Update December 4, 2017 from the Chochmat Nashim Facebook page:
Supreme Court Judge Hanan Meltzer said, “There is no such thing in the State of Israel as a road that is closed to women, nor will there be.
As far as we are concerned, there should be a police presence day and night and any woman who wants to pass should have a police escort.” The judges suggest that the next step is jailtime and tell the city that they have until Sunday to take down the signs and for the police to ensure they don’t go back up.
This article first appeared in the Jerusalem Post’s In Jerusalem supplement on November 14, 2017. Reprinted with permission.
Beit Shemesh modesty sign. Photo: Alisa Coleman
Turf battle in Beit Shemesh
As haredim continue to defy legal rulings against modesty signs,
many have begun to see the city as ‘the canary in the coal mine’
of Israel’s complex secular-religious conflict
• By HANNAH KATSMAN
A large sign with bold black letters hangs on the fifth and highest floor of an apartment building at the street corner near Alisa Coleman’s Beit Shemesh home. Instructing women in “our” neighborhood to appear in modest clothing and signed by “neighborhood residents,” the sign and others like it are part of an ongoing turf war in the increasingly haredi city.
When Coleman first moved to the Sheinfeld neighborhood, she occasionally visited stores in the Kirya Haredit (Haredi Quarter), near the Migdal Hamayim (Water Tower) neighborhood.
“I had no problems, but that was where the first sign appeared.”
The sign proclaimed, “By ruling of the community leader, women are requested to refrain from passing by or loitering on this sidewalk, which is used for those attending the synagogue.” The sign was “donated to the complete repentance of those burning in the furnace of iPhones and the Internet.”
Secular-religious conflict has characterized the State of Israel since its inception. With the increase in the haredi population and with it, political power, the conflict has intensified. In recent months, the radical Jerusalem Faction has staged violent protests in the capital against draft registration. The protests, which included burning tires, blocking streets and throwing trash, caused suffering to the vast majority of the haredi population, both economic and because of the injury to the community’s reputation and influence. This may have led to the posters calling for a boycott of businesses whose owners took part, including the owner of the haredi grocery chain Bar-Kol.
Altercations between the haredim and other residents of Beit Shemesh have also become violent at times. A development town originally populated by North African immigrants in the 1950s, a group of national-religious yeshiva graduates arrived in the 1980s with the aim of strengthening the local population religiously, while benefiting from cheaper housing. Soon English-speaking immigrants discovered Beit Shemesh as an inexpensive and convenient alternative to Jerusalem and Ra’anana, building a large community with seven or eight national-religious synagogues spanning several neighborhoods. The first haredi neighborhoods were built in the 1990s and haredim now make up about half of the city’s population.
According to London-born Coleman, who has lived in Beit Shemesh for 20 years, the trouble began with isolated incidents. “One woman was harassed while running, another hit with a rock while biking. Then the extremists came and pushed into Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet, even nearer to where we live.”
The conflict escalated in 2013, when a national-religious elementary school for girls opened on the border of Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet. The haredim, who largely came from the insular Jerusalem neighborhood of Mea She’arim, wanted the facility fortheir own community. Haredi men lined the sidewalks, hissing and sometimes spitting at the girls as they walked to and from school.
“The people who bought in that neighborhood said, ‘This is our street,’” explains Coleman. “They felt that they bought the street along with the apartments. The Orot [state religious school] girls go to school with three-quarter-length sleeves, so there is no question of modesty.”
Eventually the conflict generated national and international media attention.
“After the publicity,” says Coleman, “the country went crazy, and put pressure on the haredim. It looked bad for them.” The school has since remained free from controversy.
Another street conflict erupted earlier this year when national-religious youth group counselors walking through Ramat Beit Shemesh on Shabbat afternoons were harassed by haredi teenagers, who spit, yelled and threw objects. “It came to a head at Purim time,” recalls Coleman, “when a mob surrounded two of the girls.”
The national-religious teens and their parents met with city and neighborhood leaders, avoiding the media. As with the Jerusalem Faction riots, shaming, presumably from within the extremists’ own community, ended the harassment.
