Response to Roee Ruttenberg: Sometimes a flash mob is just a flash mob

Every once in a while, +972 bloggers get into very constructive debates on the site, as you may have seen during the recent debates on Zionism and normalization. Usually it starts with one blogger writing a post, and then other bloggers write counter posts – and an interesting and fruitful discussion ensues.
Unfortunately, my colleague Roee Ruttenberg’s recent counter-post to the flash-mob video I posted earlier today does not fall under this category. In fact, Mr. Ruttenberg’s post may be categorized as the biggest “missed point” this site has seen, teeming with arrogance and misconceptions about the Orthodox community.

The first thing that struck me as odd was taking a flash mob so seriously to begin with. Enough so as to claim that it won’t do any good – and even harm the women’s cause. Mr. Ruttenberg actually has the audacity to call these women “hypocritical”.

I found some of the claims in Mr. Ruttenberg’s post not just ridiculous, but on the verge of incomprehensible. And although I enjoyed watching the commentators vent their frustration with his rant, I couldn’t help myself – I want in, too!

Those who know me, especially if they read my reactions to other commentators, know I take no hostages. I can get pretty nasty. So, Mr. Ruttenberg, let’s take it from the top, shall we?

First, Mr. Ruttenberg says:

“+972′s Ami Kaufman writes that he found “particularly heart-warming” the flashmob in Beit Shemesh, noting that it shows the ultra-Orthodox “who wears the pants in this town.” I’m guessing it’s obvious who wears the pants: the woman in the middle front row. I cannot identify her, but I think it is safe to guess that is the choreographer herself, since everyone is looking at her. And somewhere in there is Miri Shalem, the organizer.”
Now, there’s some top-notch educated-guessing if I ever saw it! Next thing you know Mr. Ruttenberg might be adding: “If I had to guess, that flash mob is most probably taking place in the center of Beit Shemesh” or “It’s probably safe to say these are women, since I see quite a bit of long hair”.
Question: Is it so rare and outrageous for the organizers of the flash mob to participate in it? I don’t know, the question is for Mr. Ruttenberg, the flash-mob expert. Another question: Is it so terrible that Miri Shalem organizes events for women only? I wonder what Mr. Ruttenberg would have to say about my mother, a secular woman, who enjoys going to a women-only gym. Or is that OK because she’s secular, Mr. Ruttenberg? I enjoyed reading the comment by “Tsipi”:

“Women only spaces, requested by women, or black colleges, or Jewish high schools, are okay. White, Christian, male only spaces – are not, because they reinforce the current structure in which males have more power than females, whites more than blacks, and Christians (in the US, that is) more than non-Christians.

It is a shameful thing to supposedly stand for equality, and to do it by silencing the very groups that are fighting for that equality, in a system where they simply do not have it.”

Let’s keep going. But patience, people. We’re still in Mr. Ruttenberg’s first paragraph:

“It is also worth noting that she has organized women-only “disco nights” (as reported in Hebrew by Ma’ariv/NRG in 2004) in neighboring Ramat Beit Shemesh (RBS), not to be confused with its more religiously-observant namesake town, Beit Shemesh.”

So, first of all – I wonder if Shalem still does those parties, seeing as how the source quoted is eight years old. And even if she does – so what? But more importantly, Mr. Ruttenberg makes yet another error: Ramat Beit Shemesh is not only more religious than Beit Shemesh proper (Mr. Ruttenberg claims the opposite) – it is a part of Beit Shemesh. It’s a neighborhood in Beit Shemesh, not a separate town.

The next thing Mr. Ruttenberg does is claim that this is an Anglo event, simply because the event was reported in the Jerusalem Post. I’m sorry, but that kind of deduction is not only amateur, it reeks of the same kind of stereotyping Mr. Ruttenberg goes out against. I wonder, if I had simply posted the clip without the JPost reference, how would Mr. Ruttenberg’s attack these women?

But let’s humour Mr. Ruttenberg for a second, let’s say he’s right. Let’s say every single one of those women is an Anglo with a life-long subscription to the Jerusalem Post (including the online ‘premium content’). And then let’s say, so what? Does it matter? Does anyone (except Mr. Ruttenberg) care?

As commentator “Erica” writes:

“…not liking the politics of the JPost, while probably a good thing, does not in any logical way mean that all the topics they cover must be regressive”.

