Protest Against Exclusion of Women From Jerusalem's Public Spaces Brings Dance to the Street

Kolben Dance Group joins protest against exclusion of women from Jerusalem's public space, removing curtains veiling company's rehearsal hall from the street.

A Jerusalem dance company will join the series of protests against the exclusion of women from public spaces in the capital by removing the curtains that hide the company's rehearsal hall from the street so passersby will be able to see the male and female dancers.

The company, Kolben Dance Group, the last professional dance company left in the city, holds its rehearsals at the Gerard Bechar Center in the Nahlaot neighborhood of downtown Jerusalem, which is home to many ultra-Orthodox and Orthodox people.

Tomer Appelbaum.

Large picture windows were installed in the hall facing the street during renovations a few years ago. However, shortly thereafter, reportedly under pressure from the Jerusalem municipality and ultra-Orthodox residents who also threatened the company's members, it was decided to keep the curtains closed.

The company's advertisements, which show female dancers, have also been vandalized. As a result, the advertisements have had to be without human figures.

"The closing of the curtains was an insufferable blow against our freedoms as well as an economic blow," said Tzafira Stern-Asal, director of the company's school, who thought up the idea.

"The idea is for the public to be exposed to this welcome activity in the center of town. No one has the right to exclude us in this way. All we want to do is open the curtain. Everyone is invited to come and see that this is a matter of culture and we have no reason to be ashamed and hide."

The curtains are to be opened Sunday in a festive event in cooperation with Yerushalmim, the movement leading the protest against the exclusion of women in the capital. The company will perform part of its work "Babylon" by choreographer and company director Amir Kolben.

"This is our home. We aren't going outside, but we want to feel comfortable in our home. After Monday, I hope the decision whether to raise or lower the curtains will be mine. After all, it's just a curtain," Stern-Asal said.

However, members of the troupe are concerned about the aftermath. Only last week, when photographs were being taken ahead of tomorrow's event, an ultra-Orthodox man came to the hall and threatened them, Stern-Asal said. "I'm quite afraid of their response. Many friends expressed their support and said they would come to be with us. I also hope that when something happens and I call the police they will respond," she said.

Deputy Mayor Pepe Alalu (Meretz), who holds the culture portfolio on the city council, has come out in support of the event.

The Jerusalem municipality responded: "The city's leadership is unaware of a prohibition against opening the curtains. The municipality makes clear that there is no prohibition against opening the curtains and it has given no such order. The city views the company's activities as important and condemns all violence or vandalism. The municipality will continue to support the company and artistic freedom in the cultural and arts quarter that is developing in Jerusalem."