Under Scrutiny, Israeli Municipality Walks Back on Gender Segregation at Kids’ Show

Haifa had planned two performances of children's play, one for girls and one for boys

Audience at a gender-segregated children's play in Haifa, Israel, October 22, 2019
Rami Shllush

The Haifa municipality and the Negev and Galilee Development Ministry advertised a performance for children that was meant to be gender-separated, but backtracked in response to queries from Haaretz and the Israel Women’s Network.

The performance of “Our Heroes,” for children aged 5 to 12, was held Tuesday afternoon at the Kiryat Shmuel Community Center. The invitation, bearing the logos of both the municipality and the ministry, showed pictures of only male actors. The free performance was to be staged twice, at 4 P.M. for girls and at 6 P.M. for boys.

Poster for "Our Heroes," a controversial gender-segregated performance in Haifa, October 22, 2019

At 4:01 P.M., the city instructed community center employees to allow both boys and girls into the performance. The audience was comprised mostly of girls.

This followed queries from Haaretz to which the municipality did not officially respond. The community center said the city’s Torah culture department sponsored the event.

“Ministry support of cultural events … is done with legal approval and if there are deviations from the regulations the event won’t be funded,” the Negev and Galilee Development Ministry had earlier commented. 

Two months ago, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit issued guidelines  regarding gender separation at publicly funded events, with one of the criteria being that the event is aimed at adults, not children or families. He further leaned toward permitting gender separation at closed events for which tickets are sold, but not at events open to the general public, as Tuesday’s performance was.

Women who came with their daughters to the Haifa performance said they supported gender separation. “For us it’s excellent, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to enjoy a service being provided to us as taxpayers,” said one woman who brought her five-year-old daughters. If the event had been mixed, she said, “Half these women wouldn’t have come. I wouldn’t have come.” Another mother added that the separation created “a more pleasant atmosphere for the girls, with less noise and pushing.”

One of the actors appearing in the performance had earlier written on his Facebook page: “’Our Heroes,’ – a children’s performance by Chaim Walder – an exciting musical for the whole family. Appropriate for religious, national religious and nonreligious audiences.” Speaking to Haaretz, the actor refused to say who had ordered the Haifa performance or who had demanded gender-separate performances. According to his Facebook page, the performance had been staged a few days earlier in Ra’anana with municipal backing and without separation.

The Israel Women’s Network on Tuesday had contacted Haifa Mayor Einat Kalish Rotem and the city’s legal adviser, Yamit Klein, seeking to cancel the gender segregation at the performance. Attorney Miriam Zalkind, director of policy advocacy and legislation at the NGO, told Haaretz: “Gender segregation of boys and girls at cultural events is extremism that must be stopped. We demand that the Haifa municipality follow the law and eliminate separation at this event and at every future cultural event.”