From Anat Hoffman, the Executive Director of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC):
Agriculture is one of Israel’s greatest industries. It is innovative and creative. Israeli fields use the least amount of water. Israeli cows have the highest milk production in the world. Israelis have also innovated new fruits and vegetables over the years. Israelis have created the cherry tomato, new types of peppers, and over 400 new varieties of fruits and vegetables. Israel exports these all over the world.
Recently however, Israel has begun exporting a diseased fruit; a fundamentalist interpretation of Judaism.
According to this extremist view, men and women must be separated from each other in the public sphere; at the Western Wall, at the bank, on a public street, in a post office, on a bus, and in a cemetery. He who stays away from women is the most religious. So men who want to score high on religiosity won’t ride buses with women, won’t shop with women, and won’t hear them sing.
This sort of fundamentalist view of religiosity, fertilized by the government, has now been exported to New York as well.
Last week, it was discovered that a publicly funded bus in Brooklyn, the B110, has been forcing women to sit in the back of the bus so men do not need to see them. Even though this fruit has a Jewish star on it and says imported from Israel, it is a fake Jewish product that is dangerous, illegal, and backwards. Throw it out. Judaism has never had monks and this radical view towards separation of women goes against 2000 years of history.
At IRAC, we are promoting and fighting for pluralism every day. Extreme elements in the ultra-orthodox community are still trying to force women, both religious and secular, to sit in the back half of city buses. This is in direct violation of Israeli law and counter to a recent Supreme Court ruling on the matter. IRAC and its volunteer Freedom Riders have been monitoring the situation by constantly riding the bus lines the ultra-orthodox are trying to segregate. We have seen results but much more needs to be done so we are launching a Freedom Rider campaign for Americans.
We invite all congregations coming to Israel, to join us for a two and half hour program, where you will ride a segregated bus and get an up close look at the situation on the ground. We have been doing this successfully with Israelis and it has made a difference, one bus at a time. Take part in the change IRAC is bringing to Israeli society. Anita Silver, who lives in New York, participated in many freedom rides with us during her visit to Israel and said “It was the highlight of my trip. I encourage everyone to take a ride to help Israel stay on the right route.”
For more information see the IRAC’s Freedom Rider webpage.