Sisterhood Blog

New Israeli Hotline Opening for Complaints About Sex Segregation

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

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In response to haredi efforts in Israel to increasingly segregate public areas by gender – the latest move is to make psychiatric hospitals single-sex only, which you can read more about in the Forward’s article here, an Israeli feminist organization is setting up a hotline for women to call to file complaints about discrimination or attack in public places.

The hotline is being called Hashme’eini, the feminine term for “Let my voice be heard,” and is being established by Kolech, the Israeli feminist organization for religious women. It is being supported solely by the New Israel Fund, which is spending $7,000 on it for its first year.

The hotline phone number is 02-671-1911.

According to an English translation of the Hebrew press release sent out by NIF:

The hotline is for women who wish to express their opinions, and to those subjected to any type of discrimination, insult or attack in the public sphere/space in places such as public transportation, sidewalks, performances, public institutions and others.

The goal of this initiative is to make recommendations regarding advancing/improving the rights of women in the public space, as well as their status, wellbeing, dignity, and to advise and be advised.

Hashme’eini is to go live this Sunday, and will be open Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, between 3 and 5 p.m.

It is being staffed by Orthodox and Haredi, or ultra-Orthodox, women who can respond to callers in Hebrew, Yiddish and English.

According to NIF spokeswoman Naomi Paiss, the ultimate goal of the hotline is “advocacy.”

We need hard data on the increasing attempts at gender segregation in Israel, and the hotline will give us first-hand reports, she said in an email interview.

As important, the volunteers will be trained to address callers’ concerns in terms of halacha, or Jewish law, and Orthodox culture, and inform them of their rights.

“As time goes on, I expect we will work with Kolech and other women’s groups to influence government policy on these issues.

NIF has for the past several years run a program called “New Voices in the Stadium” to work to counter racist invective at soccer games. According to Pais, it uses volunteers to monitor and report racist language in soccer stadiums, and has been “a huge success on a limited budget.”

Racist taunts have been part of soccer games in countries around the world. In a New York Times article in 2004, an Israeli Arab who had played on the Israeli national team said that “People yell ‘Death to the Arabs’ like it’s going out of style.”

As a result of NIF’s effort, Paiss said, “the amount of invective has decreased substantially. Even Beitar Jerusalem’s captain said he would welcome an Arab player.”

Haredi leaders have recently moved to force women and men to walk on opposite sides of the streets in largely haredi areas of Jerusalem. For more about it, see this article from YNetNews, the English-language website owned by Israeli newspaper Yediot Achronot.

Perhaps one day, as a result of the new efforts by Kolech and NIF, fervently Orthodox women will again be free to walk both sides of the street.

Bruce Temkin Thu. Dec 10, 2009

If anyone wants to take action, go to the New Israel Fund web site and send an email to the Minister of Transportation:

Joe Feld Fri. Dec 11, 2009

I understand the walking on opposite sides of the streets in Meah Shearim was on Purim to stop drunken men from coming in contact with women.

Regarding the hospital issue, the Labour Government in the UK pledged to abolish mixed sex wards and allow women the privacy of not having men in close proximity. My late mother-in-law found it deeply distressing to be in an immodest hospital gown in the same area as male patients, some of whom seemed equally embarrassed to be so uncovered in front of women patients.

Many British mixed secondary schools have experimented with separate classes for boys and girls to help raise the boys' level of performance. Before mixed comprehensives, boys attended boys' secondary schools run by men, and tended to outperform girls on national exams in subjects like sciences and math. The longer we have had the 'relaxed' and largely female atmosphere of mixed comprehensives the more girls have pulled ahead and boys fallen behind. In some areas one can make a reasonable case for separating the sexes, and it has nothing necessarily to do with religion.

esthermiriam Fri. Dec 11, 2009

Joe -- Read the article cited about sex-separation of institutions, not simply wards, and then consider that when religious political notions of modesty trumps medical common sense, it's not a good sign of a healthy society.

Helene Fri. Dec 11, 2009

This empathetic attitude towards women will hopefully be directed to the Agunah, the "chained woman" who cannot get a divorce; She has no voice as her husband has the power to grant the divorce. When she takes her case to the Beit din of three men, they tend to be more empathetic to the husband. The husband in many instances has used his power to extract money from the desparate wife for her freedom.

I am an artist who has addressed this via a large installation of an imaginary feminist courtroom that is now in the Reinventing Ritual show at the NY Jewish Museum (92nd/5th avenue) to February 7th. It then travels to the Contemporary Jewish Museum of SF from April 22 to September 28.

We have female Rabbis and Cantors; When will we have female judges to judge on a Beit Din? In so doing, we will diminish the insult of Karo and Maimonides who stated that "Idiots and Slaves and Women" (among others) could not serve on a Beit Din nor give evidence.

Helene Aylon Fri. Dec 11, 2009

P.S.I want to hear your comments and suggestions on how to frther this fantasy of a female Beit. There is a Comment Book for Viewers at the Museum. See the work, "All Rise" by Helene Aylon.

Lucy Sat. Dec 12, 2009

The situation with the Agunah is an example of discrimination towards women. This leads to many Jews believing that Judaism discriminates against women and is damaging to the reputation of the religion.

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