Haredi women resent intrusion into their sphere

Activists board bus lines in J'lem to protest gender segregation; "They’re doing it just for the provocation,” haredi woman says.

Haredi bus protest with women 311  (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Haredi bus protest with women 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
As the number 56 bus bounces along through Jerusalem from Mea She’arim to Ramat Shlomo, a metal hole-puncher bangs against a yellow pole next to the middle door. The hole puncher is a reminder of bygone days, when women used to be able to board towards the back of the bus and punch their own paper ticket, so as to avoid passing through the first car, which is often crowded with men.
After Jerusalem switched over to the Rav Kav electronic tickets on November 1, that practice ended. But the separation on Line 56 remains: Men in the front, women in the back.
It was separate until Sunday evening, when 200 people gathered in Jerusalem at Safra Square to plan out their choreographed attack on gender-separated buses.
“It is enough for one woman to sit in front of each bus in order to break the gender separation,” activists told the prospective freedom riders.
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Handing out stickers that said “discrimination against women is my red line,” the crowd was herded into smaller groups of 10-15 people, accompanied by many members of the media, and trooped up to Strauss Street to conquer the haredi bus lines.
Large crowds at the bus stops prompted some verbal confrontations between local Mea She’arim residents and activists, but one egg thrown from an upper story apartment was enough to separate the groups.
“Most of the public doesn’t care about the separation on buses, it’s a small minority that wants it,” said Yehuda, a 25-year-old haredi who lives in Mea She’arim and Netanya, as he watched the escalating confrontations. “I have a feeling that most of the community is scared to open their mouths.”
But as women pushed their way to the back of Line 56, rolling their eyes at the media circus at the front of the bus, they told a different story.
“If they get on a haredi bus, they should get on in the back, they need to respect us. They’re doing it just for the provocation,” said one woman who refused to give her name.
Others were less passionate about the idea of separated buses, but resented the violent intrusion of secular activists into their community.
“The [haredi] community doesn’t care [about separate buses], it’s not a problem,” said R.S. an immigrant from Australia who lives in Ramat Shlomo. “Some people want it, others don’t, but we accept the whole idea.”
On Sunday, as the bus wound through the streets of Geula, women continued to push through to the back, wrestling with toddlers and strollers.
“The buses get extremely crowded, why should men and women be smashed up together?” asked R.S.
She attributed the conflict to a lack of understanding between the haredi and nonharedi worlds.
“If they would know us, they would understand us.It’s a shame they don’t understand us.”
Other women were angry that the attention focused on their communities and lifestyle.
“They are making a storm out of nothing. Why does it matter where we sit? Who is interested in this, especially when there are wars all around us?” asked another woman.
A teenager from a group of high school girls wearing blue collared uniforms finally spoke up.
“This is comfortable for the community,” she said. “Why do you care? You never go on these buses. Just go back to your homes.”