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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Haredi Women Run for Office

I think there is a change coming in the Haredi, or Ultra-Orthodox world.  A group of women in the town of El'ad*, a town South East of Petach Tikva which is Ultra-Orthodox decided to run in the elections for City Council which were held yesterday in Israel along with other City Council and Mayoral elections across the country. They defied convention by even getting their names on the ballots. 
Women in Ultra-Orthodox tradition are supposed to be private people, not public.  They are not supposed to be vociferous, even with regard to improving community or town services; basically, they are required to take care of their homes, children, perhaps work and sometimes are the main breadwinners (usually as teachers in Ultra-Orthodox schools) while their husbands "learn," meaning they study the Torah, written and oral, specifically concentrating on the Talmud, the oral law. 
 Instead, these women decided that issues important to them, their children and the community were not being addressed by the men in the Town Council, so they took matters into their own hands.  And I say, good for them!  Yes, the elections were held yesterday, and they lost--but in my opinion this is a start, and they have actually won the first battle!  Read on...

"I've been thinking about this for a year. I think it's crucial that women be represented on the town council," Michal Chernovitsky, the 33-year-old leader of the five female candidates running. "Because there are just men now, a lot of issues get lost..."
 ...All that is fine with Adina Ruhamkin, another candidate; what El'ad needs, she says, are basic services for children and the moms who take care of their daily needs.
"There's no library, nothing here. ... It's like a hotel," Ruhamkin says. "You come to sleep in town and leave the town. That's what's there — nothing."
Among the Mothers' pitches: Build a library and a swimming pool, increase bus service and add more stops. They also want to create jobs, for men and women. One voter at the park, a mother of nine, is hesitantly supportive.
"I've never heard before of women running for council," she says. "It's a new thing. I hope it will be accepted, but I'm not so sure. Here women who express themselves aren't seen as a good thing."
My feeling is that, by not allowing "women who express themselves," a good 50% of the community is not being utilized for its intelligence, creativity and forward-thinking skills. I believe it is archaic, and it's high time to jettison this whole 'kevod bat melech pnimah' ("the honor of a king's daughter is within her") outlook.  It's origin is in Psalms 45:14, and it is interpreted to mean that women are inner beings who should not be publicly displayed.  There are some-actually, many--instances where in Ultra-Orthodox posters or newspapers, a woman's photo is not displayed, only the mens'.  There are women who are quietly modest, don't have any intentions to run for public office and are happy being at home. And there is nothing wrong with that.  My problem is the attitude towards those who aren't satisfied with that, who need more to be fulfilled in their lives, and who can contribute talents through public office and the like. That negative attitude towards such women is archaic, and the bathwater needs to be thrown out.  But keep the baby of Jewish home life, which is still possible--nay, is enhanced--by mothers who participate in community life and work in various professions outside the home.
No, they didn't win.  But to paraphrase what someone iconic once said, "they'll be BACK!"
None of them won a seat, but they say they will be back.
"We're not giving up," said Michal Chernovitsky, the leader of Mothers for El'ad, after learning her small coalition of candidates won 260 votes in a community of 17,000 eligible voters.

A minimum of 740 votes was needed to win a spot on the council. Despite earning only a third of that, Chernovitsky, who is ultra-Orthodox, felt victorious. "We are happy that some people want women [on the council] in an ultra-Orthodox town," she said. "This is amazing to me."
 Here's a long but worth-it article on the subject of Ultra-Orthodox men who are, in my opinion, out of control in their attitude towards women.   But here are opposing stories of Haredi women having successful,  important positions in the business world, and yet remaining Ultra-Orthodox, and other women training to join the work force in professions other than education. 

So I say to those women who are in the forefront in attempting to change certain norms, hatzlachah,* and more power to you! I'm with you!


*Elad: the meaning in Hebrew is "G-d is forever."
*Hatzlachah: [may you have] success    



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3 comments:

Batya said...

"expressing oneself" isn't part of the chareidi curriculum, even for boys. They are taught to mostly read and recite, but no compositions on creative writing. Things are better for the girls since they have a more general education to be qualified teachers.
Women always see things diferently and better administrators.

Heather said...

I am following your story and would love to be in touch with your group. I am involved with a group called Ordain Women, a group of Mormon women who are advocating for Mormon women to be ordained to the priesthood (which would allow us to serve in leadership roles in our church).

See some posts here:

http://ordainwomen.org/oct-5th-mini-documentary/

http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/56963037-78/women-mormon-church-priesthood.html.csp

My email address is heather@thebeals.net

I am a faculty member at a university in Texas.

Heather said...

PS: I feel so inspired by your group. Thank you.

 
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