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Change in a Time of Crisis

Advocating for freedom of religion, challenging discriminatory practices against women and Arabs and promoting inclusivity for LGBTQ individuals and communities requires unwavering determination. For years, it seemed like an insurmountable task to dismantle the rigid structures of the Orthodox monopoly and religious extremism that infringe on the rights of women, LGBTQ individuals, and non-Jews. However, times of crisis can catalyze transformative shifts in perspective.

The debate over public transportation on Shabbat is a contentious issue in Israel. Despite widespread public support for such services, political considerations have long prevented their implementation, with only temporary and piecemeal solutions, such as free shuttles run by individual municipalities. For decades, the Ministry of Transportation has resisted calls for public transportation on Shabbat, effectively restricting the mobility of those unable to drive or own a car, limiting their ability to visit friends and family on their only day off. This meant that on Saturday, October 7th, the day that Israel experienced its worst tragedy – and soldiers had to race to their bases, they had no public transportation for them to get there. That changed in the last month.  Now, buses and trains operate on Shabbat. These services operate between major cities every few hours, and while initially restricted to soldiers, they were opened to the general public last weekend, with a noticeable increase in ridership. This unprecedented development marks a breaking of a longstanding taboo, and it is a welcome change that we must strive to preserve.

The fight for LGBTQ equality extends to various aspects of life, including adoption rights. The state had previously committed to amending the law that restricts adoption to only “a man and woman” but had not taken action due to opposition from ultra-Orthodox and National Religious parties. However, the October 7th tragedy brought about a significant shift. LGBTQ soldiers bravely sacrificed their lives, and their partners rightfully demanded equal treatment as heterosexual couples who have lost loved ones. Among the many poignant stories is that of Sagi Golan, a reserve captain who rushed to Kibbutz Beeri, one of the most severely affected areas, and led troops in a battle to protect lives. Like countless others who selflessly defended our country and people, he made the ultimate sacrifice. Sagi and his partner Omer were to be married thirteen days later. Under current law, benefits for fallen soldiers are only available to heterosexual spouses and partners. This week, the Knesset passed an amendment extending these benefits to bereaved LGBTQ partners. The support for this bill from ultra-Orthodox and National Religious MKs demonstrates that during times of crisis, political progress once thought impossible can be achieved.

Amid a concerning surge in incitement and racist violence against Israeli Arabs, some of whom lost their lives on October 7th while protecting others, a beacon of hope emerged. Last week, a statement was issued by a group of prominent ultra-Orthodox rabbis, including Israel’s two chief rabbis, the chief rabbis of Jerusalem, and several other prominent rabbis, calling for an end to racism and violence, stating that resorting to violence is against the Torah. This unprecedented declaration, signed by individuals who have previously been criticized for racist rhetoric, represents a significant step towards inclusion and against hatred and violence.

These are undeniably challenging times. However, amid the adversity, we have witnessed remarkable shifts that have rekindled our hope for a more just and equitable society. It is imperative that we safeguard these transformative changes and ensure their enduring impact.

About the Author
Orly Erez Likhovski is the director of the Israel Religious Action Center, the legal and public advocacy arm of the Israeli Reform movement.
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