It was late in the evening. I’d considered my outfit in the bus: no jeans, no lowcut top, no short sleeves. Acceptable even if not ideal, I decided. It would be safe for the Geulah side.
“SHIKSHA,” came the scream out of the darkness. I had just stepped out of Manny’s bookstore with some books I’d ordered. I stopped. Puzzled. And then it dawned on me: they meant me. I looked around. The scream was seemingly authorless. I was dazed and walked forward a few paces before stopping again by a group of girls. Blankly staring at them and not understanding their Hebrew, one gently pulled my sleeves from elbow-length to my wrists.
By the time I made it to the bus, I was bawling on the phone to a friend. Everyone was staring at me as I sobbed. “Why, why, why do they do this? I wasn’t even wearing jeans!” I cried into the phone. “I was just collecting books! It isn’t Mea She’arim!”
It happened to that very friend recently. On her way to meet me at Malcha Mall, she’d been sitting on the bus when a haredi man climbed on. He promptly screamed at her to “cover up.” A religious woman kindly translated the Hebrew for her.
Why am I writing this? Am I doing it for vengeance? Am I doing it as some sort of “I forgive you” piece? No, and no. I want to tell my fellow women who have experienced this that they are not alone. And… I want to scream at this disgusting self-presentation of Jewish men.
See, why were you looking at me? Why were you looking at her? Both men consciously and conscientiously decided to comment after clearly staring at us respectively. The “eye-averting” is insulting, but rather take that approach than murder – the equivalent of shaming in Jewish thought. I have no kind words for those men and others doing the same.
Now, I am constantly on the lookout during the Geulah bus stretch. Will that one scream at me or will it be the other one? Or maybe that one over there? How about the one walking towards me? I feel defenseless, helpless and unprotected. Treating a woman as such should be enough to be thrown off the bus.
As a result of this whole experience, I am constantly battling with “religious hate.” I cannot respect a group of people that act this way. How can such people feel they are authentically Jewish? The foundation of Judaism is inner beauty, commitment to g-d and His Torah, but clearly not for those so solely concerned with the external. It is simply unacceptable.
It is not about how I dress. If you think it is, that is precisely the problem. It is about how we treat other people. I am never going to change my dress style if the role models are screaming at me. It’s enough to turn one away from all religiosity altogether.