Belief in change13 March 2012
8 March 2012
By Ruth Eglash
Ronit Heyd, director of Shatil, is of the opinion that "hope should and could be the driving force behind our decisions and actions."
Ronit Heyd, Age: 37
Profession: Director of Shatil – leading social change, an initiative of the New Israel Fund.
Place of birth: New Jersey (By chance. My parents, both Israelis, were there for my father’s PhD work)
Current residence: Ein Kerem, Jerusalem
■ What issue gets you out of bed in the morning? My two‐year‐old daughter calling in my ear: “Ima, pita” (that’s her favorite breakfast). And knowing that a full and exciting day is waiting for me, working with amazingly inspiring and creative people who are dedicated to making Israel a more just, democratic and shared society. Following last summer’s protests, we’re seeing an incredible awakening of civil society, with more and more people wanting to take part in creating social change. We have a lot to do.
■ What issue keeps you up at night? How to continuously improve the work that we’re doing, making it clearer, more impactful, and how we can reach out to new communities that share our goals. I am gravely concerned about the effect of what seems to be a growing trend of nationalist and religious extremism which could fundamentally change the face of our society. We’re seeing more and more legislative efforts that are aiming to limit freedom of expression, the rights of the Arab minority in Israel, or the very basic rules of the democratic game. But apart from that, I’m usually dead tired after a jampacked day that includes work, spending some time with my kids, and then more work, so I fall asleep fairly quickly.
■ What’s the most difficult professional moment you’ve faced so far? Having to cut programs and staff due to ending of project budgets.
■ Why do you do what you do? I believe in people, and I believe in change. That’s why I’ve always wanted to work at Shatil. It’s the place where change happens. I can’t see myself doing anything else. I love working in an organization that is a microcosm of Israeli society, with staff who are Jews and Arabs, veteran Israelis and immigrants from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union, gay and straight, Ashkenazi and Mizrahi.
■ If you were prime minister, what’s the first thing you would do? [Big sigh...] There is so much to do. I would anchor civil, social and human rights in fundamental laws, in order to secure religious freedom, the democratic nature of Israel and the right to live in dignity for all citizens. I would ensure that every child gets free and good quality education, an education that respects and encourages pluralism of thought and liberal values, and puts more emphasis on respect of all humankind – love someone as you love yourself – instead of only constantly striving for excellence and achievements.
■ Which Israeli should have a movie made about him/her? My mother‐in‐law. She made aliya from Morocco in the early ’60s, raised eight children plus six foster children and was (and still is, at the age of 65) a child caregiver. Like so many women, she has worked extremely hard in very poor conditions for many years in the most “transparent job” – caring for children and doing housework. Besides, she’s an excellent cook and I love her.
■ What would you change about Israelis if you could? I would add to each of us 5 kilos of patience and 50 kilos of tolerance. And I would get people to stop littering and polluting our nature. It drives me mad.
■ iPad, BlackBerry or pen and paper? BlackBerry. It’s the best way to multitask. Without it I feel almost crippled.
■ If you had to write an advertisement to entice tourists to come to Israel, what would it say? Beautiful country, great weather, wonderful people, and the best place to understand the existential meaning of the word “balagan [muddle].”
■ What is the most serious problem facing the country? Instead of seeing ourselves as sovereign, we still relate to ourselves as victims. It makes us constantly – as a nation and as people – feel under threat. There is a new generation now, a growing number of people who believe hope should and could be the driving force behind our decisions and actions. I’m one of those.
■ How can it be solved? We have to ensure Israel continues to have a strong and vibrant civil society. That is the essence of our democracy, of our unique ability to hold such diversity while maintaining social cohesion at the same time. We need to continue supporting and strengthening the leadership and groups who are committed to working toward diminishing social and economic gaps, achieving full equality between Jews and Arabs, and maintaining our democratic character. There are so many of us out there doing this. We need to join forces and take these values down to earth by translating them to social action and to new politics.
■ In 20 years, the country will be: I really, really, really hope we will manage to hold the tensions we have within us, and ensure this country is a place where each person can live in dignity and according to his or her values and beliefs. Otherwise, we’re in deep trouble.
This article originally appeared in Jerusalem Post, click here to view the article as published.
Belonging: A Transformative Journey14 October 2013
By Paula Jacobs, October 2013
As I write these words, I’ve just returned from Jerusalem where I prayed with Women of the Wall for Rosh Chodesh Heshvan. With this experience still fresh on my mind, it's an inspiration for personal reflection.
Growing up in Boston in the 1960's, I was privileged to receive an intensive Jewish education. Yet by age 12, I already felt excluded from Jewish life even though my family's Conservative congregation was one of the most progressive in the U.S.
