Women, Religious Freedom Groups Stake Victories
Grass-roots campaign in Jerusalem reverses some haredi-imposed gender segregation and discrimination.
Jerusalem — Passing through Jerusalem’s Central Bus Station a few months ago, Rachel Jaskow decided to stop at the station’s synagogue and pray Mincha.
Making her way to the very end of the departure level, Jaskow, a Modern Orthodox Jerusalemite, found the synagogue but only men praying there. Then she noticed a tiny room — separate from the shul and the size of a walk-in closet — designated as the women’s section.
When Jaskow, who is active in the Israeli women’s movement, entered the room, she was “absolutely appalled” by its condition,” she told The Jewish Week.
“There was trash; it was dingy, dirty, and there were three huge boxes crammed with old religious newsletters. I was angry and called the rabbi and said, ‘Is this the women’s section or a garbage dump? How can anyone pray here?’”
Although it took the rabbi a bit of time to fulfill his promise to make the room usable, today it’s no longer a storage room. Though the tiny space is still completely detached from the minyan next door, it’s cleaner and the boxes are gone. The shul’s ultra-Orthodox rabbi has been making an effort, Jaskow said, and that’s a step in the right direction.
While no one who knows Jerusalem intimately would call it a tolerant or pluralistic city, there has been some significant progress during the past year, according to community activists.
Feminist activist Elana Sztokman, interim executive director of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, observed that the momentum for change “is coming from a lot of different directions,” and that seems to have made the movement particularly effective.
“It’s not so much more activist as it is more strategically activist,” Sztokman said.
The result: “The governmental bodies seem to be paying attention and so have some companies that have changed their ads in response to pressure.”
But at the same time, Sztokman said, “within the haredi community, there is also a backlash in the opposite direction. A kind of digging in the heels. The more public the movement becomes, the more signs seem to be going up. Backlash. So it seems to me like there are two simultaneous trends in opposite directions.”