Pashkevilim (posters) went up listing businesses with tax issues and pictures of illegal structures. The posters threatened to pass on damaging information to the authorities.
“Suddenly, things changed,” says Coleman. “Parents were told to keep their kids inside when the counselors walked by. The community didn’t want 100 national-religious adults accompanying eight teenagers. Then representatives of the neighborhood came out and said to the parents, ‘We’ll protect you – we’ll make sure the teenagers [responsible for the harassment] don’t come out.’”
“They’ve controlled it,” concludes Coleman. “There’s a bit of shouting now, but no throwing.”
“We used to believe no one controlled them,” says Coleman.
“We have been walking with the teenagers for three months. The police walked with us while undercover and arrested teens on Shabbat. The system is working better and understands the problem better. Beit Shemesh is the canary in the coal mine. It will happen in other places if not dealt with properly.”
Coleman emphasizes the need to do things legally, without resorting to violence. She and her neighbors support the local haredi businesses and get to know the owners. But she refuses to concede.
“Most people are not interested in spitting at women. But when it becomes allowed to happen, it becomes a norm. Like throwing stones at cars in Mea She’arim. If no one is telling you to stop, there is no deterrent.”
DESPITE THE lawsuits, the modesty signs have remained in place. Opponents claim the massive signs contribute to an intimidating atmosphere and encourage violence. Attorney Orly Erez-Likhovski of the Israel Religious Action Center explained to In Jerusalem why the signs don’t fall under the principles of free speech, even on private property.
“First, the signs look official,” says Erez-Likhovski, “and are signed by rabbis. Yet no permit has been acquired.”
“Second,” she continues, “they are offensive, because they attempt to limit the ability of women to walk in public. In the 2013 report on exclusion of women written by the government’s legal advisory council, there is no mandate for separation of the sexes as a principle of haredi culture. Modesty does not have the same weight as Shabbat observance, for example, and prohibiting the presence of a woman in the public sphere is contrary to the principles of a democratic society.”
With the help of Erez-Likhovski and the Israel Religious Action Center, four women sued the Beit Shemesh Municipality for malpractice, through the local magistrate’s court, in 2013. “Our claim,” says Erez-Likhovski, “is that the signs were not only offensive, but led to physical damages. Judge David Gidoni accepted our claim, awarding NIS 15,000 to each of the four women.”
In 2016, the district court rejected the municipality’s appeal, obligating the city to remove the signs – but they quickly reappeared. In February 2017, the women sued the city for contempt of court. This past June, Supreme Court Judge Yigal Marzel agreed and said that the city would be fined NIS 10,000 for every day the signs remain. Marzel also ordered the city to place cameras at its own expense, and increase police patrols to keep the signs from being replaced.
At the Supreme Court hearing, Mayor Moshe Abutbul of the haredi Shas Party claimed that he had no argument with the law forbidding the signs, which have been up for 15 years. But he expressed fear about entering the neighborhood to take action. “They have overturned a police car and dropped concrete blocks. I’m embarrassed by the violence.”
Beit Shemesh Mayor Moshe Abutbul (left) Photo: Hannah Katsman
Abutbul and the city legal adviser, Mickey Gastwirt, spoke to IJ after the ruling. “The judge understands that it is not simple,” Abutbul said, “The topic is complex.”
“There has been a calming down,” says Gastwirt, citing the resolution of the conflict with the teen counselors. “It has to be through dialogue. There is a war, and we get a lot of complaints about threats. The people who suffer the most are the haredi residents, not the national-religious. But the signs are a symbol. It’s like going to the city of Mosul [in Iraq] and giving [Islamic State] a fine for leaving out garbage.”
He offered reasons for the delay in following the ruling. “The city prosecutor went on maternity leave and others are on vacation,” he explained. “There was no contempt of court. Go deal with the real problems, like the crazy driving on Highway 1, and forget about the signs.”
