Ariella Marsden is a hero. This brave 15-year-old girl from the town of Beit Shemesh recently won a landmark court case that shook the ultra-Orthodox world.
One day, riding home from school on a public bus, Ariella took a seat in the front of the bus. A few ultra-Orthodox men also boarded the bus and stood next to her. Then the bus driver asked her to move from her seat in the front to the back of the bus where she had to stand for the duration of her journey. Seeing the sign posted on the bus saying that passengers could sit wherever they want, Ariella was outraged. She decided to fight for her rights.
Ariella comes from an Orthodox family and attends a religious high school in Beit Shemesh. She dresses in long sleeves and long skirts, even at the height of summer, and doesn’t own a single pair of pants. After telling her mother about the incident that day, they came together to IRAC seeking help.
IRAC gave legal advice and helped Ariella take the bus driver and the Egged bus company to small claims court where she won the maximum settlement of 16,000 shekels ($4,000). Ariella testified in her own case. It took courage for a young girl to stand up and say, “I was humiliated by this man’s actions and I deserve justice.”
Often when I speak to groups from overseas about gender segregation, they ask me why we are meddling in the ultra-Orthodox way of life. Maybe Orthodox Jews want to live like this and we should just respect their way of life? But the fact is that Orthodox women regularly come to IRAC saying that they have no place else to turn.
Ariella exemplifies the many shades of “black” inside the Orthodox community in Israel. The Orthodox community is not of one mind and if you listen closely enough you can hear that they do not speak in a singular voice either.