A poster for the group promoting haredi women political candidates, ‘Lo nivcharot; lo bocharot,’ which means, if we can’t be elected, we will not vote for you.
There is a new feminist revolution happening in Israel, and it is emerging from one of the most surprising places: Ultra-Orthodoxy.
Over the past two years, ultra-Orthodox or haredi women have been organizing around feminist issues. They began with a campaign during the 2012 national elections, when a small group of women led by haredi journalist Esti Shushan and others formed a group called “Lo nivcharot; lo bocharot” (LoNiLoBo), which means, if we can’t be elected, we will not vote for you. It was a call to the haredi political parties to allow women to run on their lists. The LoNiLoBo group petitioned the High Court of Justice to declare it illegal for a political party to prohibit women from running — but unfortunately they lost, and the religious parties seemed no worse for wear, considering their election results.
I know I run the risk of relinquishing some modicum of feminist street cred and incurring the wrath of all those up in arms over the situation, but here goes: I am not offended when the Hasidic gentleman next to me asks to switch his seat so he might not fly an entire flight to or from Israel next to a woman. I might think he’s an extremist, and I might think he’s not practicing a very halachic form of Judaism, but as for taking personal offense, so long as my uncomfortable Hasidic or Haredi male neighbor asks politely if he can switch his seat, and so long as he doesn’t hold up a flight should it be impossible to find an empty seat or willing passenger ready to switch, then I have bigger things by which to be offended than his preference not to sit next to me.
I write this in response to the media frenzy surrounding Sisterhood contributor Elana Sztokman’s recent account of an ultra-Orthodox male passenger delaying her flight for over half an hour while he insisted that another seat, one not next to a woman, be made available for him. Obviously, this was extremely rude, inconsiderate and the absolute wrong thing to do. But it seems that the ire this account has generated—a petition demanding El Al change its policy on accommodating those who desire a gender-segregated seat, incensed comments about the accumulated societal ills of the ultra-Orthodox and a video mocking this phenomenon, complete with offering Hasidic men a condom-like body vest to protect themselves from female neighbors—is directed more at the general practice of asking to switch seats and less so at the extremes to which this particular male passenger took it. Sztokman herself says: “What offends me is the premise that sitting next to me is a problem.” The premise—not the problematic way this man expected his proclivity to be accommodated.
Bat mitzvah girl Sasha Lutt reads from a tiny Torah scroll smuggled into the Kotel / Haaretz
I am sitting in front of my computer, talking via Skype with three women in Israel — Irina Lutt, her 12-year-old daughter Sasha, and Shira Pruce — who are kicking back after a day of school and work. Sasha made history at her bat mitzvah last week when she became the first female to read Torah at the Western Wall in 25 years. The fact that she’s a celebrity doesn’t seem to have registered with her. “You made the New York Times!” I tell her. She looks quizzically at her mother; she has never heard of the Times.
Shira, who is translating for us and trying to get Sasha to eat something, is director of public relations for Women of the Wall (WOW), the organization that has been fighting for a quarter century to secure the rights of women to pray at the Kotel. She and Irina know what a hard-won victory this bat mitzvah was for WOW and for the rights of women in Israel.
To begin with, they had to smuggle in a tiny Torah, because women have been aggressively and sometimes violently blocked from reading Torah at the Wall. Surrounded and sheltered by a circle of women, Sasha had to use a magnifying glass to read the text. She shrugs off my comment that this must have been tough. “I knew it really well,” she says.
Model Galit Gutmann in an ad for ‘Crazy Line.’ Photo by Dudi Hasson/Haaretz
(Haaretz) — It was supposed to be her big break after winning the Israeli version of “Big Brother.” In March, Ethiopian-born model Tahounia Rubel was chosen to appear in a new ad for the April Cosmetics chain. She was to appear alongside blonde model Esti Ginzburg, who has been the chain’s public face for years. However, when she arrived on set, Rubel soon realized her role would be less promising than expected.
Artistic directors at the Zarmon DDB ad agency described what would happen in the ad: Ginzburg lies on a chaise longue, the wind ruffling her light colored hair. But there’s a twist: She has a maid, or a friend, who is black and polishing Ginzburg’s toenails. Judging by the ad’s closing words – “Set your beauty free” – it appears that whoever produced the ad intended that the hints of slavery would create a furor that would only advance the media exposure.
