|Written by Sumi Fleming|
On a Spring evening when everyone should have been strolling outdoors, a club filled up instead to hear the perspectives of five dynamic young Canadians. Panelists all under thirty reflected on how their experiences in Israel transformed their perceptions of social issues on the ground.
Let me describe the room for you: a group of shy college students coming an hour away to participate; a pair of camp alumni meeting up for drinks; professionals coming straight from work; a young mom sneaking away for the evening. What they had in common was a search for community under a tent of honest dialogue about Israel.
Our speakers represented a diverse set of experiences available to young Canadians – Dorot Fellowships, Birthright, Doctors for Human Rights, Hashomer Hatzair, Operation Groundswell, the Arava Institute. Despite a lifetime of interest in Israel, it took a commitment to experience it face-to-face - on their own terms - to cultivate their own opinions about the country.
What has resulted for some is an ambivalence in their current stance about Israel. As one panelist described it, It's scary to be in this narrow space where being critical of Israel gets you branded as self-hating. And, yet, the panelist has felt compelled to devote herself to meeting the challenge – to keep asking honest questions. She is inspired by a love for Israel and a belief in its potential.
For others to hear about the vulnerability that someone so immersed in Israeli issues still feels was one powerful result of this evening. It's not easy to ask honest questions. It's not easy standing alone in a narrow space, as our panelist described it. Yet, for those in the room, it is imperative to participate in the dialogue. I'm proud that New Israel Fund of Canada offered such an opportunity. It's possible that packing a room on a gorgeous Spring night helped widen the space for participants to support and be supported by others in their love for Israel.
The Israeli Ministry of Interior released all Eritrean mothers and children detained under the Anti-Infiltration Law on Monday.
The release of the nine Eritrean asylum seekers along with their ten children took place following a precedent-setting ruling by the Be'er Sheva District Court. In the ruling, Judge Alon granted an appeal filed by the Hotline for Migrant Workers and declared that being a minor can be considered a "special humanitarian ground" for release from detention, even under the Anti-Infiltration Law.
Hotline for Migrant Workers commended the release of the detainees, which follows a long period of detention and continual petitions for release by the organization.
Adi Lerner, the Crisis Intervention Center Coordinator at Hotline said: "We commend the decision of the Ministry of Interior, yet we are puzzled why there was a need to detain such young children (from the age of 18 months to seven) for such a long period of time before noticing what is crystal clear: children should not be behind bars regardless of their origin. We need to remember that even now, six families with 14 children are still detained in the Saharonim internment camp. We call the Ministry of Interior to release them as well."
According to Israeli law, a person is considered a minor until the age of 18, but in its responses to court, the State refers to detained children only under the age of 10 as minors. Hotline for Migrant Workers is aware of a 14-year-old South Sudanese minor who was separated from his mother and younger siblings and is detained separately from them in the men's section, in violation of regulations that prohibit the jailing of minors alongside detainees over the age of 18.
While all of the Eritrean detainee children were released, other asylum-seeking children are still locked up.
Prior to this ruling, the State argued that since the Anti-Infiltration Law states that unaccompanied minors can be released from detention, it necessarily means that minors accompanied by their parents should remain in detention. In his ruling last week, Judge Alon stated that releasing minors on humanitarian grounds could be considered regardless of whether the minor is accompanied or not. He added that "remaining in indefinite detention will undoubtedly cause significant harm to the minors' social and mental development."
New legislation recently passed by the Ministerial Committee on Legislative Affairs means women may soon have a say in the selection of religious judges (dayanim). Proposed by MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid) and MK Shuli Mualem (Jewish Home), the legislation reserves three places for women on the selection committee for the judges. MK Lavie called the bill "another step towards returning Judaism to Israelis." There will be eleven members on the committee, one of whom will be a female rabbinical court advocate.
This breakthrough follows an intensive period of lobbying by the NIF-founded International Coalition for Agunah Rights (ICAR), which includes 24 organizations devoted to solving the problem of agunot (women whose husbands won't grant them a religious divorce).
