I writing to you today with some exciting news: Israeli women will no longer be forced to the back of the bus. And you helped to make it possible.
I know for me and probably for you, it is difficult to fathom that, in this day and age, we are speaking literally about a woman's right to choose…her own bus seat.
As Justice Rubinstein wrote in the ruling that determined that publicly funded buses cannot compel or enforce gender segregation :"Of course all women are entitled to sit anywhere they choose on a public bus…I can't believe I'm writing these words in 2010… have the days of Rosa Parks returned?!"
Last year, you joined us in expressing your outrage over the reincarnation of the regressive practice of segregation through thousands of letters sent to Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz. Together our letters made clear that we, as North American Jews invested in Israel's present and future as a democracy, would not stand idly by "while Israel grants a small minority the power to dictate what Judaism is or to make halacha into an instrument of discrimination and segregation." And today, with this ruling, came confirmation that our voices had been heard.
Likewise, NIF set to work in amplifying your voice on the ground. It was our grantee Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) which initiated the lawsuit and doggedly saw it through to victory. Another grantee, Kolech- Religious Women's Forum, established a hotline to collect testimony from women who were being abused and humiliated on segregated buses. And we staged a theatrical protest outside the Knesset where men and women walked on separate sides of the street to raise public awareness about the growing trend of gender segregation.
Signs posted on Israeli buses alerting riders that sex-segregated seating is no longer allowed. It says "Any coercion used to enforce segregation will be considered a criminal offense."
As we celebrate this important victory for democracy, for pluralism and for equality, we must nonetheless remain vigilant. The ruling does allow for women to "voluntarily" segregate themselves. IRAC intends to put 1,000 "freedom riders" on the buses to ensure that "voluntarily" doesn't devolve into compulsory.
Moreover, we must keep our eye on the prize. This battle won is significant, but it is only one in a much larger struggle.