A 'Rosa Parksenstein' Moment for New Israeli

Rachel Levin Weinstein, a social worker who made aliyah to Israel from Chicago just two months ago, has faced her share of challenges recently, as does every new immigrant – everything from learning how to pay her bills in a new language, to getting her four kids settled in school, to figuring out how to find the brand of yogurt her family likes at the supermarket.

The last experience that Weinstein expected to find challenging was simply riding a bus. But she did so this week, in a truly heroic fashion, when she resisted pressure to sit on the back of the bus because she was a woman.

It all began when she and her husband innocently boarded a local bus in their adopted city of Beit Shemesh on Monday, without knowing that it was a bus line that was “mehadrin” – meaning that genders were separated and women were supposed to proceed to the back, out of men’s range of vision.

After a prolonged legal battle challenging the practice, the Israeli Supreme Court upheld a problematically ambiguous Transportation Ministry policy that stated:

The policy means, essentially, that while it is not legal to force women to the back, women who don’t want to want to move to the back on a ‘mehadrin’ line, must resist any pressure to do so.

And so Weinstein, once aboard her bus, faced the decision as to whether to submit or fight. Her brave decision to refuse came easily, as she recounted on her personal blog:

This stung – Weinstein is clearly and visibly Orthodox with a skirt and covered hair. But despite the harassment, Weinstein refused to move.

She confesses that the experience took an emotional toll. After she exited the bus, she broke down and wept over the fact that, in Israel of all places, she should feel threatened and her identity as a devoted Jewish mother and wife should be challenged simply because of her refusal to give in to extreme gender segregation.

In a conversation with The Sisterhood, she said that while on the bus, “I wasn’t totally unconvinced that it could get physical.”

As an Orthodox woman who covers her hair and dresses modestly, she firmly rejects the idea of the necessity of separating men from women in non-religious settings like public transportation:

What was most surprising to her was that the most extreme and “nutty” behavior came from a woman and not a man, that another woman could feel so angry that she herself moved forward to the men’s section in order to yell at Weinstein.

“She really made a public spectacle of herself. She was onstage. She reminded me that modesty isn’t just about what you wear. I don’t think yelling at someone in public is very modest,” Weinstein said.

Now that the incident is behind her, she is able to pity the woman who berated her.

“These are people who aren’t educated, who don’t learn about people other than themselves. I think its cult-like behavior,” she told The Sisterhood.

“Now that I’m slightly more removed from it, I feel bad for them. It has to be sad to be that closed off from the world and not even know it. The world is full of color and their world is black and white. These people who have no idea who they are.”

True solace, came, however when she went home and felt vindicated by her 16-year-old daughter’s reaction.

“She said, ‘Good for you!’ To me, that means I’m doing something right,” Weinstein said. “It means that my daughter has self-respect and like her mom, won’t take these things lying down, or forcefully seated in the back of the bus.”

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A 'Rosa Parksenstein' Moment for New Israeli

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