However, Rubel was not partner to this excitement. She refused to cooperate with the production, claiming it was insulting and humiliating. For more than an hour, producers, the director and even representatives of the ad agency tried to convince Rubel that the ad flattered her. When these attempts failed, her personal manager, Ofer Refaeli, was summoned. He told her the toenail polishing would be mutual and that Ginzburg would also do her nails as well. Only then did she agree to continue.
The April Cosmetics incident continues to reverberate here. Two weeks ago, Haaretz reported that the Walla! website pulled a story on the filming of an ad for Golf Kids, in which all the models had fair-colored hair and eyes. Three weeks prior to that, there was a report about the Education Ministry’s website, which featured photos of children with light skin, hair and eyes, and who, like in the Golf Kids ad, appeared to be European (it turned out that the photos had come from an overseas database). Surfers on social networks were furious, leading to a hasty – although reserved – apology, as well a substitution of faces for photos of neutral images such as books or hands. In the past, many complaints were directed at mobile phone provider Pelephone, whose ads featured only light-skinned customers, most of whom looked Scandinavian.
Tahounia Rubel as she appeared in a April Cosmetics ad
The women’s section in Tel Aviv’s Heichal Yehuda Synagogue./Photo by Haaretz/Adva Naama Baram
(Haaretz) — Where are you for the High Holidays? If “you” refers to Orthodox Jewish men, then you get to pray in the main sanctuary, which you will enter through the main entrance. Once inside the sanctuary, you will be full participants in the service, able to see and hear all that goes on, spending the time with your sons and younger daughters.
Once your daughters reach the age of seven, they will go from “us” to “them,” a threat to your delicate souls. Then they will be ushered into the women’s section, where they will continue a centuries-old tradition of gender-based segregation, to put it in modern terms.
Women usually enter through a side entrance and find themselves in the less attractive section of the synagogue. At best, they may be on a separate level. At worst, they may be either pushed into a stifling corner or given an area that is open from every direction, such as a corridor, or a room that is occasionally used for storage. Once inside the women’s section, you will be seated behind a divider, far away from the prayer service – the very reason you are here. In many cases, you will not be able to make eye contact with the congregation below or follow the service in your prayer book because you can hardly hear it from where you are sitting. Happy holidays.
Exemplars of segregation, exclusion
A photographic exhibition of women’s sections in dozens of synagogues in Israel and abroad by architect and photographer Adva Naama Baram, entitled “In the Women’s Section,” opened last Thursday for the High Holiday season at the Architect’s House Gallery in Jaffa. Baram photographed women’s sections of various types, sizes, locations and designs that are exemplars of the pattern of segregation and exclusion. The 27 photographs in the exhibition, whose curators are architects Rivka Gutman and Eran Tamir-Tawil, speak for themselves.
Copyright Ingrid Muller
Dr. Elana Maryles Sztokman, the former executive director of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, is a leading writer and thinker on topics of feminism, Judaism, Israel and orthodoxy. Her first book, The Men’s Section: Orthodox Jewish Men in an Egalitarian World, won the 2012 National Jewish Book Council Award in the area of Women’s Studies. Her second book, Educating in the Divine Image: Gender Issues in Orthodox Jewish Day Schools (co-authored with Dr Chaya Rosenfeld Gorsetman), won the 2013 National Jewish Book Council award in the area of education and identity.
Next month, her latest book, The War on Women in Israel: A Story of Religious Radicalism and the Ravaging of Freedom, will be released by Sourcebooks. In a recent piece for the Atlantic, “Gaza: It’s a Man’s War,”, Sztokman, who lives in Modi’in, Israel, looks closely at the impact of sexism in Israeli society, particularly in the context of the current Gaza war.
Chanel Dubofsky caught up with Sztokman, who said that her book was born on this blog, The Sisterhood, where she started posting stories about gender segregation in 2009, via Google’s instant messaging service gchat.
Chanel Dubofsky: Set the scene for us regarding feminist activism in Israel.
