Today, I avoid Meah Shearim and the other Jerusalem Haredi neighborhoods the way that Washingtonians avoid Anacostia and New Yorkers(*) know not to go to Harlem.And I'm not exaggerating when I say that this opinion of Harlem is so 1970. Harlem has been gentrifying for years. Its now home to smart restaurants, elegant brownstones, and the Offices of Former President Bill Clinton. No one, today, expects to be accosted by a mob of muggers on the streets of Harlem. White people no longer avoid Harlem; in fact many white people live in Harlem (the area hasn't had a black majority since 1998). "Harlem is a scary place" is a ghost of Christmas past that belongs with "women are given to hysterics" on the discredited and out-of-date idea pile.
How do I decide where I can and cannot go? Rule of thumb: if I feel that I would have to change my clothes first, put on something more concealing (like, say, a burka) I do not go. Suffice it to say that there are large swaths of Jerusalem that are now off limits. However sometimes, by accident or unavoidable circumstance, I find myself in one of the Haredi enclaves. There was the time I had to pick up something in Ramot and started to panic when I realized it was 1) a Haredi neighborhood and 2) I was not wearing Haredi attire. And there was the time last summer when I got lost while driving a friend to the Central Bus Station and found myself driving through Meah Shearim. At night. In a short-sleeved shirt. I am not exaggerating when I say that I was nearly in hysterics by the time we finally got the hell out of there.
And even if we permit the exaggeration, I have problems with this line of argument.
According to the popular (racist) misconception, Harlem was a frightening neighborhood, with muggings in every alley, and the blood of assaulted white pedestrians on every corner. In her post, Gila suggests Mea Shearim is basically the same sort of a place, a place where women are attacked almost every day, a place women should be afraid to visit. Though, I follow the news from Jerusalem as closely as anyone I find this contention absurd. I know that a dangerous pathology is metastasizing in Haredi neighborhoods. I know that some streets are patrolled by religious goons who imagine its their God-given obligation to beat women, and I know that their rabbis and the Israeli government do far too little to stop it.
But Meah Shearim still isn't (imaginary, olden days) Harlem.
*I'm trying to ignore the implication that black New Yorkers aren't real New Yorkers
Search for more information about Harlem at 4torah.com.