|NIF Stands Up for Women on Both Sides of the Ocean|
|Written by Ruby Ong|
As part of an international campaign to restore the sight and sound of women to the public sphere in Israel, more than 500 people crammed into Hamashbir Plaza outside the landmark department store in downtown Jerusalem last night to hear some of Israel's finest female singers. The concert was designed to combat the edict of some rabbis who insist that it is sinful to hear a woman sing in public, and who are attempting to impose that view on Israeli society. Also unveiled at the concert was the first photo montage of NIF supporters in the U.S. and elsewhere, on a large poster declaring that “Women Should be Seen and Heard.”
"Silence is not an option," said international jazz singer Ahinoam Nini who topped the bill. "I love my country and I love my Jewish heritage and I will not allow the equivalent of the local Taliban to humiliate us women."
The event "Singing for Equality" to protest religious coercion and discrimination against women in public places was funded by NIF and organized at very short notice by NIF grantee Yisrael Hofshit (Free Israel). The event was covered extensively by the local and international media.
Mickey Gitzin, director of Yisrael Hofshit, opened the concert by saying, "This event could not have taken place without the support of NIF, which promotes social justice and pluralism, and is at the forefront of the fight against religious coercion and gender segregation." His words were greeted with enthusiastic applause.
Women's rock band Tarantina donned burkas as they protested attempts to banish women's voices from public places, while Yael Deckelbaum had the crowd rocking as she belted out Richie Haven's 60s classic from Woodstock – "Freedom." Everyone joined in the chorus, which reverberated loud and clear throughout the city, "Freedom for everyone, man or woman, woman or man."
The atmosphere of defiance and determination was embodied by NIF President Naomi Chazan who said, "I was born free as a woman in Jerusalem and we women of Jerusalem have no intention of relinquishing our freedom either in our private or public spaces. Today's event is a further step in our asserting our rights in Jerusalem."
Your Faces and Your Support
The campaign for women has attracted astonishing international attention and support. A description of the encroaching segregation of women by Washington Post and syndicated columnist Ruth Marcus ran in 200 American newspapers. The day it appeared, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the trend, setting off a firestorm of defensiveness and pledges for support for women’s equality from many leading Israeli politicians.
In Israel, too, NIF is far from alone. In response to varied and creative requests for support, NIF recently disbursed $35,000 in a series of grants to organizations addressing the ongoing issue of exclusion and segregation of women. Eight grants were distributed, which will be used for efforts at outreach, community-building and public events. The beneficiaries of the grant include: WIZ"O; Jerusalem Secular Yeshiva, ELUL, and Yeshivat Talpiyot; the Secular Forum; Kolech, Hiddush; Tmura Secular Humanistic Rabbis; Yerushalmim (which inspired NIF’s poster campaign) and Yisrael Chofshit, the sponsor of last night’s rally.
In addition to the grants, NIF is in the midst of a highly successful international campaign aiming to put women back in the public eye. Launched a week ago, NIF asked supporters to submit photos proclaiming that women should be seen and heard. As of today NIF has received almost 300 photos, and the first poster compiling these these images was unveiled at last night’s event in Jerusalem. Dozens will be hung in public places around Jerusalem, fulfilling our goal of ensuring that women regain a public presence there.