Unity Day banners commemorating Eyal Ifrach, Gil-ad Shaer and Naftali Fraenkel..
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Makor Chaim Yeshiva high school in Kibbutz Kfar Etzion requested that no girls be allowed to sing at the Unity Day event that took place at the Dror high school in the Lev Hasharon region on Wednesday night.
The yeshiva also asked that the dialogue circles taking place between the students be separated by gender.
The ceremonies marked the end of Unity Day, a day to commemorate the abduction and murder by Hamas terrorist of three yeshiva high school pupils, Gil-Ad Shaer, Naftali Fraenkel and Eyal Yifrah, a year ago and to celebrate the unity that was felt among Israelis during the month of searching for the teenagers.
After hearing that the suggestion to include the Dror school singing group in the performance by rock/pop star Arkadi Duchin at the event was rebuffed by the yeshiva, which refused to allow girls to sing in front of their male pupils, parents of students at the state secular Dror school turned to MK Merav Michaeli and MK Stav Shaffir, both from the Zionist Union, who in turn called on Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Bayit Yehudi) to intervene in the situation.
“How can we celebrate a day of unity while degrading and humiliating half the population?” Michaeli asked in a letter sent to Bennett on Tuesday.
Michaeli went on to remind Bennett that the Supreme Court has banned the exclusion of women from the public sphere.
“If the issue is of hurt feelings, the feelings of the girls who sing and women in general are hurt no less than the religious feelings of men,” Michaeli explained. “In this case, we are talking about young boys and girls and a school that cannot possibly teach discrimination and exclusion of women.”
Shaffir, who went to high school at Dror, said on Wednesday, “It is not permissible to exclude women from the public sphere under the guise of unity. I expect Minister Naftali Bennett, who will be hosted at the ceremony today, to intervene immediately and condemn this worrying phenomenon in his speech.”
She went on to say that this will be a moment of truth for Bennett, who has declared himself the education minister for all sectors, and now has a chance to act on his words.
Bennett’s office responded that he will be attending the ceremony because of the significance of the day and emphasized that his speech would be attended by both male and female students.
On a Channel 10 morning show on Wednesday, Ariella Ben-Ari, the principal of the Dror school, said that the decision was made in cooperation with the yeshiva administration, and no threats were involved, although the school never would have excluded girls as a matter of course and had done so only at the behest of the yeshiva. Avi Sarel, the yeshiva’s director, also on the television program, denied having requested that girls not be allowed to sing.
Kolech, a Jerusalem-based Orthodox feminist organization, responded to the imbroglio saying that unity must go beyond words and express itself in actions. “Real unity is between all parts of the nation and society, including women. We feel a sense of missed opportunity when, specifically on this day, we again see the blatantly unnecessary exclusion of women,” the statement read.
It cited a rabbinic ruling by Rabbi David Bigman, the rabbi of the Ma’aleh Gilboa Yeshiva, who said that listening to women sing, even a solo, for “innocent purposes” is halachically permissible.
“In light of this ruling, this is unnecessary exclusion, which lowers the value of the event on this important day,” continued the statement.
“Kolech calls on Education Minister Naftali Bennett, and on the male and female educators in the state-religious education system, to let go of their perceptions of exclusion and division between those of differing opinions and genders, and to mark Unity Day from a place of true unity, equality and respect. One that will stay with us even after Unity Day.”