IRAC piece about Beit Shemesh 10/21/13

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I have reprinted an e-mail I received from the Israel Religious Action Center.  Well worth reading….

“How often have you said the words “abracadabra” expecting something to result from that phrase? The word abracadabra comes from the Aramaic words Evra’ah K’adabrah meaning “I will create what I speak.”  Over the past four years, the lawyers at IRAC have found isolated events, named them, and, like magic, identified the phenomenon of the exclusion of women in Israel.

The city of Beit Shemesh, located just outside of Jerusalem, is a “mixed city.” All the residents, religious and secular, use the same public buses, supermarkets, and streets.  It was known for having a good public school system and a strong sense of community. However, the issue of gender segregation is giving Beit Shemesh another type of notoriety as women come forward with stories of being told to move to the back of buses, of young girls being spat at while walking to school, and of “modesty signs” lining the streets.

IRAC works closely with Orthodox women in Beit Shemesh that are fed up with the city officials bowing to pressure from a few extreme Haredi rabbis. When these brave women saw signs that said, “Dire Warning: It is forbidden to walk on our streets in immodest dress, including slutty clothing worn in a religious style. [signed] Residents of the neighborhood,” they called on us to intervene.

Signs like that are all over Beit Shemesh and they are put up by private groups of residents who want to see the whole city adhere to a strict interpretation of modesty. The city government tolerates them and therefore makes them seem “official.” In fact, these signs are completely illegal, and we have proven this time and time again in court.

The first step to creating social change is naming the issue, and that is exactly what we have done.  The phrase hadarat nashim (exclusion of women) has become commonplace in the state of Israel, used in various reports, written about in newspapers, and spoken about at Shabbat dinner tables.  Gender segregation existed long before we took up this cause, but regular Israelis began to notice the phenomenon as soon as we gave it a name.

A shared desire to end gender segregation in the public sphere created an alliance between two groups in Israel that had not been thought possible. Our unorthodox coalition with the Orthodox feminists in Beit Shemesh is creating change.

If you would like to learn more about gender segregation in the public sphere click here to read IRAC’s recent report.”

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