For my Friday night bat mitzvah, I memorized a haftarah portion. I envied the bar mitzvah students who learned to read Torah and lead prayers in their exclusive male-only "tallis and tefillin" club.
In the late 1960's, when I graduated from Hebrew College, the only career path open to me in the Jewish community was Hebrew teaching. The concept of a female rabbi, Jewish communal leader, or even a Hebrew school principal was inconceivable.
Fast forward twenty years later. At her bat mitzvah, my daughter, wrapped in her tallit, led morning Shabbat prayers, chanted from the Torah, and delivered a d’var Torah. Now she is a Conservative rabbi and executive director of a human rights organization.
By the close of the 20th century, I finally became a full participant in Jewish life. I learned to chant Torah, began attending daily minyan, learned the morning service, and started wearing a tallit. The defining moment occurred when I was invited to lead an all-male minyan. That’s when I knew I truly belonged.
Today I gaze at a favorite family photo of my then three-month old granddaughter wearing a sign, "Ha-Kotel l’Kulanu," "The Kotel belongs to us all." It's now four years later and I fervently hope that she and her baby sister will soon realize this dream.
Paula Jacobs is a writer in the Boston area. Her articles have appeared in digital and print media, including The Jewish Week, The Jerusalem Post, Moment, ritualwell.com, and myjewishlearning.com.
Bigger than Feminism, Better with Feminism29 October 2013
By Susan Silverman, October 2013
When I became a Woman of the Wall, I became more fully Jewish.
I had been a rabbi for almost 20 years the day I was rounded up, with nine other women – including my seventeen-year-old daughter – by police for wearing a tallis and praying out loud at the kotel. That day was followed by a lot of forced introspection – the media requests for interviews came flooding in.
I knew in my heart why I was there. My Jewish practice called me to it, the desire to join the historic flow of Jews at that place called me to it, feminism called me to it.
But over the weeks of forced introspection, I realized something much deeper and more existential. Judaism was at stake for women and men. For all our children. For the Jewish future. I had always felt that the centuries of missing women’s voices had created a skewed Judaism – like a tree that had been deprived the right balance of sustenance. Now a narrow, idolatrous view of God and covenant was being codified in civil law! Mitzvot were more and more the jurisdiction of Hareidi Jews, becoming ends in themselves, not building blocks for a society in which the prophets could rejoice.
With WoW, I realized that my feminist, progressive fight was for the deepest purposes of our nation.
Rabbi Susan Silvermanis a writer and activist. She and her husband, Yosef Abramowitz have five children and live in Jerusalem.
Boston's Iftar Break-Fast on the 17th of Tammuz17 July 2014
If more of us could step out of our regular routines in similar ways -- and in baby steps -- I can't help but wonder what might eventually be accomplished.
Briefing on Israeli High Court ruling on Asylum Seekers02 October 2013
In September, Israel's High Court struck down a law that imprisoned asylum seekers for years without trial. The ruling was a big win for Israeli democracy.
Building a More Inclusive Israel12 February 2014
Israel, founded as the Jewish state, was never meant to be a theocracy...
Building Civic Power23 May 2013
Any activity that reflects the interests of citizens is a strength. This is what at the end of the day creates power instead of leaving it in the hands of decision-makers who tend to see numbers and not people.
Cheering Vashti11 October 2013
By Alexandra Stein, October 2013
I grew up in a Reform congregation in Washington, DC that fully embraced the feminist movement. Our Cantor and one of our Rabbis were women, and on Purim, we not only booed Haman, we also cheered Vashti - because she knew that her body was her own and she did not let a man (even her husband) force her to do something with it that she did not want to do.
As a girl, it was empowering for me to see women on the Bima reading Torah and leading prayers and sharing learning. I knew that I could grow up to be a Rabbi if I wanted, and I also knew that when I was thirteen, I would read Torah and Haftarah and be received by my congregation as a full adult member, able to help make a minyan. Receiving my tallit just before my Bat Mitzvah was very exciting. Putting it on then, and most subsequent Shabbatot, focused my mind on prayer and on G-d.
Gender equality is not just about individual empowerment (important though that is). When I think of the impact that gender equality in American Progressive Judaism has had on my community, I mostly think of people - my childhood Rabbi and Cantor, another female Cantorial Soloist, and many lay leaders in the congregation - who quite simply would not have been there in another generation. These women had a profound impact on my life, shaping how I think and how I pray and how I live, and I know that many others in my congregation, men and women, feel the same way. Our Jewish experiences would have been deeply impoverished had they not been ordained, or allowed on the Bima.