Israel - Day 3

The amazing thing about routines for me is that it helps to provide a normalcy, especially when things are in chaos.  So my daily run and yoga allowed me to fall into normalcy and to witness that daily life goes on for the people of Jerusalem.  People run and bike before work, bring their kids to summer programs, care givers walk with the elderly and people sit getting a juice at the local organic juice kiosk.  A kale smoothie for me :).

I quickly checked the camp JRF photo's on camp minder to get a glimpse of my kids.  They all look so big and it has only been 2 weeks since I last saw them. 

I hadn't heard from Fredi since last night.  She had a terrible travel experience.  She was supposed to come a day late because of a family party.  Monday night she was on a nightime non-stop flight to Israel and was going to meet us on Tuesday afternoon at the hotel.  Her plane was delayed, then when it took off the flight attendants got sick and had to have an emergency landing in Newfoundland!  They then found something wrong with the plane and transferred the passengers (15 at a time) to a gross hotel.  They were in limbo, waiting to see if a new plane was going to come to fly them to Israel or back to Philly to then take the same flight the next day!

Fredi trudged through and just arrived in Israel 28 hours after she was supposed to get here.  Her suitcase looked like she felt, needless to say she had to buy a new one!

We then met with the director from the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC)-Anat Hoffman
Even in the midst of the current political situation life does go on and social political issues continue to be worked on.  She spoke about the fact that Israel has been exempting yeshiva students from core curriculum.  No English.  She feels that without English they will have challenges in the world, ie; can't function with computers.  They are unemployable.  As a result they have made the kashrut industry into a mega cash industry to support all these men.  This structure provides an industry that they could function in.  Usually the structure of the family is that the mother is semi-educated in the secular world and the father is not, it creates a power differential.  Daily life questions are addressed to the mother (by her on average 7.5 children).  As a result, the attitude becomes, "you, women, think you are so smart" we are going to put more restrictions on women to control them.  For example, sit in the back of the bus, be more modest.  This dynamic is really only happening in Israel.  In other places around the world these ultra orthodox men work! 

Therefore the stringent ramifications on women has been far less in the diaspora (living outside of Israel).  Ben Gurion made the deal in 1948 to exempt the ultra orthodox from army duty.  At that point it was 10,000 people now it is about 700,000 people (no core curriculum, no army service)!!!!  Anat Hoffman believes that we need to relook at this whole structure.  There can be some scholars.  A few that are chosen, to just study (like spectacular athletes) and the rest of them should be studying core curriculum and in the IDF.

Rabbis are concerned with the rising power of the Orthodox women.  IRAC represented 26 Orthodox women and won their right to sit anywhere on the bus.
There is still segregated sitting on line 56.
Line 40, once segregated has now been desegregated.  A sign restating the law is now placed behind the driver, over the entrance and over the exit to the bus.  The driver is responsible for making this happen.  Yet, Israeli's don't often listen to signs.  IRAC sued the drivers, 8,000-12,000 shekelim to make a point.  The money went to the woman they didn't help and now the drivers comply.

Sign says "Every passenger may sit in any seat of his/her choosing (excluding seats reserved for people with disabilities).  Harassing a passenger regarding his/her seating choice may constitute a crime."
-Egged (that is the bus company)

Hoffman compared the gun control lobby to the orthodox lobby here.  95 percent of Americans want the gun control to change, yet the senate does not vote "yes.". A strong minority rules.  Similar to the orthodox lobby, most people want the hold of the orthodox to change, yet it does not.  We need to fight!
These orthodox women are willing to take the risk and sit next to someone in the front of the bus.  Yet, the organization does not have an idea of the ramifications on these women in their community, once they make that choice. 

Other issues IRAC deals with is helping orthodox kids acclimate when they choose to leave their communities.  Lhithazak, to become more observant, Israel will support you to build that family.  Thousands of shekelim are put into this. Boys can leave their orthodox communities and come back, however, girls can never come back.

IRAC works with Women of the Wall-14 month negotiations with the government about how to make an egalitarian section of the Wall.  However, Hoffman said, we will not fight the modern orthodox fight.  They are not able to have a small mehitzah in an egalitarian area.  They need to fight the Orthodox rabbinate. 

We then went on a Freedom ride.  Helping to enforce the desegregation of the bus lines.  Want to be able to give Israelis a choice.  A choice of how and where to pray, where to sit, and what to wear.  It is often a cultural gender segregation.  Men in the front, women in the back.  Bus line 56 alef starts in an Ultra Orthodox neighborhood and ends in one as well.  Yet it does go through secular areas.  There is no line that is only in an ultra orthodox community.
We were instructed to call "Nahag"-"driver" if we were asked to move.  We began in the area of Ramat Shlomo, a Haredi settlement (Ultra Orthodox).
I got on the bus at the start of the line and was instructed to sit in the front and on the inside seat to leave room for a woman to have the choice to sit there.  Each Hasidic man who walked on the bus looked confused and walked to the middle of the bus and stood there.  Most girls just went sttaight to the back.  I couldn't help but notice a Hasidic boy, twirling his payot to perfection while plugged into his ipod. I wonder what he was listening to?

