Friday, July 12, 2013

freedom ride

Last night, I had the wonderful opportunity to volunteer with the Israel Religious Action Center. One of their programs is called Freedom Rides. IRAC volunteers ride segregtaed bus lines, that travel through religious neighborhoods to ensure that even though it is illeagal, the bus lines are not segregated by gender. The most powerful part is that it gives women the courage to sit in the front, because other women are already sitting there.


our ride on the 56 bus line began in Beit Shemesh, a very religious neighborhood in Jerusalem

at the bus stop we noticed this sign for separate beaches. While these are legal because they are owned by private companies, it was crazy to see a reminder of the problem we are combatting, segregation in the public sphere. 
When the ride began, we were the only ones on the bus. The women in our group sat in the front, but we left room next to us for the seat to be filled by another woman. As we moved through the neighborhoods, more riders got one. Here are some of my observations about this empowering experience:

- An old woman sat down in the front because she was slipping and sliding and it seemed out of necessity that she take a seat. At the next stop however, she quickly moved toward the back.

- At two different occasions, pregnant women got on the bus, looked at the empty seats in the front and kept walking. I cannot imagine being pregnant and not taking the first seat available, out of desire to be comfortable and rest. 

- An extremely religious woman (the clothes are a give away), who was burdened with more grocery bags than she could carry sat across from us. If we had not been there, I am almost positive that she would have moved to the back, which would have been hard given the amount of stuff that she had. Because of our presence she was able to sit and rest. The same goes for an old woman, around 70, for whom it would've been hard to keep walking on the bus. 

- The part that I thought was perhaps the most interesting was that the ultra-orthodox men who boarded the bus congregated in the middle. They would not sit even across from the women, but they also refused to sit in the back. I am guessing that it is because they did not want to sit in the "female section". Instead of sitting, many chose to stand very crowded. 

- The same was true even for an old man. Just as with being pregnant, I find it hard to imagine having trouble walking but choosing instead to stand, even when seats are available. The seats were across from women, meaning no contact would be necessary. 

I want to close this blog post with an excerpt from the materials presented to us by the Israel Religious Action Center. It is a telephone call they received anonymously:

"I am a young ultra-orthodox woman and I would like to thank the Israel Religious Action Center for its battle against segregation. I thank Hashem everyday for Reform Jews. There are many ulta-orthodox women who oppose segregation but we are not able to express our opposition...Even as a group we cannot sit at the front of the bus under any circumstances. Only when there's a secular woman sitting at the front does it give us the courage to sit there as well..."

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