The following letter was sent by Anat Hoffman, the Executive Director of the Israel Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (IRAC), the social justice arm of the Israeli Reform movement.
Anat is one of my personal heroines. She is not only brilliant but indefatigable in striving to fulfill the mitzvah – Tzedek tzedek tirdof (Justice justice shall you pursue – Deuteronomy 16:20). The injustice and indecency of this Orthodox Rabbi and this regressive and inhumane practice that is growing in Israel should outrage any one with a conscience.
Dear Friends of IRAC,
Rosie, a teacher who lives in a small town in the Negev desert, is a single mother who lost her father at the beginning of the year. The family decided to bury him in the nearby town of Ofakim. Rosie spent the night writing a eulogy for her father that she was going to read at the funeral
When they arrived at the cemetery there was a mechitza, a barrier, separating her from her brother and all the other men attending the funeral. When her turn came to speak, the officiating rabbi asked her brother to read the eulogy instead because he said “In our tradition women are not allowed to speak at funerals.” Rosie’s brother refused, saying that she should be the one to read it, since this is what their father wanted but the rabbi refused and suggested to read the eulogy himself. Rosie protested and cried from behind the partition “Are you going to say ‘My beloved father’?”
Rosie did not keep quiet and told her story at a Knesset conference on segregation this month. She wept sharing her pain and frustration at not being able to say goodbye to her father and at having her own words, written during one of the hardest moments of her life, taken away from her. Though missing a day of work was a financial burden for her, she came to testify because she never wants women to be humiliated like this again. With the help if IRAC’s lawyers she is suing the chevre kadisha, burial society, of Ofakim to show that this practice must stop immediately. This past Thursday Rosie went on the most popular radio show in Israel to talk about her upcoming court case. The broadcaster asked her to read her eulogy on air. Millions of Israelis got to hear her words and her voice.
Segregation and exclusion of women has spread like wildfire to many aspects of public life; post offices, buses, and supermarkets and now it has even reached the arena of public death. We at IRAC have been like firefighters, vigilantly putting out fires wherever they pop up. Unfortunately, Rosie’s story is not an isolated one. We have received complaints about segregation in cemeteries from Netanya, Petach Tikva, Tiberias, Yavne, and Jerusalem. Some of these women are not even allowed next to the gravesites of their loved ones because some rabbis see it as inappropriate. IRAC is collecting stories from other women so we can deal with this issue on a national scale. Segregation at funerals affects all Israelis and they are not willing to stand it anymore.
These new fires will not stop us. My helmet is on and my water hose is ready.