Robyn Shames, ICAR Executive Director, said: "This is a first and important step in the inclusion of women and their influence on the system of the rabbinical courts in Israel, which is currently controlled only by men. We hope that the government and the Knesset will succeed in fixing the injustice of the unequal representation of women in this committee before new rabbinical court judges are appointed."
On Earth Day – April 22nd – theSHATIL-coordinated Forum for Responsible Planning strode down the green carpet to accept the Green Globe – Israel's Environmental Oscars – award. The Green Globe is Israel's most prestigious environmental prize, and is awarded annually to individuals or organizations for outstanding environmental achievements and excellence.
The Forum was awarded the prize for saving Israel's environment from potential disaster by fostering cooperation between environmental and social justice organizations, and for their public activism, legal, political, and media efforts. The Forum's campaign resulted in significant amendments to the proposed reform of Israel's Planning and Building Law and lead to the delay of the damaging reform's legislation.
The proposed law would have privatized the planning process in ways that limit public input, increase the potential for environmental damage, and provide more clout to wealthy land developers.
"By bringing together such a diverse group, not only did the Forum present a united front that empowered activists to face a concerted government effort; it also created a collective agenda for change," said attorney Debbie Gild-Hayo Director of Advocacy for NIFC's flagship grantee the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and an active member of the Forum. "We were able to bring to light anti-social, environmentally harmful, and anti-democratic aspects of the government plan, presenting a collective agenda that appealed to many Israelis."
In the four years since its establishment, the Forum, a diverse coalition of more than 30 environmental and social organizations, has succeeded in blocking the legislation on numerous occasions, achieving its greatest success in March 2012 when it prevented a Knesset vote and effectively put an end to the proposed reform.
NIFC supported SHATIL played a critical role over the weeks leading to the 2012 Knesset vote, connecting activists to professional advocacy and media experts and coordinating an intensive campaign, which included public demonstrations, a high-profile conference, petitions to policy makers, an online campaign, and a media blitz. Thanks to these efforts a genuine public outcry emerged, leaving the government no choice but to abandon its plans.
The decision to grant the award to a group integrating environmental and social activists reaffirms SHATIL's core belief that environmental and social issues are intertwined and emphasizes our strategy of facilitating cooperation between diverse groups and agendas.
Despite the Forum's success, the struggle is far from over. A new government plan -- potentially as disastrous as the original reform -- has emerged, highlighting the importance of continued action by a united front promoting a social, democratic, and environmentally friendly planning policies. SHATIL will be at the forefront of this struggle both in its role as the Forum's coordinator and as part of its many other environmental programs.
As everyone the world over knows, last week was a very hard week for the Boston region where we are quite unaccustomed to suffering from acts of terror. I live in Watertown, MA, ground zero for the final manhunt for the perpetrators of the bombing and other crimes. The last gun battle, essentially on Kabbalat Shabbat, was minutes from my home. The silver lining to the senseless violence and suffering is the feeling of solidarity and support Bostonians felt. We all used social media to react in real time to updates on the investigation and manhunt. I was personally touched by the outpouring from friends, family, and colleagues from around the world, including from so many of my co-workers, both Jewish and Arab, in Israel.
However, the aftermath has left us with some issues to ponder that will not resolve quickly.
First, our cousins in Israel, sadly, have much more experience with this sort of trauma than we do. We got a hint of this as we made the transition from the Boston Marathon bombings, which coincidentally took place on Memorial Day, Yom HaZikaron, to Independence Day, Yom Ha’atzmaut, the following day. Annually, Israelis make the shift between solemnity and joy, shared sacrifice and national liberation. With last Monday’s events news still fresh, the shift to Yom Ha’atzmaut was particularly hard this year for Boston Jews. Will this added dimension better help us understand the Israeli experience? What will Yom Ha’atzmaut feel like next year for us?
