New Israel Fund pushes feminist uprising against segregation

Group encourages haredi feminist uprising against gender segregation.

A left-leaning umbrella organization active in fighting for the rights ofnon-Orthodox Jewish expression and Arab equality has begun a campaign toencourage haredi women to protest against gender segregation on buses and inother public places.

"In recent years, discrimination against women has emergedpredominately in public buses, where women are forced to sit in the back; atholy sites such as the Western Wall, where women are not allowed to practicereligion as they wish; and on sidewalks, where they are even not allowed towalk certain pavements in Jerusalem," the New Israel Fund said in astatement on Monday.

The fund has facilitated the creation of a hotline called Hashmi'eini (makeyour voice heard to me), taken from a verse in the Song of Songs, as well as ablog on the Internet forum Tapuz that encourages haredi women to complain aboutnegative incidents that they have witnessed or have experienced firsthand.

The organizations involved with the hotline ((02) 671-1911) and the blogprefer to remain anonymous for fear that haredi women will be scared off ifthey know who is behind the initiative.

"Since the hotline was launched this week, we have had six callers,five of them men, who have complained about various incidents," said A.,who helps manage the hotline and blog.

"One woman who identified herself as haredi said that she got on a buswith heavy grocery bags," said A.

"The woman said that she tried her best to move to the back of the bus,because she really wanted to respect the separation. She thought that she hadpassed the demarcation line, but a group of men yelled at her to move furtherback."

A. said that the men who called mainly complained about the use of violenceby haredi male passengers to enforce the segregation.

There have been numerous incidents in which men have used violence,including beatings, to enforce segregation.

In a recent incident in roles were reversed. A haredi man confronted a woman who sat at the front ofthe bus, and she hit him with pepper spray. The woman was arrested.

The NIF and the other organizations were unable to arrange for TheJerusalem Post to talk with haredi women who are opposed to the segregationor the way it is enforced. This was due to the unwillingness of the women tocome forward, and to time constraints.

In contrast, Riki Shoshan, a veteran female journalist and the daughter of adeceased Hassidic leader, said that instead of trying to fight against gendersegregation on buses and in other public places the NIF should"praise" it.

"Anyone who has ever traveled on a packed bus, especially in the summerwhen it is very hot and people are thrown together, will admit that it is agood thing to separate men and women," said Shoshan.

"It humiliates me to have my modesty compromised by being shoved into aman on the bus. Haredi women have different standards for what is acceptablethan the secular public. It is an affront to us to be in such situations."

Shoshan explained that the vast majority of haredim do not have their owncars and are therefore completely dependent on buses.

In response to allegations that haredi men were using violence to enforce segregation,Shoshan said that the Torah totally forbids such behavior.

"Moshe killed an Egyptian for just raising his hand to strike aJew," she said. "In every society there are good fish and bad fish.People who use violence are bad."

Asked if she felt her rights were being curtailed by being forced to sit inthe back of the bus, Shoshan replied that she did not.

"It is for a woman's own good to be separated from men. And there are alot of activities which men do alone, while there are things that women like todo by themselves."

However, A. said there was nothing in Halacha that said such strict measuresof segregation had to be applied.

"Where does it say that a man cannot sit down next to his wife on thebus?" asked A., who defined herself as Orthodox but not haredi.

She added that the goal of the hotline and the blog was not necessarily tobring about a change in segregation policies but to give women the opportunityto share their experiences with someone sympathetic.

The NIF said that its campaign includes ads and posters placed on buses thatpass through haredi neighborhoods, and leaflets handed out in strategiclocations where haredi women gather, such at mikvaot [ritual baths] and thewomen's sections of synagogues.

In addition, posters placed in haredi neighborhoods call on women to use thehotline.

The NIF plans to distribute leaflets that include gifts for the women, whowill find them in synagogues all over .