We live in Beit Shemesh, an area that is populated by both Dati-Leumi (religious-national) and Chareidi ("ultra orthodox") Jews. Within the Charedi group of not so merry men and women, is a belief that the genders should be separated whenever they can be- during food shopping, eating pizza, or riding a public bus. I'd heard and read about "Mehadrin" buses (loosely translated as the ‘best of the best’) and told myself that I would never take one. One might think that description refers to the bus' navigational system or road handling, but it doesn’t. Some how, someone came up with this nutty idea to have women sit in the back of the bus and men in front, for the purposes of modesty. I don't know whether to laugh or throw up because it's simply unreal. But I learned first hand today that it is very real. And if you know me, and for what its worth, I talk how I type, you know that I don't "do" disrespect, prejudice, or inhumane behavior very well at all.
My husband and I had no clue that the bus we boarded this morning was a "mehadrin" bus. Bus segregation for the record, is entirely ILLEGAL in
But these folks were messing with the wrong Jewish lady. I stood my ground and told her that she could be a slave but that I choose not to be. I continued to sit in the front of the bus for the very brief period of time we were even on the dang thing, and maintained my not-so-subtle stance: the back of the bus my foot! It was, indeed, my "Rosa Parksenstein" moment, but I made it very clear to myself and the others on the bus, that I will, frankly, be damned if anyone's going to tell me where I can sit or treat me like a second class citizen. There was no way on this planet that I was going to be made to feel like anything OTHER THAN a proud Jewish woman. I had my kubaton in hand in case things got physical, as I wasn't convinced they wouldn't. Proud I am, stupid I'm not.
After exiting the bus, kubaton in hand and religious litany in ear, the tears started to flow from a visceral place deep inside. I cover my hair, I wear skirts, I wear sleeved shirts, and maintain that my most important jobs in this world are that of being a mother and wife. I know where it’s "at" and I know that public embarrassment and shame are not. When someone asked me why I was crying, a woman who was dressed much like me, she asked if I was told to move to the back because of how I'm dressed. I told her it wasn't because of my dress, but because I have a uterus. I learned, once again, just how important it is to stand up for what I am. Moments earlier I was able to calm myself briefly by acknowledging that this was just a test. Of what you ask? Perhaps, of seeing how much I believe the phrase, "Don't judge Judaism by its Jews." Perhaps, of seeing how much insanity I'll put up with before I say, "we are OUTTA here!"
I've had my mettle tested before and I don't give up easily. My passion in what I believe in is both my strongest and weakest suits. But today it was the best weapon I had. I know who I am and that being a Jewish woman is something I am extremely proud of. For crying out loud, my kids are Jewish because of ME. I've no intentions of hiding from someone who finds the scent of my estrogen too strong. I will not hide behind my femininity nor, use it destructively. Ironically, I actually LIKE covering my hair (it's like dress-up for grown ups) and clothing myself in a way that speaks to my integrity. One might've thought I was dressed like a... or not dressed at all from the reactions I received today. I even find it a bit amazing that the woman yelling at me was upset enough to enter (cue the Star Wars music) "The Verboten Spot" just to give me a piece of her mind- one that she clearly needs to keep to herself. Perhaps passion is her yin-yang, too.
I cried from what seemed like the depths of my soul. The assault hurt in a way that I still can't entirely explain but feel in the pit of my stomach, core of my being, and fabric of my soul. In my opinion at least, I’m one of the most respectful people I know; its part of who I am personally, religiously, and professionally. So to not be given the same due, particularly by a hair covering, skirt wearing, Jewish woman, boggles my mind. Our Torah contains stories about women who led the way, navigated uncharted territory, and still made it home for dinner. Women who dressed modestly but were alluring when they needed to be. Women who stood by their men and stood up for themselves. See, I don't want to be as innovative as much as be like them.
I don't want to fight, I don't want to argue, and I don't want to contribute to the divisiveness that is trying to consume us. I don't want to be part of the reason, as my 10 year old so poignantly said, we'll have another Tisha B'Av. I felt undeniably vindicated after sharing this tale with my 16 year old daughter when she said "Good for you!" To me, that means I'm doing something right. It means that my daughter has self respect and like her Mom, won't take these things lying down, or forcefully seated in the back of a bus. I take solace in having done what I feel was the absolute right thing to do, as well as from the butterfly that flew past and then perched itself near me as I cried.