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Standing Up Against Discrimination, from 35,000 Feet Up in the Sky

Standing Up Against Discrimination, from 35,000 Feet Up in the Sky

Here at the Religious Action Center, we take pride in our founding to be a Jewish voice against discrimination and segregation in the early 1960s. Kivie Kaplan (President of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People from 1966-1975), for whom the street where is RAC is located is named, was driving in Miami in the 1950s and came across a sign that barred him from entering a hotel because he was Jewish. His driver, a black man, commented that the hotel’s segregation against blacks was implied. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, key legislation in the fight against segregation, was even drafted in the Religious Action Center’s conference room.

We were taught in last week’s Torah portion, B’reishit, that we were all “created in the image of God,” (Genesis 1:27), an ideal at the very heart of our work at the RAC. Segregation rejects that ideal of everyone having equal respect and dignity, for segregation treats some people – for reasons of religion, race, national origin, sex and many others – as better and more deserving. The equality and the dignity of all people is deeply rooted in the Jewish tradition; we see discrimination and segregation as an affront to our faith and our values, something that should never be tolerated.

Yet, news headlines from Israel discussed a new case of discrimination against women just last month. A group of Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) men flying from New York to Tel Aviv for Rosh Hashanah caused delays and chaos on an El Al flight because they refused to sit next to women and tried to force women on the plane to move seats. Women were bullied simply because they were women, and unfortunately, this flight was not a mere aberration. After El Al said they would look into the matter, a petition has now emerged calling for El Al to protect women from harassment.

Our partners in Israel, the Israeli Religious Action Center (IRAC), have been on the front lines of fighting this gender discrimination for years. In 2012, they represented an American woman who was forced to switch seats on an El Al flight, and in 2013 El Al said that they would set guidelines after a meeting with IRAC. Yet, as these recent cases demonstrate, the fight for equal rights in Israel is not over. Women are still barred from some parts of public life, from the Western Wall to city buses. After such a long fight to banish discrimination in America, we must support our Israeli sisters in their tireless push for equal rights.

Published: 10/20/2014

Categories: Social Justice