Hadarat Nashim

On my way downtown this morning on the Egged bus (the 74, which makes its way from the southern end of Jerusalem to the northern end via Derech Hevron, then onto Keren Hayesod and King George), we sidled alongside a protest of some sorts, taking place on the street, along King George. We on the bus all looked on in interest, trying to figure out who and what was being protested.

For my part, I noticed the, by and large, lack of kippot or covered heads for women, so it was a clearly mostly secular crowd. It wasn’t until I saw one of the signs that mentioned “הדרת נשים”, that I realized it was another protest, one of many of late, demanding respect for the exclusion of women. And so, when the woman across from me — wearing a sheitel — asked what the protest was about, I was able to tell her. And she nodded, along with others in the bus.

The only reason I now know the term hadarat nashim, or exlusion of women, (I originally wrote dignity of women, as it was first described to me), is because it’s become a catchphrase in our daily language over the last few weeks. After the recent spate of incidents on buses, with women being told to sit in the back, to segregate themselves from the men, people are speaking out in the streets, in the newspapers, and on the buses.

I learned the term at a parlor meeting with Councilwoman Rachel Azaria, who’s becoming well-known in these parts for her great work on the part of young families in Jerusalem, but primarily for having her portfolio taken away by the mayor for petitioning the High Court of Justice to immediately remove gender barriers in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods that were erected during Sukkot. It was once more of a ‘gender studies’ kind of term, a friend of mine told me, whose sister teaches gender studies, but has now become much more common, because we appear to need to understand the concept in these parts.

In the meantime, back to the protest. Got off the bus, just across from the plaza in front of the former Hamashbir department store, where the protesters were gathering and dancing to some Hadag Nachash being blasted from the speakers.

And who should I bump into but Rachel Azaria, just making her way into the crowd, and getting ready to speak. We said hi, and I told her thanks for teaching me the term hadarat nashim. She responded, “You would have learned it sooner or later.” True, I told her, but more memorable to learn it from her.

Israeli driver training

December 23, 2011 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: A New Reality, Crime, education, General, Israeliness, Life, Travel 

Having possessed a car for much of the last 25 years, I’ve grown accustomed to the driving habits most Israelis have adopted – habits that have justifiably given us the reputation of being among the worst drivers in the world.

Driving around Jerusalem the other day, my wife and started joking about what we would do if we were given citizen’s rights to give traffic violations. We decided to keep track of the various infractions Israeli drivers are guilty of on a daily basis.

Within a couple minutes, we witnessed one driver speeding up as a traffic light turned red and barreling through the intersection. “That’s a license revoking offense,” I offered.

A couple streets later, a car over on the right shoulder had just evidently mistakenly passed a side street and was backing up against the traffic in order to turn right. I think that should prompt taking their license away and also impounding their car and forcing the driver to take an IQ test. It’s probably the most dangerous thing you can do on the road besides driving blindfolded.

“This is too easy,” my wife said, as we continued to witness one violation after another – cyclists weaving in and out of traffic, drivers making right turns from the left lanes, and someone blaring thumping trance music from their open window – itself a capital offense.

We thought we had seen everything, and had handed out probably 20 tickers during our imaginary shift. However, driving up the highway incline to our neighborhood, a station wagon passed us containing what looked like Palestinian laborers on their way home. A quick glance came up with nine passengers in a six-seat car, and these guys weren’t tiny.

We couldn’t help but laugh at the negligence around us, but one more sight topped it all. Across the median on the shoulder heading downhill, a taxi was pulled over to the side. The driver was standing around the front of the car, facing away from the road and urinating for all to see.

After all we had witnessed on that trip, it didn’t seem to be so bad at all.

Spreading some Hanukka light

History was made Wednesday night – the second night of Hanukka – in Ma’aleh Adumim.

The members of Havura Ma’aleh Adumim, the first and only egalitarian, pluralistic congregation in the city outside Jerusalem welcomed its first Torah with a touching service including dancing and singing outdoors, a candle-lighting for Hanukka and the ceremonial eating of some gourmet sufganiyot (donuts) from the local Neeman bakery.

I’m one of those members, and along with my wife, helped to found the havura more than 15 years ago. Cutting against the grain of the city’s religious establishment, and a chief rabbi who doesn’t recognize any stream of Judaism except Orthodoxy, we’ve kept a low profile over the years, meeting on Friday nights, as well as holding shiurim, special events for holidays and community activities. But until this year, we never held Shabbat morning services requiring a Torah.