Second, people are beginning to question whether locking down much of the region was necessary. I personally don’t quibble with the decision. I was glad to have my family close at hand last Friday. And as one NIF board member suggested recently, Boston is really a small town. We all know each other, so it made sense that we would all, in unison, obey the call to stay out of the way as if part of a small town. However, another Watertown family interviewed in Ha’aretz suggested that they could not imagine Israel shutting down a major city to hunt down one nineteen-year-old kid. What is the right balance? Hopefully, we will not have to learn the right answer for ourselves the hard way in the future.
Lastly, the region felt relief and joy when the surviving brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was captured. The accolades heaped on our first responders were gratifying and touching to listen to. A friend of mine brought his kindergarten twins to the Watertown police station to thank the police in person. A marathoner walked in at that moment to deliver her medal to show her appreciation. Now that the euphoria is dying down, what implications will last week’s events have on social policy? Will it harden our hearts or open them? Will immigration reform suffer? Will civil rights be curtailed in the name of security? Will we act in kinship with those who endure terror daily around the world?
All of us in Boston are grateful that chapter one of this nightmare has concluded. The healing process is only beginning. As we look to move forward, it helps me to think of Rabbi Ronne Friedman of Temple Israel’s words at the Boston interfaith service attended by President Obama. Ronne quoted Rabbi Nachman of Breslav who said, “The entire world is a narrow bridge, but the important principle is to transcend, somehow, your fear.”
NIF is thrilled to announce the winners of the 2013 Yaffa London-Yaari Award for Women’s Social Initiatives. The prize aims to promote social change projects aimed at improving the status of Israeli women. In return for the NIS 15,000 prize, the women pledge to commit to at least three years of activism for their cause
Olga Levitensky: Olga is a doctor from the former Soviet Union who is active in the Forum for Olim Families. She will use the prize money to operate a hotline that will help new immigrants better navigate the welfare system and receive all the rights they are entitled to, with the goal of helping them better integrate into society.
Amal Abu Alkum: Amal runs after-school centers for children-at-risk, as well as training programs for women and sports groups for young people in the Bedouin Negev town of Segev Shalom. With the prize she will set up the ”Heritage House for Grandmothers,” a center for teenage girls-at-risk that will be operated by volunteer grandmothers from the area.
Ety Hen: Ety is a single mother who is active in the struggle for public housing in Jerusalem. With the prize money, she will set up a community center in the Katamonim neighborhood, with an emphasis on helping single mothers and the elderly. There will also be after-school activities for children, a communal kitchen and food cooperative, as well as film screenings and lectures. The center will serve as an information hub for all issues related to public housing.
Malcha Yarom: Malcha is the founder and executive director of Jerusalem’s House of Hope, which supports divorced Haredi women. She will use the prize to develop a special program for 14-18 year-old Haredi teenage girls whose mothers are supported by the NGO. The program will focus on the girls’ self-esteem and will help them develop important life skills.
The prize is named after Yaffa London-Yaari, a leading social justice activist. The winners will be presented with their prizes by NIF President Brian Laurie and Knesset Member Merav Michaeli at a special ceremony to be held on May 1st in Tel Aviv. Stay tuned for news of the prize-winners’ future achievements.
South Tel Aviv has a bad reputation. as a place of tension, intolerance, and squalor A marginalized low-income neighborhood, it has been making news for being a place of tension and intolerance. Marginalized for years, it has recentlyIn the past few years, the neighborhood has also become the first port of call for African asylum seekers, who have been left to fend for themselves in Neve Sha’anan’s Levinsky Park. The rapid increase in their numbers has led to conflict with the local veteran residents, with the flames fanned by unscrupulous politicians fanning the flames. The situation reached its low point in May 2012, when a group of right-wing politicians led a rally against asylum seekers in the area., during which Likud MK Miri Regev called spoke at the rally and called the migrants them “a cancer”. Ever sSince then, there has been intermittent violence targeting the asylum- seeker community, including physical attacks and arson.
Last September, after Molotov cocktails were thrown at the homes of asylum seekers, a group of activists living in south Tel Aviv, both Israeli and African, came together to try to confront the problem. Instead of succumbing to the divide and rule tactics of theemployed by some politicians, they decided to work together to try to bring change to the neighborhood. Already involved with NIF grantees working in the area to help asylum seekers and veteran Israelis, such as the African Refugees Development Center (ARDC) and Achoti, they successfully applied to NIF’s emergency grants poolfor an NIF grant to develop a unique initiative, Power to the Community.
