many, many more - instead of apologizing for the event, the Haredi population of Beit Shemesh stood united in their actions, defending their behavior as appropriate and called for.
Not even a week later, an incident in Jerusalem occurred in a suburb I myself frequent. No matter where you go here, you are bound to cross paths with Haredi Jews, whether on the bus, in the street or in the grocery stores and shops. This incident took place on a city bus where a Haredi Jew demanded that a young, woman soldier - who was on her way home - go sit at the back of the bus. Does this not sound like the days of Rosa Parks and black segregation? Have we moved forward at all in history? Here in Israel, the answer is no among the Haredi extremists. This young woman soldier, who fights to save the lives of these very people, was called a "slut", "whore" and a "shiksa", among other foul names on board the bus and asked to sit at the back of the bus, away from the Haredi men at the front of the bus. Other men joined into the rant. Despite the shock factor of this story, most are pleased to report that the incident ended up in an arrest of the perpetrator and a sexual harassment suit - which is exactly what this treatment is.
These recent headlines which made the news around the world are just two of many incidents occurring here on a daily basis. I have heard personal stories about rocks being thrown at people and cars who should not be driving through their areas and neighborhoods. I myself have accidentally walked into a religious neighborhood where I have seen larger-than-life signs pleading "Please Don't Walk Through Our Neighborhood in Immodest Dress". Though I immediately felt the urge to turn around and walk the other direction, I couldn't help but think, is this street not public property?
What is going on here is just a grown-up version of bullying and I have to say it has left a sour taste in my mouth. Am I not Jewish because I don't cover my hair like Orthodox ladies? Should I not be considered Jewish because of how I dress? I come from generations and generations of Jewish men and women; I was raised Jewish; I had a Bat Mitzvah - and yes, I read from the Torah directly, sorry Haredi; I married a Jewish man; I made aliyah and am living in Israel; I keep the Jewish holidays and plan to raise a Jewish family. So, what, may I ask, is the problem? I find it highly offensive and upsetting that there can be such inter-group division when we are really one and the same people.
My hope to anyone reading this post is that you will see that the Haredi extremists here in Israel are not representative of the Jewish people as a whole. Instead, the majority are embarrassed and disgusted with such behavior and find it as a mockery to our religion which practices tolerance and acceptance of all people. I guess anywhere in the world, in all religions, you will have extremists.
However, I have to say that my experience of living in Jerusalem has been soured by such discrimination. If we were to stay here indefinitely, I really think moving to a reform suburb near the coast where people are tolerant and accepting would definitely be in the cards.