Jewfem Blog

When some top Israeli journalists were interviewed last week in Yediot about what they want for the following year, answers included typical self-help proclamations such as, “Read more,” “Write more,” “Spend more time with my kids,” or, as Yair Lapid wrote, “Only do what I really feel like doing.” I thought to myself, Oprah has finally reached Israel. We have finally become a society in which each of us can confidently wish ourselves to happiness in our own little bubbles while ignoring our surroundings – and call that success.

"Who are your Men of the Year in the Israeli economy?" booms the headline in Israeli economic paper Calcalist. They are conducting a survey for the most influential "men" in fields of finance, real estate, hi-tech, marketing, law, the public sector and more. Of the 47 candidates, seven are women -- less than 15%. In a few categories, there are no women at all, such as industry, hi-tech, real estate and the public sector. Philanthropy actually has two women -- Shari Arinson and Liat Zvi. Interesting. The failure of women to be acknowledged for their work is symptomatic not only of these highest echelons of the economy but characterizes the entire system.

Read an earlier version this post on the Kolech English Website, Jewish Woman's Voice This essay was published in the Jerusalem Post op-ed pages on September 24. There are moments when I find myself truly ashamed to be part of Israeli society. I had a moment like that recently as I stood outside the Supreme Court with women from “Ahoti ”, a Sephardic feminist organization waiting for a ruling on the religious girls’ school in Emanuel where racism is so entrenched that parents will do all it takes to keep antiquated Jim-Crow-like separations in place. What is happening in the Beit Yakov school is nothing less than the formalization of racism. Here the school implements a policy in which Sephardic girls are not allowed to be in a class with Ashkenazi or “Hasidic” girls, and they have different teachers, different classes, and even different recess times and a fence between their yards just to ensure that the two groups of girls do not heaven forbid mingle during the breaks. It's not just Emanuel, but in other religious girls’ schools around the country, such as Elad, where parents protested to ensure that a Sephardic girl would not be allowed in to the class. Protested! There have been reports from around the country of girls being rejected or ejected from schools because of the color of their skin or their last name. And even though the Supreme Court ruled last week that the apartheid has to end, the school and parents are refusing to comply, thus rejecting civil as well as moral obligations. This is not the post-Civil war south but Israel of 2008, where I would have expected more people to be outraged by this blatant racism.

Here's what I don't understand: Yesterday Shaul Mofaz was ready to be the next prime minister. He lost the primary by all of 400 votes! Four hundred votes! The future of our country hangs on a crowd that can fit into one high school basketball gymnasium. Those 400 votes turned Mofaz from top leader to second in command. That's the entire difference in his status. Yet, this morning, when Mofaz wakes up to the news that he lost, suddenly, he realizes he doesn't even want to be in politics?! Over  400 votes? AND -- and here's the troubling part -- he won't even give the new leader Tsippi Livni the courtesy of meeting with her in the morning? He refuses to sit with her on her first day. Something smells fishy. Here it comes. I know, I know, I look ateverything with my gender hat on. But really, what it feels like to me, is that Mofaz can't handle being led by a woman. He lost to a woman and he completely lost face. That's what it feels like. The idea of just not being able to attend a meeting with Livni is beyond all reasonable behavior under the circumstances. I know this is of course all conjecture, without any proof. Heck, you could say I'm making it up. Yeah, maybe I am. But considering the status of women in Israel, considering what women have to do to get a little bit of respect, considering all of that, well, I can't help but wonder. Why doesn't Mofaz feel any sense of obligation, loyaltyor discipline to show Livni respect on her first day as leader? Why would he rather walk away completely than make that one little gesture of genuflection towards Livni? Any of you out there have thoughts on this?

Aryeh Geiger, unlike the people around him, does not think of himself as invaluable in the Reut community. “Do we really bring anything uniquely new to the planet?” he reflects. “A lot of innovative things have been attributed to me, I don’t know if they’re that innovative.”

Yesterday, the National Organization of Women and five other feminist groups in the US announced the formation of "Women for Obama" to actively campaign for Obama. ''We don't think it's much to break a glass ceiling for one woman and leave millions of women behind,'' said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation. In other words, Sarah Palin as VP may be good for Sarah Palin, but her policies on issues such as abortion, health care, and the environment will ultimately hurt many more. This turn of events has gotten me asking myself, where are the “Women for Livni” groups? There are none. This is quite astounding in a way. I mean, today Israel is going to be receiving a new head of state, possibly a woman, possible the first woman in forty years, only the second one in all of Israeli history, and women – and men – are kind of quiet. The feeling is of, well, another day at the office. Why is that?