Attorney Rena Hollander, a resident of Beit Shemesh, recently filled a vacant spot on the city council. “It’s clear that Abutbul doesn’t want to take down the signs,” she says. “I don’t believe for a minute that they can’t be controlled. Abutbul puts up cameras during the day, in full view, and they get taken down immediately. It’s all a show between him and the extremists. He’s winking to them.”
After the hearing, the city removed five signs, but they were immediately replaced. Recently a sixth sign was spotted, asking men and women to stay on opposite sides of a public staircase.
Hollander, who made aliya from Toronto at age 10, served for a year and a half as the only female representative of the city’s religious council. She has recently resigned to take a seat on the city council and provides an insider’s glimpse of the goings-on behind the scenes in the religious council.
“Everything is a big fight. When we bring in speakers, they see it as taking ministry money for liberal women. There is a lot of tension between the haredi and dati leumi [national religious] rabbis surrounding the cemeteries and mikvaot [ritual baths]. Who will make the decisions, who appoints the balaniot [female mikve supervisors]. The haredim don’t even use most of the services. The previous rabbi resigned and instead of appointing someone new, they brought in a very extreme ‘volunteer’ rabbi who makes all of the decisions. There is no other national religious member of the council.”
“The atmosphere in the city is that women shouldn’t be in the public sphere,” Hollander continues. “This radiates into national religious society and even completely secular cities hire more male singers than female. Once it becomes normalized, it’s hard to eradicate – like the buses with separate seating that used to be on only one or two lines. Now there are dozens, even though they are unofficial.
“The signs aren’t irrelevant. I spoke to some extremists during the harassment of teenagers. They said, ‘Don’t you see the signs?’” Hollander included the incident in her report to the court.
Penina (not her real name), a haredi resident of Beit Shemesh, says that some city groups are extremely concerned about staying separate from secular influence.
“I think these signs are not really about tznius [modest dress],” maintains Penina. “It’s more about separation. In Israel, how you dress totally defines your ‘camp.’ Picking on dress is the easiest way to do that.
“Staying separate from foreign influences is a Torah value that’s highly prized in the haredi world,” continues Penina. “But usually not at the expense of other serious mitzvot, like loving your fellow Jew, not embarrassing people, and so on. In my opinion, this is a serious error.”
Rabbi Mordechai Goldstein of the Lev Eliyahu synagogue in the Mishkenot Ya’acov neighborhood of Beit Shemesh told IJ that he doesn’t know about any conflict regarding signs. “There are more important problems,” he says. “Newspaper writers are trying to make trouble. People here are very peaceful.” Other local haredi rabbis refused to comment.
Dr. Eve Finkelstein. Photo: Hannah Katsman
Dr. Eve Finkelstein, a party to the lawsuit, feels that the signs encourage violence. She was attacked by 300 men during a protest against the Egged bus company that she happened to walk into. “They threw rocks at me. It was winter and I was wearing long sleeves and a long skirt,” she recalls. Peaceful means of removing the signs, like mediation, have been ineffective.
“The signs have real-life consequences. A patient of mine was wearing a tank top when she fell and broke her ankle. When she got to the kupah (health clinic) on Hephzibah street, she saw the large modesty sign outside. So she went to the emergency room and had to pay about NIS 800, which the health fund refused to reimburse.
“From their side, they want to have control of the women. From our side, we need there to be a precedent. There are similar signs in Ashdod and Arad, with language about how women should dress. The haredim sent women out to work and opened their eyes. The women are not toeing the line. So the leaders get control through violence and fear.”
Finkelstein describes other attempts to take control.
“It’s a violent haredi sect that wants to enforce its rules,” she declares. “There is a modesty patrol that physically attacked the editors of publications who print ads for lactation consultants, driving lessons for women or for yeshiva students, or for a tzimmer [guest house]. A Sephardi haredi editor allowed ads for driving lessons. They came to his office, poured glue in his door and destroyed his entrance. It rules with violence.
“The secular Jews have a ridiculous respect for haredim. But the haredim have taken things to a place with no connection to Halacha. The secular think it’s a religious issue. But religious men live in North America and Europe. They don’t attack women sexually. Don’t tell me you need the sign to control the men.”
