Sadly, gender extremism seems to exist everywhere, and lately it has reared its ugly head in Israel. The picture above is of an eight year old little girl (Naama Margolese, who is the daughter of American immigrants), and lives in Beit Shemesh, a city that was established in 1950, and is located between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Naama is an innocent second grader at a local elementary school, but - unfortunately - she is now afraid to walk to school.
Why? Because she has been spat on and called names (including a "prostitute") by a group of Ultra-Orthodox men and boys who felt that her modest clothes were simply not modest enough. Women and girls are expected to wear buttoned up, long-sleeved blouses and long skirts, and are forced to cross the street (and not linger) outside of the synagogue.
The extremists in this part of Israel are called Sicarii (daggermen - named after the violent faction of Jews who tried to expel the Romans around 70 A.D.), and Israel's Ultra-Orthodox community is estimated to be ten percent of Israel's population. The number of Ultra-Orthodox Israelis is booming because of their high birth rate.
Even though Naama's parents are Orthodox, the gender separation has become a touchy political issue for the entire country. Recently, an 18 year old female soldier (Doron Matalon) was accosted on a bus in Tel Aviv because she (much like Rosa Parks) refused to move to the back of the bus where women are expected to sit so that they are out of sight. Israel's public buses began operating in Jerusalem 14 years ago, but in certain neighborhoods there are men-only sidewalks and waiting rooms. In the name of female "honor and modesty," women are not allowed to be seen on billboard advertisements in certain areas.
Last week, riots broke out in Beit Shemesh when men and boys (who were dressed all in black) poured out of a seminary and synagogue with signs that called for the exclusion of women. Most of the public benches from the neighborhood (where mothers could sit outside with their children) were removed. Obviously, as several experts have noticed, Israel's biggest domestic challenge will be retaining cultural values without destroying the democratic rights of all its citizens.
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