Sunday was International Women’s Day but at Masorti Congregation Moreshet Yisrael in Jerusalem Shushan Purim commemorating the heroine Queen Esther (Hadassah in Hebrew) morphed into International Women’s Shabbat. The congregation has been celebrating Women’s Shabbat for the past four years.

This year’s guest drashanit Rabbi Naamah Kelman, the dean of Hebrew Union College’s Jerusalem campus and the first woman rabbi ordained in Israel, connected Purim to Henrietta Szold and the founding of Hadassah 103 years ago, to the first Women’s Day observance in New York in 1909.

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The first Women’s Day was organized by the Socialist party in remembrance of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU) strike one year earlier. My grandfather was a union organizer for the ILGWU so the plight of women working in sweatshops and the battle for fair wages and better working conditions is part of my family’s historic memory. This very Jewish commitment to social justice has been passed l’dor v’dor through the generations.

In 1910, an International Women’s Conference was organized and an International Woman’s Day was proposed. The goal was to promote equal rights, suffrage, and to improve the working conditions of women. While women in Western nations have gained many rights in the last hundred years, specifically the right to vote, equality in the workplace in terms of equal pay and women breaking the glass ceiling in many professions still eludes us.

Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics shows huge gaps between the earnings of male and female workers, Women’s average monthly salary is 7,280 shekels and men average 10, 683, 31.9 percent higher. Women continue to work in lower paid professions that have been typically dominated by women, including: childcare, teaching, and retail. Women account for only one third of managerial positions and only 35.5 percent of high tech positions (some of the higher paying jobs in Israel)

Our founding fathers and mothers included strong Jewish women including Henrietta Szold and Golda Meir. That makes the lack of progress for women even harder to fathom. That is until we look at the current lists of the major parties running in the election.

The Likud party list includes six women out of 30 or 20 percent. Bayit Yehudi has five out of 22. The Haredi parties Shas and United Torah have no women on their lists. Haredi women make up five percent of the population but receive absolutely no political representation.

Other parties have far better percentages. According to a survey conducted by TRI Strategic Research that was presented at a WIZO event on International Women’s Day, Yesh Atid is the best party for promoting women’s rights. The criteria was based on female representation in the party, supporting legislation to promote women’s rights and several other points. Two other parties with the most women on their party lists are Meretz with 50 percent and The Zionist Union with 38 percent.

While gender equality is far from the only reason to vote for a political party, it follows that a party that promotes social justice in one arena is more likely to promote social justice when it comes to economic reforms, ending gender discrimination in the workplace, religious pluralism and reforming our marriage and divorce laws, environmental protection, and other quality of life issues.

As long as women are under-represented in our government, the issues that are important to women will not be adressed.Let’s make sure that our next Knesset represents all the population (not just those with Y chromosomes) and works to correct these wrongs.

When women are allowed to lead, we rise to the occasion like Esther, Henrietta, and Golda.






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