It’s not clear what it will take to resolve this conflict, but perhaps it is simple members of the haredi community who will begin to force change, even incrementally. Notes Finkelstein: “I know a woman from [haredi Beit Shemesh neighborhood] Heftziba who is moving out of the neighborhood after hearing about another woman attacked for a long wig like she herself wears.”
More on Beit Shemesh from A Mother in Israel:
Beit Shemesh School Battle
Beit Shemesh Channel 2 Orot documentary
Bruria Keren arrested for child abuse
Exclusion of (Breastfeeding) Women in Beit Shemesh
I first wrote the checklist below ten years ago. I’m republishing it as a new post, for the third time. I’ve also set up a page with the best posts about Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot. Some of the tips below only apply when Rosh Hashanah is on Shabbat or leads into Shabbat. Don’t hesitate to ask if you have questions. You can also post on the Mother in Israel Facebook page.
On my Cooking Manager site, I have Rosh Hashanah recipe and menu ideas.
Those of us in Israel aren’t used to a three-day Yom Tov (two days of Rosh Hashanah followed by Shabbat). Wherever you are, here are some tips to keep you sane if you are panicking about now.
- Check out Carolyn’s lists on Juggling Frogs. They are long, and many items may not be relevant for you, but you don’t want to overlook anything critical.
- Remember that you can cook on Rosh Hashanah for that day, and on Friday for Shabbat. Of course we don’t want to spend all Yom Tov in the kitchen! But if you are behind, first worry about the Wednesday night meal and any dishes that you make using an electric appliance. I always remember that if I use up more food than expected, I can always take meat out of the freezer on the second night (Thursday) to cook Friday. I’ve never had to do it, though. (If Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbat, this would be Saturday night for Sunday lunch.)
- How many cakes and kugels can you eat anyway? Keep the menu simple. Plain vegetables with herbs are healthier anyway, and can be cooked quickly on Yom Tov.
- Don’t cook faster than you can clean up. Take the time to clear a cluttered workspace, and you’ll be more efficient.
- Making decisions can take more time than cooking. Plan what you are serving for each meal, how you will heat up the food, and which utensils you will use. Be sure to defrost everything early, preferably in the refrigerator.
- Set up and test any timers, including for the air-conditioner, early in the day on Wednesday, then turn them on before candle-lighting.
- Don’t forget the Eruv Tavshilin! This involves setting aside food from before the holiday that allows one to prepare on Friday for Shabbat, including lighting candles.
- Keep your family safe. Keep toddlers away from the stove, defrost and heat up stored food completely (for soup, that means boiling), and put away leftovers promptly.
- What are you doing on the computer? Get back to work! (Unless you’re nursing the baby.)
A word about halacha: One may not prepare for the second night of Rosh Hashanah before tzet hacochavim (the appearance of stars) So candle-lighting (from an existing flame), table-setting, and dishwashing must wait until that point. Our rabbi said, however, that one may warm up the food for the nighttime meal as long as it would be ready to eat while it is still daytime Thursday. I’m just quoting.
Another useful halacha for Yom Tov is found in the book Shmirat Shabbat Kehilchatah. While you can’t turn on an electric timer, you can push the thingamajigs in or out to make the appliance stay on for less or more time. So let’s say that I want to make cholent on Friday for Shabbat (this must also be done early in the day). Before Yom Tov, I’ll set the timer of the crockpot to go on only for 15 minutes each day, the minimumtime my device allow. On Friday, when I have the food in the pot, I’ll add extra time on the timer in either direction. I’ll be careful adjust it so that it will not go on or off while I am adjusting it. If it’s on already, I can make it stay on longer or start earlier. If it’s set to be on for too long, I can adjust it to start later and end earlier. If it’s not on at the moment, you can set it to go off completely. Just be careful not to disconnect the clock.
A hagaz, a manual timer that turns off gas automatically according to the interval you set, is a lifesaver for Rosh Hashanah. If you can find a 48-hour candle you are all set.
