March 25, 2019

HBI Thanks Founding Board Member, Janet Zolot

By Amy Powell

When Janet Zolot announced her retirement earlier this year from the HBI Board of Advisors, it was truly the end of an era for HBI. Zolot, an original board member, has been here for the entire 21-year journey. More than that, she was an integral part of HBI’s founding.

To Zolot, getting involved in Jewish women’s causes came naturally. It was part of her upbringing. Her mother was president of the Philadelphia chapter of Hadassah and her father was president of the Beth Sholom Synagogue in suburban Philadelphia, the only synagogue designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

“I grew up in a world where everyone was involved in doing things for the Jewish community,” said Zolot. “My mother was so positive about her Hadassah involvement that I went to the meetings and ended up as president of Philadelphia Hadassah with 37 groups and 10,000 people. It was quite a responsibility.”

It was during her years as National Hadassah vice-president that Hadassah formed the National Commission on American Jewish Women, an effort to find out what was known about Jewish women. Chaired by Brandeis Professor Shulamit Reinharz, who later became the HBI founding director,  the group tried to answer questions about what concerned American Jewish women, if they felt like part of the Jewish community, if their Jewish identity, Judaism or Israel was meaningful to them and how to address their concerns, strengthen their connections and bring greater Jewish meaning to women’s lives. “It was a really exciting, forward thinking time for National Hadassah,” Zolot noted. The Commission hired Brandeis Professor Sylvia Barack Fishman, who later became HBI’s co-director, to oversee the research.

When the research was to be presented for the first time in public at the General Assembly of the Jewish Federation, Zolot feared that no one would be interested.

“There were 22 concurrent sessions at our time slot and I was about to have a nervous breakdown, thinking no one would come. We had a decent sized room and to my surprise, we had to start bringing in extra chairs. There were over 250 people there and it was really a thrill, just amazing,” Zolot said.

At the time, Shirley Kalb was Hadassah’s director of strategic planning, and Zolot described her as “a brilliant woman who knew everyone in the Jewish community.”  Zolot remembers sitting in Kalb’s New York office with Reinharz and discussing the results after this initial reception. They all believed that too little was known about Jewish women and so much more was needed. Reinharz suggested that they form a research institute to learn more and the result was the founding of the International Research Institute on Jewish Women, (which later changed its name to HBI) at Brandeis University in January 1997. Established with a generous grant from Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America Inc., the IRIJW represented a bold venture for both Brandeis University and Hadassah. It was a natural fit for Zolot, who had been involved from the beginning to continue with HBI, bridging gaps between the Hadassah and HBI.

“Academia had not been part of my life after college and I found it extremely stimulating, Shula had a magical touch, Sylvia brought her unique interests and capabilities and the meetings were always an intellectually stimulating experience. We felt that we were accomplishing something worthwhile.” Zolot said.

Some of the early programs included learning more about Jewish women from Arab lands. The research was presented at the Hadassah National Convention, then replicated in communities through Hadassah chapters. Other programs on Queen Esther and on Jewish fertility issues were researched at HBI and shared through Hadassah.

HBI Director Lisa Fishbayn Joffe said of Zolot, “We are so grateful for the enormous impact she has had on HBI.  She was part of the initial group at Hadassah that initiated Voices for Change and generated the vision and resources for HBI.  In my new role, I often meet women from Hadassah groups around New England who tell me about the excitement of working with Jane on this. She has also been a supporter of many of our innovative programs including the program to bring Scholars in Residence from the former Soviet Union, that has now created a steady pipeline of applicants. Her enormous wisdom will be missed.”

Leslie Gaffin, the current liaison with Hadassah on the HBI Board, said, “Jane has been a pillar of support and knowledge for HBI.  I want to thank her for all the help she gave me as I assumed a board position. Her wise counsel and depth of understanding always led to creative solutions. She was certainly a great role model for me and I am sure for many others. I wish her good health and satisfaction in all her future endeavors.”

Zolot said she felt so proud of the feature story that appeared in Hadassah Magazine, HBI, A Pioneer in Gender Studies, on the 20th anniversary of HBI that she began to consider her retirement. “Now that we have passed our 20th year I feel that it’s time for me to retire from the HBI Board. I was present at creation when Shula, Shirley Kalb z’l and I met in Shirley’s office. I was skeptical but between Shula’s enthusiasm and Shirley’s determination I was swept up in the momentum that proceeded nonstop. It’s been an enriching experience to have been part of the years of innovation and growth and I wish for continued success in the future.”

Amy Powell is the assistant director of HBI.

In Judaism, Death, as Life, is with People

This is reprinted with the author’s permission from the Arizona Jewish Post.

By Gila Silverman

My mother died a day before Shavuot, two years ago. Three months later, at Yom Kippur services, I knew that I was finally an adult (at age 49) because, for the first time ever, I stayed in the sanctuary for the Yizkor memorial service. A year ago, at Passover, after making her recipes without her, I sobbed through Yizkor, painfully aware that I was sitting in her seat at her synagogue and she should have been there.

