In the Israeli city of Beit Shemesh a conflict has been escalating in recent weeks, as ultra-Orthodox men have moved to segregate and exclude women from public spaces, having created men-only sidewalks and seperate seating on buses for women.
In response to an incident in December, where an 8-year-old schoolgirl was taunted and spat on by ultra-Orthodox men for dressing “immodestly,” thousands of Israelis came out to protest this rising extremism.
Ten days later, some 250 women in Beit Shemesh decided to voice their dissent in a more creative way. They organized a flash mob dance to Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now,” that has taken off on YouTube—racking up close to 150,000 views in less than two weeks.
Despite receiving overwhelmingly positive coverage in numerous media outlets inside Israel and around the world, +972 writer Roee Rutenberg called the dance “both antagonistic and counter-productive.” Since there is nothing in the religion that forbids women dancing with women, he argues that had they really wanted to make a statement, there:
would have been mixed-gender dancing in the square. That would have been genuinely provocative, though perhaps catastrophically confrontational and counter-productive (and thus, not a move I would have supported). But that would have really been a statement of defiance. But here is the irony: these women, who are happy to antagonize the ultra-Orthodox black-hat extremists (yes, extremists!) of Beit Shemesh, would themselves feel less comfortable (and perhaps equally unwelcoming) to a group of progressive and/or secular Jews coming and having a mixed-gender “flash mob” in the middle of their public square.
While it is unclear how this flash mob was perceived by the ultra-Orthodox in the town, who were its primary target, there was at least one undeniably positive outcome: the women who participated in the action or who have seen it felt empowered by it. As Orna Nachmani told Ynetnews:
I felt high, with so much adrenaline and a great feeling. We felt like we had done something. After all, just complaining and crying is unhelpful.
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