Yael Navon, a resident of Betar Illit, boldly granted Channel 2 News an interview to speak out against the bus gender segregation, unwilling to be subjected to it any longer.
Channel 2 reports that the gender separation has reached new proportions, beginning in shul, then to buses and on chol hamoed Sukkos and now ending on sidewalks in Meah Shearim.
Correspondent Dana Weiss begins with the story of Beit Shemesh resident Devorah Brenner, an English speaker, who moved to the community two years ago, finding a comfortable venue for her life as a dati leumi Jew. She explains that the tensions today are palpable; since her child attends the controversial Beit Orot School, which extremist elements have decided no longer has a place adjacent to their community.
She takes umbrage over the signs telling women “dress modestly” for she points out “this is Beit Shemesh, not Jerusalem”. The real battlefront however has become the bus to and from Yerushalayim, as cameras show when she sits down she is instructed to take a seat in the rear, reminding her ‘this is a mehadrin line’. She does not comply, remaining firm, adding she is not fearful and not about to sit in the rear.
“It pains me that one Jew addresses another this way, as if I am second rate, that I don’t count and I am not permitted to sit where I wish”.
Anat Hoffman’s name in Israel is synonymous with the battle against gender separation on buses. She is affiliated with the Reform Movement and has undertaken this battle, determined to bring an end to mehadrin bus lines. She boldly gets on board chareidi lines and distributes literature to men and women alike, explaining she represents women against the gender separation. She calls it “the oppression of women and it is contrary to Halacha”. Dressed in a black dress and wearing a black hat, she makes her way from men to women with her written material, and is by-and-large targeted with harsh criticism by all, with some women covering their faces, preferring not to be caught on camera.
Women deny the accuracy of her statements, that women aboard such buses have been beaten in the past, accusing her of spreading lies and simply opposing anything and everything that has to do with the chareidi way of life. She maintains her composure, telling female passengers that the sign on the bus states clearly that one may sit where one wishes. The women are unimpressed, explaining to her that “The law of the land is not our law. We adhere to Torah law”.
She questions why today, since a decade ago this did not exist, she is met with the response of the frum women who ask “why don’t you object to other fashions and trends, the women who walk in the street naked and causing others to stumble as a result, simply being machshil others?”
The women on the bus are adamant in their desire to live a modest life and comply with the accepted trend, the separate seating, leading Anat to get off this particular bus.
Once off the bus, she explains to her escort, correspondent Weiss, that the women crumple up the flyer and throw it down, but later pick it up and when the coast is clear, they call, seeking assistance, telling her that “the rabbonim have gone mad. Please help us. Please save us” Hoffman explains. She explains that the response on the bus is due to the realization the men are there and they must conform, unwilling to pay the consequence for noncompliance.
They Reform Movement activists explain that after the High Court ruling stating gender segregation may not be enforced, but left up to passengers, there are significantly less calls and those willing to speak will do so on the phone, unwilling to come in person. They don’t know why, but simply state it is so. Such is the case with one woman who claims she was accosted on a number 319 bus. She details that they threatened her, and spoke among themselves in Yiddish, planning how to defame her name, discussing who to contact for the assignment. When asked by women manning the phones “what do you mean they will take care of you” she replied “to break my bones and leave me”.
When asked to repeat this, she stated “yes, 100%, physical attack. They have a religion that is strange to me”.
Weiss then set out for a number 319, which officially operates as a regular bus, since gender separation is illegal. She quickly learned that this bus, leaving Rechovot, was indeed mehadrin in every aspect and riders adhered to the unwritten rule of women seated in the rear.
Weiss takes a seat in the first row and is immediately requested to move to the rear. The men are polite, perhaps aware of the camera, requesting that she please comply, acknowledging it is not law, but the minhag on this bus line.
The men point out that the law does not compel this, but the passengers accept it “and the women opt to be seated in the rear. Go ask them” they tell Weiss, confident the women will support their claim.
Other men simply ask “Why does it bother you. We live our lives this way, as the Torah instructs us. Why does this disturb you?”
“Do we tell you how to live? No, please, you wish to be secular, fine but let me and let us live our lives as we wish” one chareidi rider tells her.
Attorney Riki Shapira, the legal advisor for the [Orthodox Jewish feminist organization] Kolech does not agree, explaining the bus is one thing but the mehadrin line concept is having a snowball effect, and this can be seen in the dati leumi schools, where there is now a struggle as from what age boys and girls must be separated. “Can females sing during musical programs? This was not a problem in the past but now it is” Shapira explains.
The Channel 2 camera then takes viewers to a Beit Shemesh grocery, which maintains gender separation as well, seeking to show the trend is spreading to other areas of life other than the public bus. We also get a look at a divided butcher shop in Meah Shearim, all private businesses however, which Weiss acknowledges as well. she points out however that the Kupat Cholim health clinics in Beit Shemesh and Yerushalayim, are not private and the separation already exists.
Dr. David Morel, of Jerusalem’s Clalit Clinic explains his branch must be separated or they simply cannot reach the patients in need of care, and for them, that is what it is about. The doctor explains that while personally finds it strange, it is not his job to attempt to educate the community, but to do his utmost to deliver healthcare, which is what he and his colleagues are doing. He explained if the clinic was not gender separated, the men would not come in and that is counterproductive for a HMO.
Rabbi Dr. Benny Lau, who heads the Tzedek Chevrati (social justice) Beit Medrash, explains that there are groups who live by a certain code, their way of life, and that is fine in his eyes. The problem begins he explains when this group seeks to enter the public domain and impose these rules on others – stating that is where it becomes unacceptable.
The camera takes us to Toldos Aaron on Sukkos, showing the separate sidewalk near the beis medrash, reminding viewers of the High Court decision making it illegal.
Navon, a resident of Betar Illit has had enough, insisting this is not the Torah way, and this is not what she is willing to submit to as a lifestyle. “I believe all of this is a game, the buses, gender separation, the entire approach is a game, nothing more” states Navon.
“It does not come from a sincere place, but from a place worrying about modesty, but one’s name, politics, money and that’s it”.
Weiss: Are you aware that you have just said this to the Channel 2 News camera?
Navon: Yes, quite aware and it is fine. It has nothing to do with modesty. Those wishing to live a modest lifestyle know how and do not require the assistance of anyone”.
(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)