Twice a week, activists from the group hit the streets of south Tel Aviv to reach out to the local community and raise awareness of the group’s work. One night,
NIF recently accompanied them on one of their patrols. “We understood that everyone was a victim of the government’s policies,” explains explained Assaf Calderon, one of the group’s founders, Assaf Calderonand, a student of African and& Middle Eastern Studies at Tel Aviv University. “We wanted to bring everyone together and talk without hurting one another. We a’re all victims.”
He wasis joined by Oscar Olivier, an asylum seeker from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who has been living in Israel for the last seventeen years, without receiving official status. He filed a request to be recognized as a refugee over 13 years ago, but has yet to receive an answer. “I am not allowed to work [legally] and cannot get medical services,” he explaineds.
Despite his difficulties, he Oscar is keen eager to do whatever he can to improve the situation in south Tel Aviv. And hHe iwas joined on the patrol by three Israelis: Ofer Chama, who studies urban planning at Tel Aviv University, and two other students, Noga Marmor and Meytal Shefer. A few seconds after setting out from the Achoti offices, they turned into a local store. An Eritrean man working there iwas amazed at their offer of help, but Oscar Oscar quickly convinceds him that the group is genuine.
“We can’t solve all the problems, but some we can,” Oscar Oscar explaineds afterwards, having recorded the man’s details and promisinged to get back to him.
They then come across anAfterwards, they met an Israeli from Tel Aviv’s trendy Florentine neighborhood who works in the neighborhood. The group’s enthusiasm is apparent, and tThe man wasis keen to read the leaflet outlining the group’s work. Power to the Community doesn’t just run joint patrols. They also organize a weekly demonstration against the neglectdrawing attention to the lack of security forof women in south Tel Aviv. They also run, as well as a hotline that residents can call if they have trouble with bureaucratic issues.
Next, they turned into another store, where the surprised owner turneds down the television so he couldan hear their explanation. Outside, a man from Cameron complaineds about the immigration police, while a woman lookeds through the trashbins for bottles. No matter who they caome across, the group trieds to explain the initiative and recruit more supporters to the cause. Noga explains her motivation for joining the group as follows:
“In north Tel Aviv there are roads that get repaved three times; here they don’t even clear the garbage regularly,.” explained Noga. Her friend Meytal develops this idea further:added, “Near here is (trendy) Rothschild Boulevard, which is another world. It’s dangerous to walk the streets at night here. Look – people are sleeping in the playground.”
The group walkeds past Levinsky Park, the centrer of the neighborhood, overshadowed by the gargantuan Tel Aviv Central Bus Station, now a notorious magnet for drugs, crime, and prostitution.
“There are Israelis here who won’t talk with refugees, and the refugees are afraid,” Ofer explains. “We have to work together to make this place better.” He answereds a phone call from Assaf, who iwas elsewhere, elsewhere, helping a blind asylum seeker who is beingwhose landlord was exploited bying her landlord. At the park, the rest of the group iwas talking with an asylum seeker from Darfur.
“Right now it’s the sounds of today,” he says in broken English. “Everything is going to be cool.” He was cautiously optimistic because of the new government, and praiseds Yair Lapid. Off to the side, two Israelis from Modi’in smoked nargilas (water pipes) and politely listened to the group’s explanationpitch.
Power to the Community is still in the early stages of development. At this stagephase, the activists want to focus on getting as many people involved as possible and in doing something to solve the problems that they are capable of solving. For example, the group recently raised money to renovate a shelter for asylum seekers. But this is only the beginning. Still smiling, Oscar sees noticed water streaming down the pavementsidewalk. “Everything starts from somewhere,” he says, before crouching down to check whether it was’s leaked sewage. “Once this building wasn’t there – it started with the first stone.”
Following pressure from the NIF-supported Tag Meir coalition and a group of employees at the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality, Hassan Ausruf, will continue to receive his salary until he can return to work.