On Shabbat, we light candles, cover our eyes and then say the blessing. Once we say the blessing we have accepted Shabbat, so we can’t light them afterward. On Yom Tov, when lighting candles from an existing flame is permissible, we can say the blessings first (including shehecheyanu) and then light the candles. Many Sephardim (Jews of north African origin) don’t say a blessing on Yom Tov candles at all.
And one word for the mothers of young children out there: It’s hard to miss most or all of shul on Rosh Hashanah while caring for your kids on your own (I hope you can find a friend in the same situation). Keep in mind that Rosh Hashanah will come around again, but this season of your baby’s life happens only once.
Wishing all of you a Ketivah ve-Chatimah Tovah. May you and your families be inscribed for a good year.
Tal Tereza. Photo: Yuval Chen Ynet
Here is my loose translation of Part II of Ariela Sternbach and Yehuda Shochat‘s reporting in Ynet on a widespread adoption ring, in which American haredi askanim prey on young Israeli women and girls with unwanted pregnancies.
9 years ago, Tal Terezi’s daughter was kidnapped and transferred to an adoptive family.
The authors have received dozens of messages about the baby trade on an enormous scale, and illustrates a serious dysfunction among Israeli authorities. Every case involves young haredi girls with unwanted pregnancies, who were sent to the US, and whose babies were taken moments after the birth.
The “traders” operate like a chain with agents including American host families who provide homes for the pregnant women flown from Israel, doctors, channels for transferring money, and adoptive families who receive the babies one way or another after birth. In some cases the mothers cooperate and receive a fee. In a few cases force or trickery were involved.
Tal’s case is unusual because she knows where her daughter is. During the investigation we reached the adoptive father, and other links in the chain. But because of the time that has passed, Tal is worried about contacting her daughter, who may not know she was adopted.
Tal was married off at 16, divorced quickly, left home and got pregnant. The man broke off the relationship. She contacted the Efrat organization that helps prevent abortion by providing services to pregnant women. An Efrat volunteer “Rina” was assigned to accompany her. At four months of pregnancy, Rina arranged a meeting with a haredi askan (operative) from Brooklyn named Moshe, who offered Tal a trip to the US to work, saying, “If you have a place to go back to in Israel, you can bring the child back–all is well and good. It not, you have the option of putting her up for adoption.”
Before traveling, she was asked to go to a Beit Din (religious court) in Jerusalem, where she was asked intrusive questions about her parents’ background, and they insisted on knowing the baby’s paternity. Then she lived in Lakewood while doing light housework for a family, who provided clothes. Once, when Tal brought in the mail, she noticed a check from Moshe for $10,000 to the family in exchange for hosting.
After three months, the hostess brought her to the hospital and waited with her. The birth was short but Tal had medical complications and needed units of blood.
“No one said anything about adoption, just that they will help me with whatever decision I make. The hostess returned home and I stayed with my daughter.”
Rina claims not to remember, but she admits to being a volunteer in Efrat. She doesn’t give a straight answer to the reporters’ questions.
The Efrat organization acknowledges that Rina is a volunteer. The reporters found no involvement of Efrat in any of these cases.
Just before being released, two haredim came to visit Tal. They spoke in English and asked to see the baby. She thought they might have been sent by the community to see how she was.
The askan Moshe came with a few others and began intensive pressure to give over the child for adoption. They dressed the baby in beautiful clothes, and began a psychological war of attrition.
Tal: They said I cost them a lot of money, and I don’t have a way to raise the child, and that I have to leave her and return to Israel without it. I started to cry. I was so weak. They suddenly said, “You’ll raise the child in a neighborhood with drug dealers and prostitutes, you don’t have money to return, and we can’t pay for it because you cost us too much.” I said I’m not ready to hear, and the girl is returning with us.”
Tal left the ward and signed release papers, while one of the men pushed her in the wheelchair. Moshe held the baby in the carseat. Tal got into the car and saw Moshe put the carseat with the baby into another car. It happened in seconds. Tal: The next day a lawyer came and said she was having me sign an English document, saying that I have 45 days to prove that I am able to raise the child, and then I can get her back. I signed, and then they put me on a plane to Israel, even though the doctor had forbidden me from traveling.
