It's a compelling film,and underlines how very far away the haredis are from the world the rest of us live in, even if geographically they live amongst us.
The NIF, New Israel Fund, a left-leaning philanthropic third-sector operation which supports many of the Israel NGOs of the Left and radical Left, has set up a new program to offer succor and assistance to haredi women who suffer from discrimination. They've also got a blog, here.
The film has an English language version, and will soon set off to be screened at international venues where this sort of film is screened. I'm not aware of Haaretz having written about this yet, but it will, sooner or later. If you don't know much about Israel, or if you learn only from a certain type of information outlet with a recognizable agenda, the film will easily convince you that the haredi community is well down the slippery slope towards totally unacceptable behavior.
Earlier this week there was a screening of the film, sponsored by one of our political parties, at the Hillel House of the Hebrew University. Here's my translation of what transpired, as narrated by Naama Lerner, who was present:
[After the film] Anat Tzruya got up to speak. Her language was abusive, and she'd never use such terminology had she been talking about any other minority. She set out to draw a profile of the typical haredi woman, since the students wouldn't be likely to know any of them. After all, she spent four years studying the matter. These are women who live under severe gender repression. They are purposefully kept undeveloped and primitive. They are cut off from sources of information. They live under permanent threats of the dangers of the outside world. If any of them ever try to contact someone from the outside world she will be punished and ostracized. They are demeaningly segregated in all parts of their lives - at home, on the street, on buses, everywhere. They must have permission from their husband and a rabbi for any activity. They plead and beg to be let out of the pit into which they've been thrust, but are not allowed out and fear the repercussions if they try. Some of them called her secretly, and begged of her that she do something about the buses, which is what motivated her to dedicate four hard years with no remuneration to the matter....So far, roughly what you'd expect. Naama's report then takes an interesting turn. She quickly raised her hand and was allowed to pose the first question from the public:
I identified myself by my full name - I've got nothing to hide, after all. I'm from a hassidic family. I studied in Beit Yaacov, the school Anat had described as the most backward of them all. I"m married to a haredi man from the Litai camp (non-hassidic haredi). We met four times, an hour each, before we got engaged. My husband is a rabbi on a haredi court. We've been married 25 years, and our sons are all haredi, and learn in haredi yeshivas. We have one granddaughter and a pregnant daughter-in-law. We don't own a television, and if a non-haredi freind hadn't told me about this film I'd never have heard of it. Having said all that, however, for all my soul searching I cannot see a single point of contact between my life and anything portrayed by Ms. Tzruya, nor can I think of a single one of the hundreds of women whom I know who would recognize themselves in any way.From this point, most of the questions from the public went to Naama, not Anat, and Naama remained talking with some of the students long after the event was over:
Some of the questions were ridiculous, such as if my husband knew I was here and had he authorized my coming. Some were thoughtful and penetrating. After I'd explained how haredi women understand the segregated buses, I was asked if there's any way for us to forge a common language. The fact that I work in a human rights organization and have full command of its terminology and ideology had them totally discombobulated.What can I say? I've got some serious issues with the haredi form of Judaism, perhaps all the more serious for being able to see them from a perspective rather close to their own, which I understand while not agreeing with. I've also got lots of respect for the parts of their world I find admirable. Either way, I've got a reasonable base from which to observe. I've seen the Black Buses film twice, and recognize how it manipulates its viewers.
Now think what happens when total outsiders with no tools to comprehend what's going on, barge in with their irrelevant conceptual explanations, and set themselves up as hostile anthropologists and prosecutors all rolled together. What are the odds they'll learn anything?