Elana Sztokman: There is a lot of entrenched macho in Israeli culture. The challenge is the way in which that macho intersects with religion and the (secular) business and political establishment’s support of religious radicalism for their own needs and interests. It’s easy for men across the spectrum to throw women under the bus for the sake of coalition, business or money. Women are fighting this reality, to raise awareness that protecting women’s rights is a basic part of democracy, and to introduce different thinking about the role of religion in Israeli society and politics. There is no separation of religion and state in Israel, which means that religious groups have had tremendous political influence over the years. Religious (male) Elana’s wordsleaders have gotten away with lots of very anti-democratic stances and policies vis a vis women. It’s an uphill battle, but there is definitely a growing consciousness that we are witnessing now, and there is something exciting on some level in watching a real feminist movement grow from the ground up.
The author (left) and her son in the Dead Sea, Israel. / Copyright Avital Norman Nathman
There’s a certain sense of overwhelming fatigue that comes from spending hours traipsing along the streets of Tel Aviv under the hot summer sun. Even my mother, who accompanied my almost 8-year-old son and me on this outing and can truly shop till she drops, started flagging. After walking a few blocks in the wrong direction, we reoriented ourselves and grabbed the No. 19 bus, which would take us back to my uncle’s apartment in Rishon. I was exhausted. My mother was exhausted. My son? Still running high on his seemingly endless supply of energy. It must have been the three extra falafel balls he scarfed down at lunch.
I pulled out a notebook and pen, hoping they would keep him occupied on our 40-minute ride. The bus quickly filled up, and the seat next to him, the one across from me, was taken by an older woman who looked kindly at him. Over the next 40 minutes they formed an unlikely bond as she gave him sweets and he showed her the math tasks he’d given himself. They chatted — a mixture of halted Hebrew and English — until she got off, a few stops before us.
“I made a new friend,” my son told his grandfather later that day. “I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.”
Welcome to Israel.
The following day we decided to do it all again, because one cannot get enough of shopping in Tel Aviv — at least according to my mother. Not wanting to be too much of a burden, we had my aunt drop us off at a bus stop somewhere near Tel Aviv on her way to work. We managed to get on the right bus, but weren’t quite sure when our stop was coming up. My mother and I tried to keep an eye out for it, but an excited boy who wanted to point out every last thing made it difficult. The bus rapidly filled up the closer we got to Tel Aviv. It stopped in Yaffo, and I was fairly certain the time had come to debark.
(Haaretz) — A woman named Ilanit, wearing a black bodysuit, is suspended on a rope and swinging in the air. During a routine tour of the roofs of Tel Aviv, she notices a man standing on the roof of a nearby building. “This is Nahid Abdallah-something, the second most wanted man in Jenin,” Ilanit calls out. She and Nahid begin to fight, and Ilanit kicks him off the roof to his death. But then she sees that his twin brother, Fahid, the most wanted man in Jenin, is standing on a nearby roof.
Several chapters from “Ilanit, the Spider Woman from Reut,” the comic book by Boaz Kadman, have been published in recent years on various platforms. Now they are being published as a book, with all the old stories appearing beside several new ones. Published a few weeks ago, the book will be on sale at the traditional annual comics fair, which opens Wednesday at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque. The fair, which is part of the 14th annual Animix Animation, Comics and Caricature Festival, runs until Saturday.
The excerpt cited above is taken from the first chapter of the book, “Ilanit vs. the Explosive Twins,” the first story in the series, which was created about a decade ago. “I sorted through comics I had bought many years before and I saw that they spoke in so many cliches,” Kadman says in an interview in Tel Aviv. “Then, one day, I read an interview in the political supplement of the newspaper, and the interviewee kept repeating himself, speaking in awful cliches about the historical connection to the Land of Israel — and suddenly it looked like a comic to me. What motivates the superheroes is always one very simple thing, ‘the war on crime,’ and political talk in Israel is the same. There’s something ridiculous about political texts and superheroes.” In that same moment, Kadman decided that his next comic strip was going to star political cliches alongside cliches about superstars. At the height of the battle between Ilanit and Fahid on the roofs of Tel Aviv, both contenders take a short breather. “Terrorism against Israeli citizens is a war crime,” Ilanit says, and Fahid retorts, “You’re continuing the occupation. You strengthened the desire for revenge. Settlements are terrorism.”