Reporter: Maybe you signed adoption papers?
Tal: No. They said it was a document saying I need 45 days to bring proof that I can raise the child.
She sent messages, tried to call the askan involved, for nothing. Just before the 45 days were up, Tal filed a police complaint.
“I was sure that Israel would do all it could to return the baby to me.” After a few months she heard the case was turned over to the American authorities. The justice ministry decided to close the case and have not said way.
Noa Haríf lives in the US a few years and got pregnant. A haredi askan named Moshe approached her.
Noa: I went to a local hospital for tests, and in the afternoon I got a call from Moshe. He said he helps Jewish women in trouble and asked to meet. Moshe asked whether the father was Jewish. I didn’t answer. They offered to help with everything and stand by whatever decision I made.
Moshe gave her $2000 for rent, and offered to help. He was suspiciously friendly. He called all the time. But I didn’t really cooperate because I was suspicious.
He arranged another meeting with Noa and started to pressure her, saying that she has no one, her parents are traditional and won’t accept the pregnancy, and offered her lodging with a family that he would choose, and “if you don’t want to raise the child yourself, you can do a big mitzvah.”
Noa responded with shock, and said she had no intention of putting up the baby for adoption. Moshe changed tactics and stopped calling, and asked her to return the money. Then a family from Brooklyn called her. Noa was curious and offered to meet them. They offered $100 just for the meeting.The woman cried hysterically, said she had no children and appealed to Noa’s conscience. She gave her $100 and said there was a lot more where that came from. “Naturally I did not meet them again.”
The reporters have received similar accounts from relatives, and from a woman who hosted a young pregnant woman in exchange for funds for expenses, received from a haredi askan. The mothers from whom the babies are taken receive money, but also the host families, and others in the chain. The sums add up to millions of dollars.
Tal is now married and the mother of three. She managed to contact the family that hosted her and begged them to send her pictures of the child. She did receive a few, as well as a drawing that the girl supposedly drew. It was of a loving mother and daughter.
We reached the couple that allegedly received Tal’s daughter. The father was surprised by the call and the allegations. It could be that he acted appropriately, or at least thought that he was adopting a child by an acceptable process. “Tell her that everything is okay,” he said. “We’ll send her an email update.”
Did you know that the baby was taken against her will?
Adoptive father: I don’t know, and don’t understand what you are trying to tell me.
Did you pay for the girl?
Adoptive father: I don’t know anything about money. I don’t want to talk about it because it’s personal, and I don’t know who you are. Tal should send me an email, even in Hebrew, and I’ll translate.”
Tal wants to send one message. “I want my daughter. I want to hug her, and raise her with my children. Maybe now it’s less in her interest, because she’s used to her new family, but I want to meet her, to know her, to be in touch with her. I’m her mother.”
Shusheim from the Efrat organization welcomes an investigation by the police.
The police say they took a lot of testimony, approached the US authorities for help, and the justice ministry closed the file in 2010.
Credit: Yael Lockerman
The Israeli Central Bureau for Statistics announced the ten most popular names for 2014. It usually takes them a whole year to analyze them. Biblical and animal names dominate the list, along with two-syllable names. Here’s the rundown:
- Noa. This biblical name has been the number one girl’s name for 16 years, but it’s starting to lose popularity. I haven’t come across a good explanation of the name’s meaning.
- Tamar. Another classic biblical name, meaning date.
- Shira. A modern Hebrew name meaning song.
- Maya. Not a Hebrew name.
- Yael. A biblical name that has never gone out of style, meaning mountain goat.
- Adele/Edel. These babies are named after the singer or the daughter of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of hasidism. Edel is Yiddish for sweet or gentle.
- Talia. Lamb.
- Avigayil (Abigail). Father of joy. A biblical name that has made a comeback in recent years.
- Ayala. Female gazelle. Biblical name that has made a comeback in recent years.
- Sarah. Princess. Biblical name popular in religious circles, especially haredi communities.