At the end of February, Ausruf, a 40-year-old Tel Aviv municipal worker, was assaulted in the city by a group of 15 drunken youths while on the job. So far, four youth have been arrested in connection with the attack.
The attackers reportedly targeted Ausraf because he was Arab, shouting “dirty Arab,” during the incident.
A few weeks ago the city of Tel Aviv announced that it would stop paying Ausruf, on the grounds that as a contract worker was not entitled to continued pay as he recovered. Tag Meir mobilized, bringing the issue to the attention of the media.
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai responded. His office announced that if Hassan won’t be able to return to his work because of his injuries that the municipality will continue to ensure that he receives his salary until he can return.
Ahead of the municipal elections scheduled for October in 250 localities, SHATIL is training activists around the country to promote social, environmental, and economic justice and build a truly shared society. SHATIL is also providing guidance and consulting to local activist groups and organizations that want to take advantage of the opportunity provided by the elections to influence their towns’ agenda.
The upcoming local elections provide a special opportunity to advance the environmental agenda. In two six-day trainings, participants will learn how to shape a strategy to promote an environmental agenda and how to effectively influence national and local decision makers. They will also gain practical lobby experience.
Seven-session trainings across the country began in mid-April and will include leadership training; information about municipal processes; skill-building in advocacy, media, communications and other skills needed for work within and vis-a-vis municipal bodies. Fifty-five participants applied for the training in Israel’s central region, and from that pool 18 top notch participants were selected.
Fourteen additional local trainings in other parts of Israel will promote religious pluralism; sustainability; how to become involved in local budget decisions; activism among Ethiopian immigrants; affordable housing; employment; and education.
The trainings in the north, south and center are conducted in collaboration with Shaharit, a new, progressive think tank, the Social Economic Academy, the Heschel Center for Environmental Learning and Leadership, the Local Social Guard, and the Mandel Center for Leadership in the Negev.
Avi Dabush, SHATIL programs director said: “The first local elections after the social protest of 2011 provide an opportunity for activists who want to instigate change on their street, in their neighborhood, and in the cities they call home. Our motto here is an old African proverb: ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’”
Last week, members of the NIF-supported Tag Meir coalition, visited the home of Suhad Abu-Zmiro, the victim of a racist assault in Jerusalem. A teacher at a Jewish middle school in Ramat HaSharon, Suhad was attacked by several Orthodox youths in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Kiryat Moshe.
Seeing Abu-Zmiro in a hijab, the teenagers allegedly threw rocks and other objects at the car, yelled racist abuse, and spat at the teacher. Three teenage boys were arrested, and two others turned themselves in.
After reading about the incident, several members of the Sha’ar HaGolan kibbutz got in touch with Tag Meir and organized a visit to Abu-Zmiro’s home. Residents of Kiryat Moshe also visited the home, saying: “This was a desecration of God’s name. We have a responsibility to our children, our teachers, and our neighborhood.”
Touched by the solidarity shown by the Tag Meir activists, Abu-Zmiro said: “It was a shocking and humiliating incident. To think about the fact that you have been attacked just because you are Arab is not easy; it’s not simple. My father taught us to love all people as they are, that everyone is equal, Jews and Arabs. I decided to teach in a Jewish school so that Jewish children could get to known an Arab woman in a personal way and to break down barriers. Education is the way to combat this phenomenon.”
Abu-Zmiro with two well-wishers from Kiryat Moshe (Jerusalem).Tag Meir head Dr. Gadi Gvaryahu said: “The visit was very moving. More than 50 people came, and the action has received massive coverage in the Israeli media. And the new incoming Education Minister, Dr. Shai Piron, gave a class on tolerance at Abu-Zmiro’s school. Knesset Member Elazar Stern also dealt with the issue in an interview with Army Radio. This is because of Tag Meir’s efforts.”
