woman on a mehadrin bus_311.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The 402 “mehadrin” bus line from Bnei Brak to Jerusalem remained segregated
early Sunday evening during a protest against gender-separated buses, with the
front half for journalists and activists, and the rest for just about everyone
RELATED:Haredi women resent intrusion into their sphere
The dozen or so male and female activists boarded the bus in an
industrial section of Ramat Gan, and were followed by a bevy of reporters and
cameramen. The mission: to make a statement against gender segregation on the
mehadrin bus lines by sitting together, men and women, at the front of the
The protest was organized by Be Free Israel (Yisrael Hofshit) in
collaboration with several other organizations, and included similar actions on
gender-separated bus lines in Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh and Rehovot, in addition
to Bnei Brak.
Be Free Israel Director Mickey Gitzin said buses have
become a symbol in the activists’ struggle to return women to the public sphere.
Two hundred gathered in Jerusalem to ride intra-city mehadrin buses in the
capital, in addition to a few dozen in Ramat Gan and other parts of the
The 402 bus from Ramat Gan to Jerusalem by way of Bnei Brak was
still empty when the activists boarded, and they managed to take most of the
seats in the front. A yarmulke-wearing French-Israeli who made aliya nine years
earlier, Yigal, was riding the bus by himself home to Jerusalem from his law
school studies, when the activists boarded, followed by a contingent of Israeli
“If you ask me, it’s wrong to have the separate bus lines.
But doing something like this is provocation.
These people think the
media is inciting against them,” Yigal said, as he fielded questions from three
Carmel Eitan of Na’amat, the movement of working women and
volunteers, said that her organization sent a group of volunteers to ride the
buses on Sunday night not out of any desire to provoke haredim, rather to
protest against “those who allow this discrimination to take place in the public
After a briefing by the police escort and receiving assurance
that the journalists and activists would pay the full fare to Jerusalem even if
they were to get off after Bnei Brak, the bus driver began to make his way
towards Rabbi Akiva Street, the central thoroughfare of the haredi
At the first bus stop, a few confused young women boarded and began
slowly making their way to the back of the bus, where three male cameramen with
spotlights were sitting in the final row filming their approach. A few men
boarded and, also looking confused, clamored for seats in the front of the bus
next to male activists or reporters, or in the buffer zone between the male and
By the next bus stop, there was little room left on the
bus that wasn’t either mixedgender or standing room only. A few women made their
way on and headed towards the back, while a number of men agreed to stand in the
aisle. Most of those at the bus stop turned away when the driver said it was
standing room only.
About halfway down Rabbi Akiva Street, the activists
alighted, in order to head back to the industrial area to rendezvous with
another busload of riders. There were no incidents on this run, but on another
402 line leaving Ramat Gan, the driver told cameramen that he would break their
equipment if they began filming, activists said.
On the bustling sidewalk
in Bnei Brak the group of nowmarooned secular activists and reporters were a
minor curiosity at best, though a few passersby did stop to debate or crack
“You know there’s a synagogue nearby with separate sections for
men and women,” an elderly haredi man joked, adding “there’s also a bathroom
that separates men and women – run, quick, all of you!” One Orthodox man who
wished to remain nameless stopped to chat about how the issue is seen in his
He said that on a daily basis he can choose taking a mehadrin
line or a regular line, and that he picks the regular line each time because “I
want to be able to sit next to my wife, but we need to respect everyone’s
He also warned that while he agrees that more and more haredim
must join the workforce and integrate into Israeli society, “the media is
inciting discord between the religious and the secular.
And for me, as a
religious person, if it’s religious vs secular.
I have to go with the
religious, that’s just how it is.”
As he spoke, the newly vacant seats of
the 402 were quickly filled. Within moments, the passengers separated themselves
absolutely along gender lines, and the bus continued on its way to
Melanie Lidman contributed to this report.