Kadman, who was born in 1971, enrolled in the Midrasha School of the Arts at Beit Berl College when he was 25. “I did comics about Joseph Beuys, for example, a prominent artist who was always being mentioned to us, and to me he’s something comic, really exaggerated. I did excerpts from his autobiography in Bazooka comics format and called it Bazooka Beuys.” Between 2003 and 2004 Kadman published several works in the A4 Booklets of the well-known cartoonist, illustrator and comic book creator Dudu Geva. For two years Kadman had a comic strip in the art magazine Studio, and then moved to Time Out magazine. In 2001 he began editing Plan B, an alternative comics magazine, with Guy Lavie. Plan B was published every few months, and several days later it changed its format and became an online blog.
Photo by Michael Peake/Toronto Sun
Sue-Ann Levy doesn’t sound like the devil, which a 2012 headline in a Toronto publication, The Grid, suggested she might be.
In fact, the woman who picked up the phone to chat with the Forward’s Michael Kaminer has a sweet, chirpy voice and an endearingly cheery manner. But these qualities belie the Toronto Sun investigative columnist’s steel spine. An out lesbian and relentless advocate for Israel, Levy’s also a dogged reporter whose scoops on municipal corruption and cronyism have made her both an idol and a punching bag.
Detractors have pounced on her more outrageous actions, like her 2012 tweet implying Barack Obama may be Muslim. Enemies have called her “an Internet troll, but in real life.” But those jabs just seem to stoke her. “Either you love me or you hate me,” she told the Forward from the home she shares with her wife, interior designer Denise Alexander, and dachshunds Kishka and Flora.
Sarah Seltzer with her twin brother as children.
I have a twin brother who, as a kid, frequently ran around outside with a ball and his friends — usually in New York’s parks. Woe to the teachers at our Jewish day school who denied them gym or recess: they acted up extra-rambunctiously when they were cooped up. One of the cardinal lessons of my childhood was this: If you don’t let kids run around, everyone suffers. So that, in part, explains why the boys on the beach in Gaza proved my breaking point — boys who had been shut in for over a week and just wanted to kick a ball around, for a blessed few hours, and feel the air.
Gender democracy activist Anat Thon-Ashkenazy holds a 1325 pin in support of the UN resolution to bring women leaders into negotiations.
“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them,” Albert Einstein famously quipped. Yet, when it comes to the current crisis in Israel and Gaza, the same minds that created the problems seem to be the ones charged with resolving them. And those minds almost exclusively belong to men.
Getty Images // There was gender mixing in this shelter in Tel Aviv, unlike one in Ashdod.
While people all around Israel have spent the past two weeks scrambling for cover during rocket attacks, it seems that in some places, only men’s lives are considered worth protecting. In the Ashdod rabbinate building, the bomb shelter has a sign on it reading “For men only,” and women who happened to be in the rabbinate during recent raids were not allowed into the bomb shelter. Thus reports MK Stav Shaffir, whose staffer happened to be at the rabbinate this week when all this was taking place.
Orit, an Ashdod resident who was also in the rabbinate this week with her husband, told Yediot Ahronot about the “insult of trying to impose gender segregation on us even at times like this,” and her shocked discovery that the “women’s” shelter was just a regular room, with windows and plaster walls and no indications of protection from rocket attacks. Her husband added that gender segregation has reached “insane proportions, and are now at the point of risking women’s lives. The rabbinate is basically saying that it’s important to them to save men’s lives, but women can die or pray or hope for a miracle. It’s just unbelievable”.
Eman Mohammed with her daughters, Lateen and Talia
As a photojournalist, stepping into war isn’t a dilemma for me. It is my instinct to grab my cameras and run out to document the man-made misery, the horrors of war, each and every time hoping humanity will get the lesson.
But nothing prepared me to understand how to raise children in a war zone — not even having been a child in one myself.
I grew up in Gaza. When I was in school, I spent my days walking to and from class, avoiding the streets that were normally targeted by airstrikes. On my summer holiday, I stayed indoors for fear of meeting the same fate as the families who dared to visit the beach and were killed by missiles while they enjoyed their barbecue.
Lucy Aharish // photo by Tali Shani for Haaretz
(Haaretz) — Lucy Aharish, the Arab-Israeli television host, woke up. Her awakening came a bit late and was not exactly aimed at the right target, but that’s not the important thing. The important thing is that on Monday, the news anchor awoke from a long coma.
