Female Volunteer Removed From Circus Stage After Haredi Woman Protests

Ultra-Orthodox woman found female audience member's participation in show offensive; Modi'in residents angered by 'unacceptable' act.

A female audience member who was invited to participate in a circus performance in Modi'in on Sunday was removed from the stage after a religiously observant viewer complained.

Rafi Vitis, an acrobat and host of "The Shambuki Show," at the city's Anabe Park, consented to the request of an ultra-Orthodox woman who found the participation of women offensive. He invited a male volunteer to replace the teenage girl, but was forced to suspend the show for a few minutes because other members of the hundreds-strong audience objected to the switch.

Modiin - Magen - 12.4.12
Gili Cohen Magen

"Instead of enjoyable time out with the family we received an alarming example of how normal it has become to take women off stage and marginalize them in the public sphere, even in a city like Modi'in where the population is not predominantly Haredi, and where Haredi politics don't prevail," a religiously observant resident said. "It was striking to see such a flagrant case of exclusion of women from the public sphere. Here in Modi'in, it is unacceptable. It's another example of the deterioration of civil liberties in Israel."

Vitis said that after inviting the woman to help him in one of his acts he was caught in a difficult situation and had to make a decision quickly, even though he is in favor of women participating in his show.

"During the show, a Haredi woman approached me and asked me, very politely, if I could carry on without the girl, out of consideration for the feelings of most of the people watching," Vitis told Haaretz. "I decided to continue the act with a male volunteer. I was trying to do my best to show consideration for their sensibilities and didn't mean to hurt anyone's feelings."

Avi Elbaz, chairman of the anticlerical association Free Modi'in, said the city must not condone the exclusion of women. "The incident with the acrobatic show didn't take place in Modi'in Illit, Ramat Beit Shemesh or another Haredi city. If it doesn't suit you to see women on stage, don't come. It's unbelievably rude to go to a show in a secular city and make these demands. This place is not owned by the Haredim," Elbaz said.

The Modi'in city council said in a statement: "As soon as the incident was brought to the attention of the director of cultural activities he rushed to the scene and gave a specific order that it was unacceptable and that the show would go on as usual. Afterward we circulated specific instructions that all changes to shows at Anava Park cannot be approved by anyone other than the city council."

Anabea Park has been the site of previous clashes between secular residents of Modi'in and Haredim from nearby communities, mainly during the intermediate days of the Pesach and Sukkot holidays.

Last year secular residents as aked the park to start charging nonresidents in an attempt to discourage Haredim from neighboring communities. The city council refused, saying it would be illegal. But during the intermediate days of Sukkot last year the city council organized festival at Anava Park for residents only.