Miriam was the most popular name for Moslem girls, while Sarah and Esther topped the list in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak, respectively. Maya was number one in Tel Aviv.
See more name posts on A Mother in Israel:
Dreaming about Israeli Baby Boy Names
Israeli Baby Boy Name Help: June 2015
Israeli Baby Boy Name Help: March 2015
Israeli Baby Girl Name Suggestions Needed: January 2015
Israeli Baby Boy Name Help, December 2014
Israeli Baby Girl Name Help, December 2014
Israeli Baby Name Help, February 2014
Top 20 Israeli Baby Girl Names for 2012
Top 20 Israeli Baby Boy Names for 2012
Israeli Baby Girl Name Help, November 2013
Israeli Baby Name Help, June 2013
Modern Israeli Baby Girl Names, April 2013
Israeli Baby Boy Name Help–starting with “R”
Israeli Baby Name Queries, December 2012
Top 20 Israeli Baby Names for Boys, 2010
Top 20 Israeli Baby Names for Girls, 2010
Popular Israeli Names for Girls (October 2008)
Popular Israeli Names for Boys (October 2008)
Help This Reader Choose a Hebrew Baby Name (November 2009)
More Popular Israeli Baby Names (April 2010)
Help Readers Choose an Israeli Baby Name (June 2010)
Israeli Baby Name Help Needed (November 2010)
Needed: Israeli Baby Girl Name Suggestions (September 2010)
Unusual Israeli Baby Names
Get more baby name ideas at the Facebook page for A Mother in Israel.
Right to left: Divon, Shilat, Hirshfeld, Katan, Moyal, Zilbershatz. Credit: Hannah Katsman
This article appeared in the “In Jerusalem” supplement of the Jerusalem Post on March 25, 2016.
Balancing motherhood and careers, with the help of Tzohar
By Hannah Katsman
Since the early days of the kibbutz, Israeli mothers have been working outside the home. Yet the conflict between motherhood and career has become more acute in recent years, as women take on higher-level, management positions.
A group of women from the national- religious sector, where women marry young and often have large families, met in January to discuss the topic at an event sponsored by the rabbinic organization Tzohar.
The panel, “Motherhood, Careers and Guilty Consciences,” took place at the Petah Tikva Art Museum. Tzofia Hirshfeld, Tzohar’s director of external communications, sought out female professionals from the sector who excelled in the fields of academics, the arts, medicine, journalism and society.
Tzohar trains Orthodox rabbis to perform weddings, funerals and other religious rites for Israel’s secular population.
They strictly follow Jewish law, yet avoid alienating secular Jews from religious practice. According to Hirshfeld, Tzohar’s 420 rabbis throughout the country perform 4,500 weddings each year, about 10 percent of all weddings performed through the rabbinate.
“We held the event both to recognize the wives for their contribution to their husbands’ volunteer efforts,” Hirshfeld explained, “and to energize and empower them on a personal level.”
Hirshfeld opened the panel with the statistic that 74% of married Israeli mothers are employed, and giving some insights on the Torah’s view of work. In Genesis, God assigns work to Adam as a punishment. Yet the Torah also presents the work of the building the Temple, as described in the Book of Exodus, as a source of inspiration.
Panelist Yehudit Shilat, a founder of the Takana forum that addresses sexual harassment and abuse within the religious community, suggested that the conflict is entrenched in society.
“Why do mothers who don’t work out of the home say that they don’t work?” she asked. “The panel should have asked why most women have two careers. There is constant conflict.”
The reason, Shilat argued, is that we romanticize motherhood instead of seeing it as a job like any other.
“According to the Mishna, a mother can even hire someone to breastfeed her baby. Motherhood has meaning, but it doesn’t have to be so extreme. Society creates the dilemma by making motherhood the essence of a woman’s existence, and we then judge ourselves on that basis. We don’t stay up at night If our careers are not perfect.”
Dr. Chana Katan, an author and specialist in gynecology, obstetrics, and fertility, differed.