After launching morning services earlier this year, with a borrowed Torah, we’ve finally built our numbers up to the level where the Masorti Movement in Israel has given us a sefer Torah on permanent loan.

Speaking to the congregants at the ceremony, havura co-founder Shelley Brinn tied in the holiday of ‘lights’ with the concept that our egalitarian congregation is helping to shed its own light in the midst of ever-increasing darkness around the world – from the countries threatening our existence to the forces that would separate men and women on buses.

May the light of Hanukka continue to shine on all of us.

Meet Israel’s ‘Rosa Parks’

Tania Rosenblit meeting with Transportation Minister Yaakov Katz on Sunday.

She’s being dubbed the ‘Israeli Rosa Parks’ but Tanya Rosenblit insists she wasn’t looking to be a role model when she refused demands last week by ultra-Orthodox passengers to move to the back of the Egged bus she was travelling on between Ashdod and Jerusalem. She just wanted to get to work.

But her bravery in the face of angry haredim on the bus line – which has traditionally placed men in the front and women in the back in deference to the high percentage of religious men who patronize the line – has made the 28-year-old a symbol of defiance against religious coercion.

She posted about her experience on Facebook, and soon the Israeli media was all over the story.

“I could tell that the other passengers were looking at me with disdain. One of them yelled ‘shiksa’ at me and demanded I move to the back of the bus, because Jewish men can’t sit behind a woman,” Rosenblit told The Irish Times. “I wasn’t causing any provocation. It’s a normal bus and anyone can ride it. I bought my ticket, just like they did and they have no right to tell me where to sit.”

While the phenomenon of gender-segregated buses has become more prevalent in recent years, the Supreme Court ruling states that voluntary segregation on buses is permitted, but bus drivers must intervene to prevent forced separation. When the Egged driver did just that, the haredim held up the bus for 30 minutes until police intervened and allowed Rosenblit to stay in her seat up front.

Rosenblit turned into an instant celebrity, with Opposition leader Tzipi Livni praising her actions on her Facebook page, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger condemning the incident and the latter suggesting that the haredi community establish its own transportation company, Transportation Minister Yaakov Katz meeting with her, and Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat inviting her to testify before a government committee examining women’s public exclusion.

The gender-seperation phenomenon in Israel is still marginal, (and not worthy of comment by the likes of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton), but the Rosenblit incident serves to show that it can affect any woman at any place. Maybe her act of drawing the line on the Ashdod-Jerusalem bus will be the tipping point that will raise public awareness and send religiously imposed gender segregation back to the dark ages.

Shattered calm close to an Israeli home

December 18, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: A New Reality, coexistence, Crime, General, Israeliness, Life, News, War 

The entrance to Ma'aleh Adumim usually looks like this.

To get into our city of Ma’aleh Adumim, you have to pass a compact roadblock usually manned by two people. It consists of a mobile barrier that drivers need to slalom around, slowing down enough for the guards to get a good glance at you.

It’s generally a boring place, despite the thousands of cars that pass daily, and the hundreds of construction workers – mostly from the neighboring Palestinian village of Azariyah – who on foot pass through the barrier on the way to their day jobs.

So, it was surprising to find out on Saturday night, after Shabbat came to an end, that a guard at the entrance had been lightly injured in a stabbing attack that morning.

According to The Jerusalem Post report, “a suspected Palestinian terrorist launched a knife attack against a security guard at the entrance to the Ma’ale Adumim settlement near Jerusalem on Saturday. The municipal guard was lightly injured in the assault. He was evacuated to hospital for treatment. Police and IDF forces were searching the area for the suspect.”

It took place on a beautifully sunny, mild winter’s day, less than a quarter-mile from my house, unbeknownst to the families in the neighborhood enjoying the day with their families.

An odd thing about the incident – generally Palestinians aren’t coming into Ma’aleh Adumim on Shabbat, since there’s no building or repair work going on. So either the perpetrator made a special trip to attack, or he had another reason to be coming to the city.

Either way, whether the attack was the result of cumulative anger, hate and frustration at Israeli ‘occupiers, or he had a personal vendetta about a work issue that left him humiliated or enraged, or whether he was mentally unstable and the guard was a natural target, the ‘business-as-usual’ feeling that passes for reality in the West Bank is a tenuous one that can be broken at any time with ease of a knife’s steel blade passing in the wind.

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