Second, did Mr. Ruttenberg do a survey? Did he call the organizer? I don’t know, it looked to me like some of those gals had some pretty good “Mideast moves”. Do white Ashkenazi women even have rhythm to begin with? If I had to make an educated-guess-a-la-Ruttenberg-style, I’d say there were a lot of locals there: Ashkenazim, Sepharadim, Masorti, secular, orthodox and more. In fact, there seemed to be a few “dark-skinned” women there… I guess it could be “safe to guess” these are Mizrahi women, who don’t read the JPost? I dunno… should I dare jump to conclusions? Oh, what the heck – why not! Yes! There were Mizrahim in there! If Mr. Ruttenberg can do it, so can I!

But to Mr. Ruttenberg what matters is that this is, apparently, an Anglo event and therefore makes the connection to JPost readers, who of course, are all pro-segregation. Man, the stereotypes just keep on coming.

Then, Mr. Ruttenberg has the audacity to teach me a lesson in Judaism:

“But I want to make a distinction that was lost both in the JPost article and in Ami’s post on it.  It is important to note that there is nothing religiously verboten (forbidden) about women dancing with other women.”

Wow! Thanks, Roee! I had no idea religious women were allowed to dance together! I mean, after living 90% of my life here and going to religious weddings every once in a while, I was really thinking about it – but never had the guts to ask! Thanks for clearing it up, dude!

Mr. Ruttenberg’s chutzpah continues when he offers the religious women to basically forgo religion and what they believe in:

“What really would have made a statement in Beit Shemesh would have been mixed-gender dancing in the square.”

Nice one. Maybe they should have taken off their clothes as well? Showed their g-strings, maybe? One has to be a tad more than arrogant to criticize the way people practice their religion.

I think a bit more respect from Mr. Ruttenberg would have been appropriate. In a town where women are spat on, cursed at and harassed on a daily basis, these women gave the ultimate middle finger to those extremists who think they are inferior, to those who are trying to keep them off the street. Mr. Ruttenberg, and indeed many others who jumped on the Beit Shemesh bandwagon, seemed to have missed the fact that this isn’t just about extremist religious groups harassing secular residents of Beit Shemesh. To these nutcases, the modestly-dressed women you see in the flash-mob video are sluts too. Naama Margolis comes from a religious family and was spat on while modestly dressed. Like Naama’s mom, some of the women in this video may be terrified to send their children to that same school.

In fact, the best, classiest way for these women – religious women – to make a stand was to show some girl-power completely by themselves. If it were secular women bused in from Tel Aviv, I would presume that would have been fine with Mr. Ruttenberg. But just because these women are religious – they’re hypocrites? They have to fight for women’s rights with “their” men? Once again, commenter “Tsipi” hits it on the nail:

“You are missing a main point.

As a woman, I don’t want a bunch of men going and protesting on my behalf. I especially don’t want a bunch of men rushing off to protest in Beit Shemesh, like they did to ‘protect little Na’ama’.

That kind of protest is a kind of blindfold to deny the segregation women face in Israel’s secular society, the violence towards women and indeed little girls in the secular society, etc.

It is patronizing and false. It places Haredim as the “evil other” and that demonization helps all the enlightened left-wing men from Tel Aviv sleep better at night.

Here, religious women stood up for themselves, and with all due respect, they did NOT do it behind a mehitza. This was not an example of segregation it was solidarity.

I’d really like to see that mob of men rushing to denounce gender violence next time a woman is sexually harassed in Tel Aviv (oops, just happened) (oops, just happened again!) (oops!…), and in the meantime respect the right of the women of Beit Shemesh to stand up for themselves, THEIR WAY, and not in the way you, dear man, want to dictate to them.”

Tsipi: Thank you for those words. They have even made me think of my ways, and the way I protested the Margolis affair.

And Mr. Ruttenberg: It’s a friggin’ flash-mob. As commentator Ayla said:

“…Don’t go all Ivory Tower on it.”

In fact, after reading Mr. Ruttenberg’s “post”, I feel like my calling that dance “heart-warming” was even more correct than ever. And those women were great. Kol Hakavod.

To sum up, the title Mr. Ruttenberg gave to the flash mob – “antagonistic and irrelevant” – suits his own post much better.