MK Rachel Azaria.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
I see MK Rachel Azaria long before I get to sit with her. First, from the visitors’ gallery at the Knesset where I watch as she votes on proposed bills before taking to the podium to passionately defend her own bill. Then she hurries through the halls in a purple dress and low heels, apologizing that she can’t sit with me yet. When she meets me in the Knesset members’ cafeteria, it’s 7:30 p.m. She has a headache and has not had time to eat. “Hard to be an MK?” She half laughs, half sighs. “I never thought I would be in politics. It wasn’t anything I planned. I come from a very Zionist family, but not a political one.” Half-Tunisian, half-American, Azaria had always been active in social change organizations; Greencore for the environment, Mavoi Satum for agunot (Azaria was its director), but never politics. What changed? “I got married, had two children and suddenly, after everyone raised their heads after the Second Intifada, a lot of our friends began leaving Jerusalem. My husband and I sat down and spoke, we had to decide if we were going to leave, too.”At the time, there was a haredi mayor and many young families wondered if Jerusalem was the best place to raise their children. “The feeling was that Jerusalem was pushing us out; every week another family left. We decided to stay, but knew we had to work to make it better. I considered starting an organization, but people insisted that change comes from politics. Things such as afterschool activities, parks, culture, the types of apartments built, schools etc., these decisions are made by the municipality. Before I was a mother, I didn’t pay attention to the sidewalks, whether or not there was shade, if the streets were clean, or where the kindergartens were.” Suddenly, these things mattered.