July 25, 2012by
Are women in Chassidic communities nothing more than oppressed victims? Is the Haredi threat to civil liberties in Israel, which is represented by segregated busses, real?
I am going to Israel, at the very least, to find out about the second question.
As a rabidly liberal Jewess (I am president of the unaffiliated Congregation Etz Chayim in Palo Alto), I am interested in the Israel Religious Action Center’s (IRAC’s) assertion that Haredi Jews are marginalizing women with segregated bussing.
I am a lifelong Zionist. My parents raised me that way. My father blessed me at the Wall in 1968–on the boys’ side. I went to Habonim Camps, and by the time I was 10, I had been to Israel twice. I spent a lovely summer there when I was 20, working on Kibbutz Gezer and visiting relatives.
Then life happened, and I did not visit again for over 30 years. When I visited Israel in 2009, I stayed with a lesbian friend who lives in Tel Aviv. She gave me an education. First, she made me take off an orange headband because orange is the colors of the settlements. She would not buy mushrooms grown in Tekoa, and when I said she was crazy for doing it, a couple of people in the farmer’s market spoke up in her defense, passing on the mushrooms also.
I have stayed away from Jerusalem because what I read in the news–Haredim rioting and throwing dirty diapers at soldiers, angry over a parking lot opening on Shabbat and spitting on an eight-year-old girl–scared me.
But…I come from Hasidic stock. I can trace my lineage to a famous rabbi. My dear cousins live a modern Orthodox life in Chicago. Another one lives in Beit Yatir, which is in an occupied territory. I have not visited there, standing on my old Zionist principles.
In the course of doing genealogy, I discovered that I have an army of second cousins in Williamsburg and Kiryas Joel who are Hassidim. I don’t have the energy to keep up with them much, but when I met a couple of them in Williamsburg, they were welcoming and friendly.
I heard Anat Hoffman, executive director of the IRAC, speak in my town. “There are many shades of black,” she said. “Women walk into my office and say, ‘thank God for you Reformim.’ Orthodox women are some of the bravest feminists I know.” You have to be brave, to agree to unfettered fertility AND the burden of earning a living.
You remember the “asifa,” the rally of yeshiva men against the Internet at Citi Field? Well, one of my cousins who travels for a living saw on a 747 plane flying from New York to Tel Aviv an Orthodox couple sitting near her in business class. The man in a black hat was talking about the rally, and his wife was sitting next to him, reading Fifty Shades of Grey.
And listen: I have written many emails to IRAC, trying to get on a “Freedom Ride,” and they have not answered me yet. I scoured the website, looking for some help, and found a reference to a travel agency. I called them, but this agency did not know what I was talking about.
I leave for Israel tomorrow. I’ll keep you posted.