Another Crack in the Glass Ceiling

20 August 2015

“When I received the invitation to this course, I thought: How amazing for someone to have the vision to dream up something like this! It never would have occurred to me, yet it is exactly what is needed,” said Rabbi Galit Oren-Moran, a member of the Kfar Saba Religious Council and a participant in Shatil’s training for women members of religious councils. “We learned important, practical tools that I have used more than once and that work, such as building alliances or getting support from people before a council meeting for particular issues –even from people whose world view is far from mine.”

Last year, a government decision mandated that every local religious council, which govern many issues directly affecting Jewish women in Israel such as marriage and divorce, include at least one female representative. As a result of the decision, there are now women serving on a number of these important decision-making bodies. However, these women do not receive training and often feel isolated as the lone woman in the group. As a result, too many end up resigning their posts.

Shatil stepped into this vacuum a year ago and brought the women representatives together in order to understand their needs. It was the first time they had all met each other and the excitement was palpable. One of the needs that arose was for training and for guidance, which led to the development of an 8 month course designed by Shatil together with Advot (Ripples), an advocacy group for women ritual bath attendants. In August, 15 women graduated from the inaugural course.

Participants learned the skills needed to promote their agendas such as how to read a municipal budget and how to build support for their agendas. They met with people from the Ministry of Religious Affairs as well as with religious women politicians such as Rachel Azaria who shared tips for success. Perhaps most importantly, they shared information and provided support for one another.

“The group turned into a wonderful support group,” said Oren-Moran. “It was a comfortable and safe place for us to share frustrations and difficulties and that was very, very important for us.”

As a result, a number of participants said, they are more likely to have an impact and less likely to drop out. And they no longer feel alone.

“This is an arena in which no one was working,” said Shatil’s Jewish Pluralism Project Coordinator Merav Livneh-Dill. “It’s a new arena for Shatil. It’s amazing to go into a place where no one has done anything and to know that we are filling a real need. And this is just the beginning.”

With Shatil guidance, the group found a common cause to advocate for: the miserable working conditions and pay of mikva (ritual bath) attendants. Together with Advot, they promoted this issue in the Knesset and got the attention of the Minister of Religious Affairs who promised to address this injustice.

Shatil is continuing advocacy efforts to ensure that the newly-elected government continue the previous government’s commitment to include women on religious councils and that additional women be appointed.

A total of 135 religious councils exist in every municipality or local council and are responsible for religious services in their town or city. Currently, 65 of them have female representatives.