Israel has been called a country of cleavages: secular vs. religious, Arab vs. Jew, Ashkenazi vs. Sephardi. One of the most troubling cleavages for me, however, is the schism over gender roles. Yesterday was International Women’s Day – the 100th anniversary (as if such things needed to be marked in time) – and the Internet is replete with stories of great women, of their accomplishments, and the distance they still must travel for equality (note: I am NOT a woman). But what you won’t hear too much of, I fear, is the situation for women in Israel, where nearly half of the candidates of officers in the IDF are women, yet there are bus lines in Jerusalem where women must sit in the back of the bus, separated from men.
I’m sure it has been studied, but there must be more than just a little truth to the notion that the most successful societies are ones in which women are empowered to do great things. A quick glance at the world’s wealthiest countries will also reveal countries where women have fared considerably better than their sisters in less-developed countries. Countries where they serve in the armed forces, occupy corner offices in the largest companies, and hold power at the highest levels of government.
And, yet, the statistics are staggering, even for these “developed” countries. Women still earn less for the same amount of work than men, are frequently overlooked for promotions, and are far less represented in government than their total population would warrant. And, if you are like me, this becomes even more troubling when you realize that the smartest, most capable people you know lack a Y chromosome.
But, such inequalities pale in comparison to the situation we see in the most religious of communities in Israel. Women – perhaps revered for their most gender-limiting roles – are nonetheless captive to a philosophy defined by what any rational person would call institutionalized misogyny. Women in these shtetls are discouraged from working, from partaking of civic responsibilities reserved only for their male counterparts, from enjoying the very essence of living in a free and modern society.
But it is the separation that I find most odious. To this day, I refuse to go to the Kotel – the Western Wall – because I cannot possibly derive spiritual satisfaction from a place where I am prohibited from enjoying it with the most important women in my life. For my wife – a Cantor – it is an affront I cannot imagine. But for my two young daughters, it is an insult that as a parent I cannot tolerate.
Perhaps there will come a day when those who decide such things will recognize that men and women are equals, both created in the image of God, and equally deserving of the privileges and protection a modern society can and should offer. On this International Women’s Day, let us all resolve to work toward a day when our daughters will no longer fear being forced to sit on the back of a bus.
Jason Boxt is a New Yorker by birth, but found himself confronted at a young age by a Moon Pie, a bottle of RC Cola, and a USC Gamecock t-shirt, and never looked back. After nearly ten years in politics (including a stint at AIPAC), Jason has taken refuge in a public affairs firm in DC – close enough to the fire to feel the heat, without singing his eyebrows. He is married to an incredible (his words) Cantor, has two small daughters, two cats, seven fish, and lives OUTSIDE the Beltway (ahem ahem).