We have just celebrated Rosh Hodesh, as the new moon confirms the transition from the month of Tishrei to the new month of Cheshvan. Tradition holds that Rosh Hodesh, marking the beginning of each new month in the Hebrew calendar, is a special day for Jewish women, honoring the biblical convention that it was the women of the Tribes of Israel who refused to participate in the sin of the Golden Calf – the catastrophic transgression that prevented an entire generation from fulfilling the dream of entering the Promised Land.
It seems, therefore, natural for women from Jerusalem and elsewhere who wish to pray together at the Western Wall to choose to do so on this special day each month.
That they are threatened, harassed and harangued by those who claim to be the guardians of biblical tradition is testament to one of the greatest challenges facing the modern Jewish World: the lack of gender equality.
Key to this is also the lack of gender equality in the public domain and, even more crucially, in the decision-making process of the city.
Women have always contributed so much to the success of this city, and to the country as a whole, yet the higher echelons of political leadership show a significant deficit in the representation of women. Currently, out of 31 members of the City Council, only eight are women, with the likelihood of perhaps four at most in the coming administration.
Around the government cabinet table of 18 ministers, women number less than five.
Denial of gender equality does not simply deny women the rights afforded to men, but effectively denies the entire society the benefit of a fully representative perspective.
That is not to say that only issues affecting women are neglected (though I have yet to be truthfully shown an issue of public governance that affects women only), but all issues pertaining to every area of the city, be it community, economic, cultural, education or planning. The problem is not to address women’s issues, but to benefit from the wisdom of women in all aspects of governance, health and economic development.
As we have just read in the book of Genesis, women were created as a completion of man. As wonderful a notion that may be in terms of romance and marriage, it also offers an important message.
To achieve true equality and representative decisionmaking, women must be present – and bring with them an understanding of all the areas and disciplines needed to run the city relating to its well-being and all its residents – regardless of their political or religious views. This is implicit in the concept of “completion,” since only two halves can constitute the whole.
This is the mindset in which I decided to initiate the establishment of a new list for the municipality, led by women, which addresses a holistic urban agenda. It seemed to me that in our traditional Jewish pursuit of justice, this is the simplest and most appropriate way of attempting to “repair” one aspect of our damaged public ethics.
This move undoubtedly requires courage, and indeed we have called our list Ometz Lev, or “Braveness of Heart.”
It is the collective courage of the diverse and special women and men who have joined me in this initiative that will make people stop and think about how truly simple solutions to our society’s wrongs can be. With our list, we have brought together voices from the national religious, the ultra- Orthodox and the liberalprogressive sectors. When it comes to men from these diverse groups, they find it hard to be civil to one other, never mind join forces for a shared goal! It is my belief that the core challenges of Jerusalem cut across the political and religious divides, and understanding this has inspired the women of Jerusalem to adopt and promote an agenda addressing the shared challenges of economic, social and environmental sustainability for all.
This is much more than smart political thinking for the municipal elections. We are saying that women deserve better than to beg not to be pushed to the back of buses. Now is the time for them to step forward and assume a much greater portion of the leadership positions in our city, and indeed throughout the country.
The author is deputy mayor of Jerusalem and chairperson of Ometz Lev, a new list running in the Jerusalem municipal elections.
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