By Yonatan Sredni
"Yo!" my friend Benny called out to me as he opened the front door without knocking. "Are you alive?"
"Yeah, sort of," I answered without taking my eyes off the TV. "How did you get to Jerusalem so quickly? I thought you were talking the bus from Ramat Gan."
"I've got two words for you my friend," he said as he plopped himself on the couch next to me: "Mehadrin Bus." (The Mehadrin Bus is the bus used by ultra-Orthodox in which the men sit in front and the women sit in the back.)
"Really?" I turned to him with surprise. "I thought you were against them."
"Oh, I am. But they're fast." Benny flipped off his shoes and put his smelly feet on my coffee table. "It's an express bus and they skip a bunch of stops after it goes through Bnei Brak that the 'regular' bus doesn't. It shaves a good fifteen minutes off the travel time."
"And it doesn't bother you that the women sit in the back?"
"It does. But have you seen some of those women back there?!" He faked a shiver.
I ignored his innuendo and flipped the channel.
"Give me the remote!" Benny demanded.
"No! The last time you took it you flipped so much it broke."
Benny slumped in his seat and folded his arms as I continued to channel surf.
"Wait a minute. What's that?" he pointed to the screen.
I stopped flipping and explained.
"It's another Israeli rip-off of an international reality show. It's called 'The Voice'."
"What's the deal?" Benny asked. "Is it some kind of American Idol/Kochav Nolad thing?"
"Kind of," I said. "Except here the judges are professional musicians. And they're not called judges, but 'mentors'. And they don't get to see the contestants."
"What do you mean they don't see the contestants?"
"See," I pointed to the screen. "They are all in chairs that face away from the singers. The singers come on stage one at a time and sing. When the mentors like what they hear, they hit a button and their chairs turn around, a sign lights up that says 'I want you', and they get to see who is singing."
"Ah," Benny said. "So, they judge the singers based on their voices alone."
"Exactly. If one mentor turns around, they get to add that singer to their 'team' and mentor them in future rounds. If more than one mentor turns around for a singer, they battle it out to see which mentor's team the singer picks to join."
We watched the show for a little while but when a commercial came on Benny grabbed the remote control, muted the TV and stood up.
"I've got it!" he shouted.
"You've got what?" I asked as I motioned for him to return the remote.
"Those chairs on 'The Voice!' You know how you can make them spin around when you hit the button?"
"That's what they should have on the Mehadrin buses. The men on those buses make a fuss if a woman sits in front of them, right? So, you let everyone sit where they want. But, what if each seat had a button you could push which would swivel around whenever you want? So, if you're a man and a woman sits in front of you, you push the button and your seat turns around. Problem solved!"
I tried imagining such a bus with a man pushing a button, a sign lighting up that says 'I DON'T want you!' as his chair turns the opposite direction of the women who 'dared' to sit in front of him.
"So, you want to create a bus with chairs that swivel around like office chairs?"
"Yes!" Benny got animated. "Mechanical chairs and buttons would be too expensive anyway; swivel chairs are the way to go."
"Um.just one problem," I said slowly. "What if the chair swivels around and there is a woman sitting behind the man. Now she's right in front of him, face to face.
"I didn't think about that," Benny said dejectedly.
I felt bad for throwing a wet blanket on his idea, but Benny couldn't be held down too long.
"Ok, here's another one," Benny countered. "We create a new reality TV show just like 'The Voice' but with Haredi judges/mentors. But in this one they see all the performers as they come up on stage, but if it's a woman, they just hit the button and turn around."
"I hate to rain on your parade again, Benny" I said softly, "but haven't you been reading the papers lately? Does the headline 'Religious soldiers object to women singing' ring a bell?' Even if they turn their seats around they can still hear them singing."
"Hmm." Benny's brain was working overtime. "What if they had earplugs?"
"Well, that would kind of defeat the purpose of a show called 'The Voice', wouldn't it?"
Benny gave back the remote and I continued flipping. I stopped at the Big Brother channel.
"What about a Haredi Big Brother show?" Benny asked. "You put men and women in a house together and see what happens?"
"It'll never happen. There are too many religious issues in play. Men and women couldn't be in the same house, so you'd need two separate houses. And you'd need to build a synagogue and a mikvah.
"Ok, ok. Scratch that." Benny was getting annoyed. "What about 'Survivor'?"
"Oy gevalt!" I mocked him. "With men and women? You'd need two separate islands!"
"Ok, ok. Forget the houses and islands. What about a reality cooking show like Master Chef?"
"Well, you'd need to hire a full-time mashgiach to check the kashrut. Maybe even more than one."
Benny shook his head. "What about that 'La'uf al ha'million' game show? You know, the one where they ask questions and if you get it wrong you drop through a trap door on the floor? Could that work?
"Sort of like Korach getting swallowed up by the earth, eh?"
"Yeah," Benny's face lit up recalling the Bible story.
"I don't think so," I said. "Think of the headlines. You'd be going from 'Hadarat Nashim' to 'Horadat Nashim'. Would you then create a double-decker bus where if a woman 'dared' to sit on the upper level she could get 'dropped' to the lower level by a push of a button?"
Benny gave me a smirk, but shook his head.
"You know," I said. "You probably shouldn't get inspired by reality shows because the extremists who are causing all the problems don't even watch TV."
"Good point," Benny admitted as he sat back down.
"So, where did you sit on the bus, anyway? Were you in front with the men or in the back in the 'women's section'.
"Well, neither," he admitted.
"What do you mean? Did you stand in the middle?"
"No, I got on the Mehadrin bus, but I didn't want to sit in the front section with the men, and I didn't want to sit in the back where the women were."
"So? What did you do?"
"Well, I looked all the way to the back of the bus, behind the men and the women and saw that the last row was empty, so I sat there. And lo and behold, nobody said anything. Nobody looked back in my direction. Nobody cared!"
"Interesting," I said. "It's like in that movie."
"What movie?" Benny asked.
"This old movie called, "The Gumball Rally" from the mid 1970's which is about a coast-to-coast car race, just like the Cannonball Run movies."
"I love those kinds of movies!" Benny interjected.
"Well, there's a scene where this Italian guy is in the driver's seat and he looks at the guy in the passenger's seat and says: 'And now my friend, the first rule of Italian driving..' and then he rips off his rear-view mirror and throws it out of the car and says '.What's behind me is not important.'"
Benny took it in slowly.
"It's the same principal on the Mehadrin buses. These men don't want women sitting in front of them, but what's behind them- women, men, whatever - is not important."
Benny nodded in agreement.
"What you'd need," I said, chuckling as I slinked further down on the couch, "is to have a bus where the front seats face forward and the seats in the back face backwards. That way everyone can sit in the front of the bus. But if some man gets upset that a woman is sitting in the front section, he can go to the back of the bus where the seats face in the opposite direction, so the woman are technically sitting behind him, and everyone wins."
Benny jumped up, slipped his shoes back on, grabbed his jacket and raced towards the door.
"Where are going?" I called after him.
"I'm going to go pitch that idea to Egged. It's brilliant!"
The writer has an MA in Creative Writing from Bar-Ilan University.
from the Febuary 2012 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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