Tag Meir, an NIF-convened coalition that responds to acts of hatred with acts of healing solidarity, is gearing up for an expansion of its activities in the coming months
Gabriel is from Eritrea. In 2001, when he was studying educational management at the University of Asmara, the government mandated that all students in the country spend their summer working for the regime without pay. The Students' Union protested the decision, and all objectors were sent to jail without a trial. After a few months, Gabriel was freed, but two of his fellow students died during their imprisonment.
The following year, Gabriel and his friends were assigned to eight months of forced labor followed by conscription into the army. In Eritrea, soldiers spend most of their time doing forced labor for the regime instead of military activities, without being paid for their efforts. Even worse, he was only permitted to see his family once a year. "I didn't use my education at all," Gabriel says, "They used me as a slave."
By 2006, Gabriel had enough. He managed to escape, first to Ethiopia, and from there to Sudan. He had heard that Israel was the only democracy in the Middle East and hoped he would be able to find shelter there. When he arrived in 2007, there were only 300 Eritreans in the country. Gabriel teamed up with the others, and set up the first organization working to defend Eritrean rights.
He soon formed links with human rights organization in Israel, and began volunteering as a translator for NIF grantee Hotline for Migrant Workers. "I do everything in my power to form a bridge between the Israeli and Eritrean communities," he says. At the same time he worked in a number of restaurants before opening a small shop with Eritrean products in 2010. He also met his wife, with whom he has two children – Matan and Yehudit. He finally feels safe here, but has found it hard to live with the constant uncertainty of his unresolved immigration status. "We have to renew our visas every three months, and we never know how much more time we have here," he reflects.
In December 2012, Gabriel joined the paid Hotline staff as a translator. In addition to meeting with groups to tell them about Eritrea and the Eritrean community in Israel, he also travels once a week to the Saharonim detention facility in the Negev to record the testimonies of Eritreans who have been detained there, to answer their questions, and to help them communicate with the authorities.
As a result of the Anti-Infiltration Law passed last year, refugees are subject to administrative detention of up to three years with limited judicial review, and up to five years for anyone found providing shelter, employment or transportation to an "infiltrator." Saharonim is the largest detention center for immigrants in the western world.
"I feel like I'm helping my people, but it's difficult for me to hear the stories," Gabriel says about his work. Many of them were in jail for a long time in Eritrea, and will now be in jail for a long time in Israel. Thanks to the work of Gabriel and the Hotline, though, there is a greater chance that these people will one day gain the freedom that they so richly deserve.
Ethiopian-Israeli teenagers Orit Raday, Idan Hezekiam, and four friends wanted to find work before beginning their army service. A recruitment agency sent them to a prestigious events hall in Caesaria, but when they arrived they were in for a shock. “This isn’t what we requested,” one of the workers mumbled, and sent them on their way.
The problem? The color of their skin. Tebeka, which provides legal aid to the Ethiopian community, helped the six youngsters sue for damages at the district labor court. According to the suit, “The six plaintiffs arrived at the venue with four other people who weren’t Ethiopian. They were asked to leave without a logical explanation, while the four workers who weren’t of Ethiopian origin were allowed to stay.”
In a big win against discrimination, the court ruled in their favor. Each of the youth was awarded NIS 30,000 in compensation. Last week, the youngsters arrived at the Tebeka offices to collect their checks.
“I was in shock and I was extremely angry,” said Orit Raday, who is 18. “Today I am happy that the company has learned its lesson – anyone who hurts someone on account of their skin color should be punished.”
Idan Hezekiam said, “It’s forbidden to give up – that’s the lesson. Today I feel that we won.”
Both youngsters connected their victory with Barack Obama’s visit to Israel. “It’s symbolic,” Orit said.
Attorney Ariel Azala was also pleased with the settlement: “It sends out a clear message that there can be no separate but equal. We have to eradicate this indecent phenomenon and do everything we can to create a more just and equal society.”
Israel’s new political reality is inspiring renewed hopes for religious pluralism in Israel. With Yair Lapid’s (Yesh Atid) strong support for civil marriage increasingly echoed by other prominent and rising political figures along with 86% - according to the latest polls - of Israel’s secular Jewish public, the time is ripe for action.
