Written by Katie
Last Thursday was lovely. The sky was blue and there were puffy clouds in the sky. Later that evening large drops of rain landed on the streets of Jerusalem. It was a fulfillment of all our prayers of masheev haruach u’moreed hagashem, let the wind blow and rain come down, that we have been saying during every day since Simchat Torah a few weeks ago.
But those were not the only reasons it was a beautiful day. I had the privilege of riding with 27 women on IRAC’s pilot freedom ride. These women came from all over the United States with an organization called the National Council for Jewish Women (NCJW). These women took a few hours out of their only week in Israel to help us create a more just Israel.
Anat Hoffman, our Executive Director, explained the problem of segregation that is rapidly expanding in Israel, and then all of us boarded a tour bus for Ramat Shlomo, an entirely Charedi neighborhood in Jerusalem. We got off the tour bus and waited at the first bus stop for the #56. This is a bus line I know well after getting harassed on it just a few weeks ago. We decided to go on three different buses to spread out our womanpower. While we were waiting for the bus, the kids in the Yeshiva next to the bus stop, were waving at us. I assumed they had never seen so many women wearing pants with their heads uncovered.
My group of ten women got on the second bus to come. We spread ourselves among the front section of the bus. Every man who boarded the bus was totally baffled at the amount of women in the “men’s” section and none seemed to know what to do with themselves. Many covered their faces with their hats. Most just face the window. A twelve year old boy boarded the bus with his two little brothers who immediatly sat down next to two women. The twleve year old was visibly uncomfortable and could not decide whether to stand or sit. Though he eventually sat, it was a demonstation of how even young kids are being indoctrinated at an early age to avoid women.
The outing was worthwhile for two reasons. One, on every bus women joined us in the front. On my bus a haredi women looked so happy to sit in the very first seat next to one of the NCJW ladies. It reinforced why riding the buses is so important and powerful because it gives women who feel powerless a chance to “sit down” for their rights. Unfortnately as soon as we disemarked the bus she moved to the back. Most women feel safe sitting in front while we are there. However, one Ethiopian woman stayed in the front even after we left. This woman and her courage are my inspiration that things will indeed get better.
Secondly, it was a joy to see how delighted the women of NCJW were to be joining us in this act of social justice. They all said they not only got an opportunity to learn about the situation but felt tremendous power and pride at having changed the culture of the buses at least for an hour.
This winter, may the wind of social justice blow and the rain of equality keep pouring down.
To see more information about IRAC’s Freedom Rider initiative click here.