“I see the conflict as internal, and not connected to society,” Katan said. “The kids won’t lose out if a mother chooses a career, but experiences of motherhood cannot be replaced. Motherhood is an essential part of a woman’s essence, and I don’t want it taken from me.”
Katan trained as a doctor while raising 11 children, and found the 36-hour shifts away from her children traumatic.
“Back then, all of my friends were at home much more than I,” she said. “But today, mothers pile on more careers.”
Hili Moyal, editor of the women’s magazine Nashim, described her evolution as a mother.
“My mother was a career woman and I wanted to do the opposite,” she explained. “I had an ideal of staying home with my children and did so with fussy babies and postpartum depression. Eventually I started working from home, and it took me even longer to consider leaving the house for work.”
Now, Moyal finds that she enjoys the time with her children much more than when she was home with them full time.
“I turn off the phone. It’s also nice not to live with overdraft. Instead of talking about the price we pay, we should look at the gains.”
Prof. Yaffa Silbershatz, on the National Committee for Planning and Budgets in Higher Education, who was born in 1953, has seen a dramatic shift.
“My husband was born in Europe, and he expects the food to be served to him,” she explained. “Tonight I left him dinner, but he wasn’t happy about it. Ours was the first generation to be born in Israel, and no one taught us how to both go out to work and be traditional.”
She sees her own children having a more equal partnership with their partners.
“The discussion has changed, for better or worse. I feel that we are progressing to the point where the dilemma belongs not only to the wife, but to the couple.”
Moyal noted that Israel is still a very patriarchal society. “When my husband picks up the children from kindergarten, people tell him what a good father he is and how his wife works very hard.”
Chava Divon, screenwriter for the popular sitcom Srugim, agreed that fathers today are more involved, but mothers don’t want to give up on motherhood.
The only panelist to bring up the status she enjoys as a career woman, she noted, “Once I got dragged out of the house, my high profile gave me a new identity. It’s hard to give it up.”
Shilat, like the other panelists with older children, recalled a time when mothers had it easier. “I worked from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and went to sleep from 2 to 4 p.m. Then I went out. Nowadays there are no jobs like that. All my friends were teachers. In the Western world, there are no boundaries, and it’s a crime for families. Children need someone to be at home.”
Shilat would like to see a law that allows one parent of dual-career couples to end work at 3 p.m.
“Our current model, based on the US’s eight-hour work day, only fits a society with one main earner in the household. It’s fatal to this dilemma.”
Katan urged young mothers to set priorities and get help, especially for the difficult afternoon hours, but not to forget the big picture.
“Choose a career where you can decide when to invest more or less time,” Katan advised. “It’s not black or white. But a woman who misses her chance to give birth loses out.”
After the panel, Celia Sherwin, a coach on balance for women, provided practical tips to the audience.
“Women set their standards too high,” she warned. “It’s no longer enough for women to be everywhere, but they have to be the best at it. And it’s not just working and mothering – women have to eat healthy, and work out. They are told they should be able to juggle everything easily, yet they find themselves dropping the balls and feeling guilty.”
Sherwin passed out a chart with eight areas, including career, couplehood, health and fitness, personal growth, friendships, culture, family and financial stability. She suggested rating each area according to level of satisfaction from 1 to 5, then picking one area to work on effecting change.
The evening ended on a light note, with a performance by the religious female stand-up artist Noya Mendel.
Yael Maizels, a mother of four from Ariel and biology instructor at the local university, came because of her husband’s work with Tzohar.
“I listened closely to Silbershatz, as we are both academics,” Maizels told In Jerusalem after the event. “Young women in academia, especially the sciences, have a more severe conflict than most women.
About 70% of the students in my department are women, but only 30% of the professors. The ones who want to raise families drop out early on. In the humanities, it’s possible to start later, like [wife of Har Etzion yeshiva head Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein] Tova Lichtenstein, who received a doctorate in social work after her children were grown.”
Lichtenstein went on to have an influential career in academia and public policy.
Katan provided an optimistic note for struggling young mothers, reminding them that this stage eventually ends.
“My relationship with my adult children is the greatest reward.”