This spring, SHATIL has launched three initiatives focused on pluralism and recruiting new populations including students as well as Mizrachi and Orthodox women.
A course run in conjunction with Beit Hillel and Be Free Israel trained a cadre of religious and secular Hebrew University students in the ins and outs of religion and state. In addition to gaining knowledge and activism tools, the students came up with two innovative projects. The “marriage guide compass” will enable Israelis to map their preferences regarding types of marriage as well as their limitations in Israel. The students also plan to create a photo exhibition on issues relating to religion and state to be exhibited at a Jerusalem pub and other locations. Both projects are designed to call public attention to the problems surrounding marriage laws in Israel and hope to inspire change.
“The course was very meaningful, especially its practical aspect,” said Reut Klinberger, a Hebrew University law student. “We were really directed toward action and met so many people who can help us make progress in this area.”
In addition to the Hebrew University course, this spring SHATIL is running two other initiatives aimed at promoting religious pluralism. A support/action group for Orthodox women leaders will provide the women with a safe space to share and discuss the daily dilemmas they encounter in their work as Orthodox feminists. And Tidreshi, a course for 18 traditional Sephardic and Mizrachi women, aims to stem recent trends of religious radicalization – with a special focus on the exclusion of women from the public sphere – within Mizrachi communities. Based on the study of classic Jewish texts relating to social justice and practical training in creating social change, the course recently was covered in Haaretz (in Hebrew) as well as on Israeli television. The course is in collaboration with Memizrach Shemesh.
In celebration of International Women’s Day, NIF held a week-long series of public events focusing on women’s rights in Israel.
This year, NIF sponsored a first-of-its-kind collection of women’s protest poetry, Naked Queen. The anthology includes 193 poems written by 103 leading poets and singers on a variety of themes, including the harassment of women; women’s sexuality and body image; and the economic difficulties faced by women. Two poetry evenings in Jerusalem and one event in Tel Aviv, featured a number of the poets, as well as a public discussion of its themes.
In another event, ‘Rising from the Benches’, leading female athletes and media personalities explored the reasons why so few women attend sports events in Israel, even though a majority of them follow sports on a regular basis. An NIF-commissioned survey found that a fear of violence and racism are the primary causes for their absence from the stands. Experience from other countries demonstrates that the more women attend sports events, the less violence and racism are displayed by the audience. NIF hopes to use this information to help kick start a process of encouraging more women, and thus less racism, at sporting events.
We were also proud that the impact of our work on women’s rights was highlighted by the popular Israeli magazine La’Isha’s shortlist of 15 women for the prestigious Rappaport Prize, which recognizes the achievements of a woman who has worked hard to promote social change. Seven of the nominees came from the NIF/SHATIL family, demonstrating how successful we have been in bringing feminism to the mainstream.
A precedent-setting ruling on behalf of a 41-year-old single mother constitutes a major victory for women’s rights
The case began when the woman, a teacher, was fired from her position at a religious educational institution for becoming pregnant without being married. Her dismissal was handed down without a hearing and without requesting permission from the commissioner of the Employment of Women Law, which is required when firing a pregnant woman.
In a friend of the court briefing, NIFC funded Kolech presented a halakhic (Jewish legal) ruling of Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, which states that there is no prohibition on unmarried women becoming pregnant.
The Tel Aviv regional labor court ruled that the firing was a violation of the Law of Equal Opportunities, the Law of Human Dignity and Liberty, and the Law of Freedom of Occupation.
According to the ruling: “The court rejected the position of the educational institution that, in the name of religious values, it has the right to fire a teacher because of the fact that she became pregnant without being married…the institution behaved in a disproportionate and unreasonable way. The decision of a single mother to bring a child into the world does not enable a religious educational institution to fire her and to violate her basic right to parenthood and freedom of employment.”
Riki Shapira-Rozenberg, a legal advisor to Kolech, said that the case was one of a number of incidents when single mothers were fired from religious educational institutions and either didn't have the strength to fight back or resigned because they knew what was coming: "The ruling is revolutionary because it states clearly that these women can't be fired for being single mothers. The real source of the problem isn't religion, but patriarchy and a fear of independent women."