Interesting that the men would rather stand than sit next to me.  Secular men in our group were there to support, not play an active role.  The bus became segregated in the opposite way.  The women sat in the front and the men either stood in the middle or sat clustered in the middle.
A sweet older man, not haredi sat next to me.  He moved when more seats opened up, but apologetically looked at me and said "shemesh". Meaning sun.  As we passed through ultra orthodox neighborhood after neighborhood, I noticed that all the buses going back were segregated.

It used to be that Mea-Shearim was the Ultra Orthodox ghetto, now it appears that the areas I have lived in Jerusalem, the secular ones are a small ghetto.

After 45 minutes on the bus and a few different women sitting next to me I did question what the goal of the Freedom ride was.  Why aren't the ultra orthodox women fighting their own fight.  I came to the conclusion that the goal is giving people choices.  Option for everything. You can choose to sit with whoever you want.

Nina Mandell (a friend) stated, being an ally means "opening the door when someone else can't, so they can come through." She saw this as a bridge to the haredi women.  It gives them a momentary powerful experience.  Liberates her to say, "is this something that is halachic (according to Jewish law) or is it imposed."

Lee and I ran to Macheneh Yehuda (the outdoor market) to get me some Marzapan rugelah instead of lunch.  Lee was a trooper, we both loved the smells and sights of the market and gobbled up our chocolate rugelah :).  We had protein bars in our bags too.

This afternoon we were going to deal with the issue of separation, a wall, a fence, a street, a religion, a gender, a people, a war.

We drove up to Gush Etzion, a large community of people who live over the green line.  It had some establishment before 1948 and after 1967 it was one of the first developed.  Judea and Samaria is what the settlers call, the West Bank or the territories.  The feeling that was conveyed to us about the settlements was they  have not occupied the land, they have returned to a land rich in Jewish history. 

We stood at a phenomenal panoramic of settlement areas as well as Bethlehem in the distance.  1,000 meters, highest point in Judea Samaria. The settlements are all gated communities, with full Israeli control and they live in the bureaucracy of Israel.  Palestinians who live in the west Bank have different colored license plates than Israelis.  So you could see from far away who will be driving the car.  The roads in the area are under "public" control, whereas the communities are either under Israeli control or Palestinian control or joint control. 

The settlements are now established communities (400,000 people now), originally placed to secure the borders and now it would be harder to displace.

We then went to the industrial shopping area of Gush Etzion.  Growth in the settlement areas.  Israeli industry has to pay all workers equally.

There are check points to get over the green line.  Once you are over it, really no check points.

There are 2 communities, living separate lives.  For some Israelis, they can't afford to live in Jerusalem.  Live outside in the settlements.  The arab communities look dilapidated in comparison.  They can get a card to get access into the Jewish settlements.  They come in, in the morning and leave by 3-4 pm. 

Anyone can live in these communities, any Israeli citizens or Jews (including Israeli Arabs).  Not Palestinians.  Not so comfortable to live here as a same sex couple.

We then went to Efrat.  Bob Lang the Chief of the religious council brought us to his home after giving us a tour of the community.  The organization he represents gives religious services to the community. When he meets with groups it is mostly non-Jews who do not want Jews living in Judea/Samaria.  At this point there are 30 percent secular, 30 percent ultra orthodox, and 40 percent religious living in the settlements.

According Lang the makeup of the Palestinians (Arabs) in the West Bank is 15 percent Hamas, 15 percent PLO members, other 70 percent silent majority.  They are not empowered to speak about what they want.  They live under a totalitarian regime.  Hoped that the Arab spring had an effect on the Palestinians rising up against Islamic fundamentalism.   Lang stated that the past year Israel stopped 40 attempted kidnappings.  They missed this last one. 

He feels that they need to find ways to live together.  Everyone is interconnected.  He feels that Judea and Samaria should be fully annexed and give all Palestinians full citizenship.  He feels that the settlements are the bridges to peace.  Living together.

I felt that the settlers have a compelling narrative. Beautiful places to live.  Yet they are in such a contested area. Such challenges.

We stopped by the bus stop where the boys got kidnapped.  There was a banner up saying, "Rachel is crying for her sons, Ayil, Gilad, Naftali.  May the people of Israel live.  Am Israel Chai."

The check point had 2 soldiers walk in with big guns.  Random if they get on.  I wonder how they judge what is up?

We met with the Noar Hadash (Camp JRF Israel Trip).  We hiked the Burma road.  A road to help provide supplies to Jerusalem in the war of independence.  It was great to see so many of the kids I have known for years since being at camp every summer for 8 years.   I have no RSNS kids on this trip.  The first time in years.  Kenzie (my niece) was on the trip last year and Aaron and his entourage will be on it next year. 

As we walk we pass a joint Israeli/Arab community, a monastery, farms, a very large chicken coop!  It was wonderful to hear the opinions of these insightful teenagers.  I felt lucky to know so many of them and then we had dinner together, singing camp songs.  (Aaron, tell Paul I ate with his sister Alison, she says hi!)

It is 10 pm, we are almost back at the hotel.  Looking forward to connecting with Fredi and then going to get a waffle at Babette's cafe.  A full, challenging day with colleagues and the youth from our amazing Reconstructionist movement.