Hundreds Across Israel Protest Against Religious Marginalization of Women in Jerusalem

Protest follows trend towards excluding women from billboard advertising in Jerusalem, so as not to offend members of the ultra-Orthodox community.

Hundreds of demonstrators around the country sang in protest on Friday against the exclusion of women from public areas.

The protest, at 11 A.M. on 11/11/11, follows a trend toward excluding women from billboard advertising in Jerusalem, so as not to offend members of the ultra-Orthodox community. Also, during Sukkot last month, men and women were separated on a street in the city's Mea She'arim neighborhood.

The protest also follows an incident at an Israel Defense Forces event, where four religious male cadets left because women were singing.

About three weeks ago, the organizer of Friday's protest, Hila Benyovich-Hoffman, created a Facebook page inviting women to join her in the plaza in front of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art for the sing-along. She was then contacted by organizations and individuals who wanted to organize similar events in Jerusalem, Haifa, Be'er Sheva and Kiryat Tivon in the north.

The demonstrations attracted the attention of the foreign media, while several Knesset members took part, including opposition leader Tzipi Livni (Kadima ) and Zahava Gal-On (Meretz ).

The Jerusalem demonstration drew hundreds of people, the vast majority of them women. It was held at the String Bridge at the western entrance to the city.

The crowd grew so large that the protesters had trouble singing in unison and some went down to the plaza below. Many motorists, whether in support or opposition, honked their horns.

"We, women and men, secular and religious and also ultra-Orthodox, who are slowly joining in, are changing the rules of the game and the rules of public discourse," said Jerusalem city council member Rachel Azaria. Last month, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat dropped Azaria from the city's governing coalition after she took the city to the High Court of Justice over the Sukkot controversy.

The mayor's office said Azaria was dismissed for suing the city government of which she was a part, not for the merits of her stance.

In Haifa, about 150 protesters gathered at the city's Ziv Center. No speeches were made and no signs were displayed - the mostly female crowd simply sang, accompanied by a guitar.

In attendance was Dvora Evron, a religious staff member at Oranim Academic College. "We have come today to have our voices of concern heard for both women and Judaism," she said. "The phenomenon of exclusion that we are witnessing is improper and presents a distorted view of Judaism."

Women singing - Olivier Fitoussi - 13112011
Olivier Fitoussi