Following a petition by NIF grantee the Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism (IMPJ), the Supreme Court has ordered the Education Ministry to present a plan for standardized testing in the ultra-Orthodox school system for court approval within 100 days. The court also ruled that the plan must include a provision stating that schools failing to perform the tests will be sanctioned.
Ultra-Orthodox schools are already required to teach core subjects like mathematics and civics, but enforcement of the requirement is very uneven. This petition aims to ensure that standardized tests used in the Israeli secular schools measure students’ progress. IMPJ argued that these are necessary to ensuring that all Israeli children receive an education that will provide them with basic abilities as adult citizens
In response to the decision, IMPJ's Rabbi Gilad Kariv said: "The Supreme Court sent a clear message to the Education Ministry to stop turning a blind eye to the Haredi education's conduct. This message must be turned into significant government action." The importance of this petition was highlighted by the response of Attorney Adiel Glass, representing a number of Haredi institutions, who said that the Haredi schools did not want to teach core subjects. “Following many threats, the students were tested on the subject,” he said. “We don’t want to cancel religious study hours. But if push comes to shove, we’ll cooperate.”
IMPJ and other NIF grantees working in the sphere of religious pluralism will be watching closely to see how the Education Ministry responds to the court’s demand, and will also be working hard to promote religious pluralism with the new government.
Kamla El Hawajra, a Bedouin woman from Israels Negev, was having a hard time. After having six children, she finished high school and went on to complete courses in computers, cooking, and running a home day care, as well as volunteering in the community’s well-baby clinics. But she was not able to find work.
Kamla’s luck began to change four years ago when she became part of Israel’s first community kitchen, set up by AJEEC and the Hura Local Council in partnership with the Hura Women’s Council and the Hura Community Center.
A community kitchen is a local, sustainable business that provides meals for school lunch programs, thus leveraging a government program to create jobs and benefit the local economy. It is an elegant solution to three social challenges: food security (and within this promotion of nutritious food); local economic development – especially in disadvantaged areas; and the creation of jobs open to all. SHATIL Community Organizer Shirley Karavani explains that community kitchens can have a positive effect on a community at many levels. “It enables public money to be used in a smarter way,” she says.
The Hura Community Kitchen provides 5,600 meals per day to qualifying elementary and kindergarten children and employs 11 women. The kitchen is connected with SHATIL’s local sustainable economic development project.
“Before I worked, I felt like a weak woman,” says Kamla, now 46 and a mother of eight and grandmother of three. “My husband is on disability and I could not provide properly for my kids. Since I started working in the kitchen, I feel like a strong woman. I can help my children. My daughter is studying math at Kaye College and I’m paying her fees. I am so happy that she is getting educated so she will not suffer in life as I did. It’s my wish that kitchens like ours be established all over the country so women can earn money for their children and thus keep them on the right path.”
SHATIL and AJEEC, together with the Hura Local Council, are working to make Kamla’s wish come true. Last Thursday Community Kitchens: From Idea to Recipe brought together 80 activists, government and local authority officials, and representatives of foundations to get a first-hand look at the Hura Community Kitchen. The seminar offered practical tools for establishing other kitchens based on this successful model and promoted policies using local resources to provide healthy food in school lunches and other public nutrition programs. Food for the day was provided by the Hura Community Kitchen.
Those involved in the community kitchen emphasize that the success of the model depends not only on individual initiatives, but on government policies. Ran Melamed, deputy director of Yedid, which is partnering on advocacy efforts with SHATIL and AJEEC, spoke at the conference on the drive to get laws passed that would give preference in government contracts to community enterprises like this one, especially those dealing with food.
The government-mandated school lunch program provides needy elementary school students with one hot meal a day. In 2011, 170,000 children received hot meals at a cost of NIS200 million. One of the recommendations of the Trachtenberg Committee following the social justice protests was to double the size of the program. As a result, this school year, 350,000 elementary school and kindergarten pupils are receiving these meals.