Elections are over, so don’t accuse me of politicking.
I’m taking this
opportunity, soon after the municipal elections but before I’ve seen the
results, to salute the women of so many different backgrounds who stepped into
the municipal political arena to run for city council.
commentators on the evolving social fabric of Israel, please take note: This is
I can’t think of a sector that wasn’t represented. There were more
Jewish and Arab women – among them religious Jews and Muslims – than ever ran
before. Immigrants shared lists with Sabras. Young women ran alongside
As Michal Chernotvitzky, a haredi woman who headed the Ir Va’em
list in Elad, put it in an interview on the Ynet website, “The city’s women are
the ones who spend more hours in Elad, the ones who use public transportation
more often, the ones who spend many hours in parks and playgrounds, the ones who
connect with the staff and management at the kindergartens, daycare centers and
schools, and the ones who take care of their children’s activities in the
afternoon and during vacations. It’s only natural that women and mothers will be
the ones to take care of all these issues at the council.”
But it hasn’t
been natural. Not in general party politics or in any of the niches. Not in the
big cities nor the small towns. Somewhere along the line, between the lines of
the pragmatic argument, lies a new willingness to take a public
Most of the women who stepped into the sea of politics were
novices, and the election of 2013 was a learning experience. My daughter-in-law,
Hadas Brody Schroeder, a college teacher and mother of five, was sorry that the
slate she ran on in Binyamina got off to a late start. She enjoyed the party
discussions that took her out of the fast growing national-religious community,
into the homes of other towns’ folks who were eager to share ideas for improving
local schools and facilities. If they had started earlier, she thought the
election process itself would have been a good opportunity to take down some of
the social barriers that separate newcomers from the veterans.
No. 3 on her list, she was unlikely to win, but recognized the potential of
politics to advance the community’s visibility. Next time, they’ll be better
Jerusalemite Racheli Ibenboim, a member of the Gur Hassidic
community, was running on the Bayit Yehudi list before she was forced to drop
out of the race by community pressure.
Speaking to local and foreign
journalists on a panel sponsored by Media Central, she said she didn’t regret
her short and aborted run.
“Dropping out was a well-thoughtout decision,”
she said. “My community wasn’t ready yet for me to run and represent them. I
decided I wanted to remain part of the community rather than to be ostracized. I
want to work for change from the inside.”
She expects those changes to be
dramatic enough to allow her to run in the next elections, in five years. She’s
already looking forward to it. Her candidacy inspired a hassidic woman friend,
who did run in a different town.
The proliferation of women willing to
undertake the hassles of politics and, in most cases, to take on non-paying jobs
running towns and cities, is a sign of the health of our democratic process. I
wonder how many of these women would consider themselves “feminists,” a word
that strikes terror in the hearts of so many.
Except for Zionism, it’s
hard to think of a social movement that is more reviled than feminism. Somehow,
the ideology of according women equal rights has come to be equated with
harridans, hussies and homewreckers. Feminists are pictured as an army of
Liliths arriving to steal babies from carriages, not Miriams talking back to
Pharaoh and leading triumphant women with their timbrels through the raging sea.
Instead of esteeming the early feminists along with the suffragettes, who
struggled for our long-cherished right to vote (okay, not until the 1990s in the
Swiss Canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden, and not yet in Saudi Arabia), they are
held in contempt.
There are exceptions, of course. Rachel Azaria in
Jerusalem says the word right out loud. So does my
Still, you can imagine my distress and disappointment
when – speaking on the same panel as Ibenboim – Naomi Tsur, head of a nearly
all-women’s party, Ometz Lev in Jerusalem, said she was only a
Tsur, a well-known environmentalist and
former deputy mayor whom I’ve always admired, described how in 2013 she’d had a
fight with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat. She didn’t say over what. When she told
Barkat that she would be leaving his list and starting her own political party
for city council, he shot back that he’d find a woman to replace her on his
list. “He didn’t even realize what was wrong with that,” said Tsur.
was her moment of feminist consciousness-raising.
She presumably realized
for the first time that she had not only been valued for her thoughts alone, but
also because women were now needed to make political tickets appealing to
Like me, Tsur is a grandmother, and I wondered how anyone who had
grown up in an English-speaking country and Israel, who was so much involved in
public service, could have missed feminism.
“I thought it was right to
stay home and bring up my children,” she answered.
Which, of course, has
nothing to do with being a feminist or not. Feminism is, above all, about
raising consciousness so that we can make informed decisions about what we
really want to do, and have freedom of opportunity to follow our hearts and
Making a choice to stay home or not stay home, rather than
being coerced to stay home or not stay home, is what feminism is about. It also
means making the opportunities family-friendly, so that meaningful and
remunerative employment can be combined with parenting and public
We may have come a long way, baby, but we have also have a long,
long way to go.
Whether they made it into city councils or not this
election cycle, the women who were willing to stand up within their communities
and then to seek the broader endorsement of their towns have moved us
And it looks as if the campaign for 2018 has already begun.
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