The Back of the Bus



by Rabbi Marci Bellows

Story A: After a long day of work, the woman paid her fare and sat in an empty seat on the bus. As the bus traveled along its route, more and more seats filled up. The bus driver approached the woman and demanded that she move towards the back of the bus so that the people entering the bus could sit. Three passengers near the woman did as they were told and moved back. Yet, this day, the woman was asked, “Why don’t you get up?” She responded. “I don’t think I should have to stand up.” Later, she recalled, People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”

Story B: She sat in the front section of the bus and, after a few minutes, several passengers began to ask her to move to the rear. The woman replied that she did not wish to sit in the rear. Two passengers stood up and moved toward the woman. One of them began to shout and weep, claiming that he was heartbroken and that he paid for this bus and now people were coming and ruining it for him, and this was why his children cannot board the bus. Several passengers told the woman that she was causing the man such terrible heartache and she should move to the rear. Eventually, fearing for her safety, the woman began to cry and moved to the rear of the bus, with a profound sense of shame and insult.

The first story probably sounds familiar – it took place on December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama. The woman was Rosa Parks, an African-American woman who was no longer going to allow others to treat her as a second-class citizen.

The second story, while similar to the first, took place on October 4, 2011, in Beit Shemesh, Israel. According to a sticker on the bus, the woman should have been allowed to sit anywhere, but because this route went through a number of ultra-orthodox neighborhoods, the bus line had illegally been deemed a “Mehadrin” line, which meant that the Haredi (Ultra-Orthodox) men forced women to sit in the back of the bus.

Read the rest of this piece in the New York Jewish Week.

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