The mood was spirited, inclusive, as marchers mingled with after-work shoppers in the narrow Jerusalem streets surrounding Mahaneh Yehudah market. For the second year, Israeli women—and men—were marching to protest violence against women as part of the Nov. 25 International Day Against Violence Against Women.
The crowd was larger than last year, comprising many 20-something sabras, a sprinkling of Orthodox women, and American-born Israelis—politicized in the Gloria Steinem era—now marching with their daughters. A shopkeeper stationed himself outside his store, drumming on a basket in counterpoint to the Hebrew and English chants: “What part of ‘no’ don’t you understand?!” and “Increase the punishment for rapists and wife beaters!”
“There’s been a lot of awareness in the last year,” one woman said about the larger turn-out. “It seemed like an epidemic—every week there was some news story of a woman’s murder. There’s the sense that violence is increasing in Israel since the murder of Rabin.”
Organizing groups included Kol Ha-Isha, established by women in the Israeli peace movement to promote a feminist model of social change; the MiLev Center for Crisis Counseling; the Tel Aviv Rape Crisis Center; and Mevo Satum, a volunteer group fighting the plight of agunot (chained) women unable to obtain a Jewish divorce. A full-page newspaper ad from the Jerusalem Social Welfare Division announced the protest and listed services for victims of family violence.
One American-born woman, in Israel for the past nine years, said, “You can feel it in the air that things are changing. Even in the Orthodox community, women aren’t embarrassed to ask for help. As more Orthodox women are becoming more educated, more vocal, they’re coming out and saying. ‘My husband is beating me. He’s beating the children.’ They have to be very brave.”