Dozens march in J'lem to protest gender segregation

About 50 men, women walk towards Mea She'arim neighborhood amongst a heavy police presence; no violence, friction reported.

Mea Shearim 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Mea Shearim 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
About 50 men and women accompanied by large police forces marched from central Jerusalem towards Mea She'arim on Wednesday to protest gender segregation in the haredi neighborhood.
Large police forces accompanied the protesters, who for slightly over an hour marched up a vacant Rehov Strauss and chanted slogans and held signs against religious coercion. The adjoining streets were also sealed off to the local residents in order to prevent any possible friction between them and the protesters.
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One elderly woman loudly berated the marchers from her second-story balcony for their “nerve” in criticizing her lifestyle in her own neighborhood, but Mea She'arim resident Moshe Shimon disregarded the march as nothing more than a result of ennui. “They have no children at home, their pets are fed, children at risk in Israel are taken care of, so they come here to protest the fact that an entrance to a synagogue had been expanded to cope with the thousands of people visiting it over the holiday,” he said after the marchers reached the police barrier a few dozen meters before Kikar Hashabat and turned back toward the intersection of Strauss and King George. “They are protesting against something they fear might happen in the future, but is not the current situation.” Reuven Schiff, who lives on the neighborhood's Rehov Yesha'ayahu, noted that he had to wait over half an hour before being able to cross Rehov Strauss on his way home from synagogue, due to the march. “I don't understand – so they are in favor of barring people's free passageway?” Schiff asked, noting that the separation being protested was for a limited period in the year for a few hours in the night.
But to Rona Ovorano, one of the protest's organizers who led the marchers and chanters adorned in a bicycle helmet, the small demonstration was a landmark event since it was the first time the High Court of Justice allowed such a protest in this haredi area of Jerusalem. “This year they allowed us 50 people, if the oppression of women continues, we'll bring thousands to protest here next year,” she said. “The terror against women in the haredi community is real, if there is no popular resistance to it, nothing will stop it.”
“We came here to protest against the deterioration in the status of women in Jerusalem,” she said. “Things are getting worse for women every day, there is separation on buses, pictures of women are removed from advertisements. Women being barred from streets and sidewalks being separated was a red line we had to protest against.”
The High Court of Justice on Tuesday had permitted the march over police objections following a petition last week by Ella, a Jerusalem branch of a university women's organization, Meretz and others, but ruled that it must end before reaching Kikar Hashabbat, at the heart of Mea She'arim. The demand to demonstrate in the haredi neighborhood rose after rumors circulated that extreme haredi elements were going to prevent the entrance of women to Mea She'arim during the holiday, a claim that was publicly debunked by the neighborhood's leadership. Gender separation of sidewalks near a yeshiva were initially enforced with barriers and ushers, but removed following a separate petition to the court.