Of optimism and extremism

Activists express hope that discrimination would decrease as long as it is kept on the agenda.

Haredi woman in a 'burka' 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Haredi woman in a 'burka' 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
City Councillor Rachel Azaria (Yerushalmim) has been intimately involved with the struggle for women’s rights in Jerusalem for years. It was her face that Cnaan, the advertising company that runs Egged’s bus advertisements, refused to put on their buses in the run-up to the city elections three years ago due to fear that haredim would attack the buses that had pictures of women. Along with other women’s rights activists, she has petitioned the High Court of Justice for the past two years over gender separation on sidewalks in Mea She’arim during Succot, a move that got her fired from the coalition this past fall.
But following a series of events over the past few months – religious soldiers walking out of a ceremony with a woman singing, Tanya Rosenblit being forced to move to the back of the bus on a mehadrin Ashdod-Jerusalem line, the tears of eight-year-old Beit Shemesh resident Naama Margolese, who is terrified to walk to school because of haredi harassment – Azaria is no longer alone in her struggle to stop discrimination against women in the haredi sphere.
But rather than throw her hands up in frustration, Azaria and other feminist activists expressed optimism at a round-table discussion on Tuesday night at the Israel Democracy Institute in Jerusalem. The prevailing sentiment was that the recent impassioned public debate on the subject represented a positive step in the struggle for women’s equality.
“[Recently], I felt there were times I needed to pray ‘sheheheyanu’ [the prayer of thanksgiving for new experiences] because something is really changing,” Azaria said on Tuesday. “I feel we’re at a point where we’re redesigning the rules of the game. The key words are solidarity and responsibility, and I feel we’re going in the right direction.”