The previous day, Benzi Gopstein – a merry Israeli trouper from Kiryat Arba in the West Bank – was a guest on the current-affairs program she hosts on Channel 2 (“Sihat Hayom” – “Talk of the Day”). Gopstein expounded his doctrine about Arabs’ place in Israeli society (according to him, they have none) and argued with the members of the panel, with the elephant standing right there in the room – in this case, the program host, an Arab woman, who sat there, doing a slow burn until she reached boiling point.
Mothers of the slain Israeli teenagers // Getty Images
In moments like this the most powerful voices, the ones most likely to incite empathy and spark reconciliation, are not those of politicians, or military leaders or long-time activists. They are the ones of parents, most often those who have lost their children, who remind us, all too viscerally, that the personal is the political and the political is the personal.
A banner of the Israeli pro-life group Efrat in 2012. The text reads: “Eventually, birth will determine our existence as a Jewish state.” / Wikimedia Commons
The United States seems to be in a constant battle over reproductive health rights — take this week’s Hobby Lobby ruling — particularly in regards to abortion. Both federal and state courts are wrapped up in cases challenging everything from personhood amendments, to waiting periods, mandatory ultrasounds, bufferzone laws and more. With more restrictions, the closing of clinics around the country and increased difficulty in obtaining easily accessible, affordable, safe abortions, it can feel as if the U.S. is moving backwards in terms of reproductive rights. So it’s no wonder that looking out to Israel, there’s a tendency to exalt their more liberal policies.
In Israel, when it comes to abortion, here is no limit on the age of gestation, no parental consent policy for minors, and abortion services are now mostly covered for all women up to the age of 33. These policies far exceed what the U.S. has to offer. Yet there is one hurdle that pregnant Israelis have to face, that the US has not — yet — implemented: a termination committee.
While the policies are incredibly liberal, being able to access them is not up to the person seeking the abortion. They have to answer questions about their circumstances before being approved. The committee is also responsible for deciding the method used. Is this illusion of choice worth it? Is it still easier than obtaining an abortion in the states?
Noga and her boyfriend
When I imagined my wedding day as an Israeli Jew, I envisioned choosing one of the alternatives to the Orthodox process. It would be a non-religious or a Reform ceremony, in which my partner and I would be treated as equal, a ceremony in I could express my love, and not stand as an empty, smiling vassal. To my disappointment, I recently learned that my partner does not share this wedding-day vision of mine.
Not long ago, we attended a wedding, and during the ceremony, I spelled out my dream to him. Then, in what turned out to be a part discussion/part argument, he told me he was not willing to skip the traditional Jewish Orthodox wedding. I explained the humiliation I feel just by thinking about all the processes I would have to go through as a Jewish woman. He said he was sorry I feel this way, but that he must put his foot down: tradition is important to him, and he was raised to respect it. The thought of this matter threatening to break us up sometime in the future was unsettling, but I just couldn’t see myself choosing his path.
Courtesy of Reuth // A model at the Tel Aviv show
(JTA) — Israel is known for many things — startups, falafel, an often intractable territorial conflict — but fashion has never been one of them. A T-shirt, jeans and sandals is considered proper attire both at the workplace and at weddings. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gained notice early in his tenure simply for wearing a tie in public. At the Knesset, at least, lawmakers aren’t allowed to wear Crocs… unless they’re navy or black.
An Israeli couple at their wedding
(Haaretz) — When Israelis want to be warned of traffic jams ahead they check Waze, the popular crowd-sourced GPS. When they are planning their vacation, they look at hotel ratings and reviews on Tripadvisor to make sure their trip is smooth. So why shouldn’t they have the benefit of crowd-sourcing when it comes to planning their journey into matrimony? That’s what Rabbi Seth Farber — and Rate the Rabbinate was born.
Deborah “Devora” Kallen was Jerusalem’s preeminent progressive educator. Raised in an Orthodox Jewish family in Boston, Massachusetts with seven siblings (including her brother, philosopher Horace Kallen) Kallen chose to reside in Palestine in 1920 with the goal of establishing the Parents Educational Association School there.