A Note From the Biennial – From Kimberly Ross

I’m currently attending my first URJ Biennial.  I arrived in San Diego last night in time for most of the opening plenary, which included remarks from some giants in the Reform movement (not to mention a pre-recorded video message from Vice President Biden).  Later, many of us heard a concert by singers-songwriters Julie Silver and Michelle Citrin. Then jet lag set in.

This morning, after perusing a list of over 30 choices, I decided that my first official learning session would be about advocating for religious rights in Israel, put on by two members of the Israel Religious Action Center.  This has long been an interest of mine, and I closely follow the progress this wonderful organization has made in fighting for religious pluralism and freedom in Israel. This of course includes the work of Anat Hoffman, who has risked much to help, among other things, secure equal rights for all Jews in Israel.

I walked in to a room where I was the only attendee with a few minutes until the starting time.  Much to my surprise and pleasure, in walked Anat Hoffman herself.  She hadn’t been on the schedule but I sure did realize I made the right choice to be there.  A few more people trickled in before the start time, but as word spread that Anat was there, more and more people came.

Anat and her colleagues spoke about several of the areas in which they are seeking equality, and seeking to enforce already-existing laws regarding equality.  Most people have heard about the segregation issues going on at the Kotel (Western Wall).  A similar practice was even happening on busses that travel through Ultra Orthodox neighborhoods, where men and women were forced to be separated.  IRAC was successful in fighting for the banishment of segregation on those busses (though the Kotel is still segregated).

But we also learned about segregation issues that keep popping up throughout Israel.  From segregated clinics and water fountains, to certain streets in the Old City, certain times at certain supermarkets, and at radio stations.  All of this is illegal in Israel, and no one is being arrested for violating the signs and unofficial monitors, but it is still having a lasting impact on women in Israel; most aren’t brave enough to test the enforcement of the signs, which can even result in physical injury, if not psychological.  What was most surprising about this was the fact that this has mostly been happening only since about the 1990s.  It seems that in some factions, they’re actually moving backwards in their thinking.  IRAC is constantly working towards ending the segregation by contacting the offenders, which because the practice is illegal, usually ends it.  But that doesn’t stop others from doing the same thing, at least until IRAC is on the case.

What an enlightening session with Anat and her colleagues.  A great start to what should prove to be a very memorable conference.

Kimberly Ross has been a member of Temple Sholom for 20 years and serves on its Board of Directors.
She is also active in Sisterhood and sings in the Shir Shalom Choir