To those who wonder why I'm still talking about gender (aren't men and women totally equal? my son asked recently), a startling Naamat survey confirmed that women still face some entrenched discrimination that has serious ramifications for their economic and social lives. According to the Naamat study, 61% of respondents would not hire a young mother or a newly married women. Sixty-one percent -- that's a lot of jobs that young women are locked out of because they happen to have a womb. "Don't let me hear that you're leaving to pick up your kids", a boss of mine once said (a woman, no less, but that's a conversation of its own). Or as my friend Hedy says, any excuse for taking a few hours off is fine -- except looking after one of your kids. "If I say I'm going to fix the transmission on my car, everyone smiles," she says. "But if I say that one of my kids is sick, that's when I get the dirty looks." Almost all the working mothers I know carry around stories like this. I wrote an article about my working mother friends a few years back that was published in the Jerusalem Post. Now Naamat provides the numbers to back up the reality. Thank you Naamat.

If Sarah Palin was my theme last week, the issue of agunot is weighing heavily on my mind this week. Perhaps it's because of the annual Mavoi Satum Leah Globe evening happening tomorrow night, or perhaps because of the wonderful surprise phone call from my friend "Sara" last week. In any case, here's some more news: The Jerusalem rabbinate has taken to posting cyber "Wanted posters" for recalcitrant husbands, such as Yisrael Briskman (above). Read more about it on Kolech, here. [Hat tip: nehama blumenreich]

I love meeting people, speaking to them, and hearing their stories. It’s something I learned from Shlomi Ravid, about the power of Jewish peoplehood — it’s all about the PEOPLE! Over the years, I have interviewed hundreds of people in different contexts — for research, journalism, or just personal interest. Here, I have started to collate some of the interviews that have been published in different locations. My goal is to create a collection of Jewish PeopleHood Profiles — stories about lives and legacies, people living and contributing in different ways to the betterment of the Jewish people. It’s about very personal inspiration. Rabbi Yonah FuldFormer principal of SAR Academy in Riverdale, a legend in the hearts of his former students and staff, a man with a beautiful vision of education and life. Hinda HoffmanRecently retired academic adviser at the Melton Center for Jewish Education at Hebrew University Dr. Shlomi RavidFounding Director of the School for Jewish Peoplehood Studies at Beth Hatefutsoth, The Museum of the Jewish People “Sara”A former agunah (chained woman) and victim of spousal abuse who painfully won her freedom and rebuilt her life from scratch. Eran RosenbergA fourth grade Jewish studies teacher in Columbus, Ohio, who gave up a lucrative and grandiose career to do what he always loved: teaching Etka HoltzbergThe most incredible woman you have likely never heard of, who lived out the history of Israel on her bones. She’s also 87, and by the way, also my cousin. Prof Alice and Moshe ShalviIsrael Prize Winner for Lifetime Achievement, Prof Alice Shalvi, and her husband, Moshe Shalvi, on their 57th wedding anniversary — and the release of a groundbreaking digital encyclopedia of Jewish women. Prof Ora ZoharProfessor of education and consultant to Jewish schools around the world, noted for her warmth, care, and constant attention to the methods of teaching — the medium as the message. Dr. Aryeh Geiger z”lFounder and former principal of the Reut Community school in Jerusalem, advocate for principals and students, remarkable educator — who died way before the world was ready to let him go. Prof Tova IlanOrthodox feminist activist and scholar, had a brief stint in the Knesset, and a string of remarkable accomplishments. Prof Tamar RossOrthodox Feminist philosopher, scholar and author, world renowned for her contributions to meta-halachic thinking, on behalf of women. Susan WeissFounder of Center for Women’s Justice, lawyer and advocate for agunot, spearheads creative uses of law to free women from oppressive marriages. Prof Naomi CohenScholar, researcher and activist on behalf of Jewish women. Matti LazarI didn’t conduct this interview with conductor and director of the Zamir Chorale, Matti Lazar. Ruthie Blum did a great job. I include it here partly because I love music, which is integral to Jewish identity — but mostly because Matti is my cousin, and he is a really special guy. His wife Vivian is amazing, too.

When a 95-year old woman tells you to get your tush down to a government office to fill out some papers, you just do it. That was my first encounter with Leah Ain Globe, z"l, a feisty, active, doesn't-hear-no bulldozer sort of old lady. At 95, she directed a bunch of us "girls" to open up the amuta Mavoi Satum, lit. "The Dead End," an organization trying to free agunot, women chained in marriage. Mavoi Satum, which has since helped hundreds of women achieve freedom, was her vision and her legacy, and she constantly inspired us with her unfailing commitment and unparalleled perseverance.