It’s not getting any less complicated in Israel when it comes to the religious/secular debate.
While the outrage over last year’s events in Bet Shemesh has subsided, the tension is palpable. It is at best just under the surface, and at worst front and center in public places where secular Jews now find themselves fighting to keep from being made to adhere to a Haredi standard.
Consider these two scenarios:
1) I was recently in Israel leading a group from Prozdor. We were spending two days camping out in the Golan Heights with our friends from the Reali School in Haifa and woke up early on the second day for a four-hour hike down to the Gilabon waterfall.
As our loud, boisterous, and co-ed group of about forty-five teenagers wound our way down into a narrow gorge we were passed by several groups of black-clad Haredi boys and men who were out for a hike with their Yeshiva. When we arrived at the waterfall, there were already a large number of them in the pool. As we made our preparations to swim in the water, an emissary from the group came over to us and asked us if we wouldn’t mind waiting thirty minutes to come in to the water, as we had young women in our group and they weren’t OK with sharing the water with us.
We said no. We were not going to wait. So they hurriedly left the water and gave us dirty looks as they left.
2) Last week a former student of mine (let’s call her Meital) who is in Israel for the year got on a public bus heading from the Negev towards Jerusalem. She took a seat in the middle of this bus that also happened to be full of religious Jews. She was immediately approached by a gentleman who asked her to move to the back of the bus. Meital declined.
Then the bus driver stopped the bus, went back to talk to her, and offered her 250 shekels to move to the back. Meital declined.
Then, because they thought she didn’t understand Hebrew, they had someone else tell her, in English, that he would be “more comfortable” if she were to move to the back. She declined.
Luckily, the rest of the ride passed without her being hassled, but stories are out there about women being spit on and yelled at on public buses in Israel for not moving to the rear of the bus, where the Haredi prefer that the women and children sit.
As a lifelong Zionist and passionate advocate for Israel, this emerging reality is challenging. Stories like these, and the saga of the Women of the Wall, paint a less-than-flattering picture of these clearly discernible fault lines in Israel.
In a day and age when Israel’s greatest threats come from the likes of Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah, it’s unfortunate that another existential threat is entirely internal.
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