This year, during Passover Yizkor, to my great surprise, I found myself crying again, because it hit me — yet again, but as if for the first time — that for the rest of my life, I will be staying in the room for Yizkor, that I will always now be among the mourners. In an article reflecting on her 50-year career as a bereavement researcher, my mother wrote: “It became simpler when I stopped thinking of grief as an illness that ends. In its own way, grief lasts a lifetime. There is no universal or fixed schedule for grieving…. Children tell us that their grief changes as they mature. However, the death of a parent is with them for the rest of their lives.” My mother knew this from her research; she also knew it from Jewish tradition.

Jewish mourning is guided by two principles — kavod hamet and nichum aveilim — honoring the dead and comforting the mourners. Neither of these can be done alone. Like so much of Jewish life, we need other people to respond Jewishly to death. A well-known book describing life in the shtetls is called “Life is with People.” And from a Jewish perspective, death is also with people.  Mourning is by definition a lonely experience, as we try to adjust to a life without someone who was important to us. But Judaism ensures that we are not alone throughout this process. From the moment of death, actually from the moments preceding death, through the funeral, and the shiva, through the month or year of saying kaddish, and to the ongoing rememberings of yahrzeit and Yizkor, if we mourn as Jews, we don’t do so alone. In fact, we can’t do so alone.

This week, as I mark the completion of my second year without my mother, I will light a yahrzeit candle and make my way to a minyan to say kaddish. Then, a few days later, I will go back to the synagogue and, once again, stay in the room for Yizkor. The Yizkor prayers remind us that even after someone dies, they too are still “with people” ­­— their memories are still with us and they are still part of our communities. On this day, as we celebrate receiving the Torah that made us a people, we will also remember those who have come before us, and those who are no longer with us. We will recite the names of our dead, and give them a place in the community and in our prayers, knowing that who we are, and who we will be, incorporates them too.

My mother spent her professional life studying the mourning process. She taught that grief is not a process of letting go or of moving on; rather, it is a process of accommodating to a new life, and finding a way to continue a relationship with someone who is no longer physically present. We are lucky that Judaism provides us with a clear guide for how to do that. Five times a year — on the yahrzeit, and during the Yizkor services at Yom Kippur, Shemini Atzeret, Pesach and Shavuot — we officially pause to acknowledge those continuing relationships, and to bring them into our community’s sacred gathering. In our quiet moments alone at home, most of us remember, every day, those who have died. But because Jewish life is with people, we also need to remember them when we are together. Unlike mainstream America, where grief is supposed to be a private process, from which we “recover” quickly, Judaism recognizes that grief is a normal part of human life, which lasts throughout our lifetimes, and which we do not try to hide or run away from.

As we come together this week, to celebrate the Torah and to remember our ancestors, both personal and communal, may those relationships continue to enrich and guide our lives. May the souls of all those we love be bound up in the web of life, and may all of their memories be a blessing to us.

Gila Silverman, a 2017 HBI Scholar-in-Residence, is a research associate at The Hadassah-Brandeis Institute, Brandeis University, and a visiting scholar at the Arizona Center for Judaic Studies.

 

 

The Journey of Dorka Berger: From Childhood in the Lodz Ghetto and Auschwitz to Incarceration in Mandate Palestine

By Leslie Starobin

For over a decade, I have been conversing with Dorka Berger née Altman about her childhood in the Łódź Ghetto and Auschwitz and her journey to Mandate Palestine in 1946. In her Polish diary, she refers to this geographic region as Ziemia Obiecana—the Promised Land. In conversational Hebrew, she refers to it as Eretz Yisrael—the Land of Israel. The warmth of these biblical designations stands in contrast to the welcome Dorka received when she landed in Haifa. The British apprehended the young Holocaust survivor and transported her to the Atlit Detainee Camp 15 kilometers south of the port city. Disembarking from a military vehicle, Dorka surveyed the scene. “Again, barbed wire?”

Last summer I visited Dorka in Jerusalem and presented her with the book Memory Unearthed: The Lodz Ghetto Photographs of Henryk Ross. The catalogue accompanied a 2017 exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Viewing this visual tome sparked Dorka’s memory of the Altman family’s final days in the ghetto before their passage to Auschwitz in cattle cars.

One of the most striking photographs in the collection was taken during the liquidation of the Łódź Ghetto in August 1944. Ross had photographed the deportation from a crack in a wall in a storeroom across from the train depot. Afterwards, he buried his negatives in the ground so they could be dug up later to serve as indisputable evidence of Nazi crimes. In the foreground of this particular picture, a Jewish policeman clutches a suitcase. Behind him is a densely packed crowd of Jews. After seeing this photograph in the book, Dorka recalled that no Jewish policemen stood on guard when they arrived at the station—only German soldiers. “They even helped Ima get up onto the platform from the ground.” On the loading dock, a Nazi scooped jam onto square sheets of newspaper. “Everyone got a little loaf of bread—it was like a treasure that fell from the sky—and a teaspoon of jam. Everyone said, ‘Even a drop should not fall. Even a drop gives you strength. It’s jam, it’s sugar.’ They licked the paper, so nothing would be lost.”

Months after Dorka and I perused this book of photographs, her own wartime chronicle resurfaced. Long forgotten, the Diary of Dwojra Altman turned up in the archives of the Jewish Historical Commission in Warsaw. An Israeli Ph.D. student discovered a copy of it while doing research in Poland. Recognizing the surname, he reached out to Dorka’s sons in Jerusalem. They contacted my husband, who is Dorka’s nephew. I shared the diary with a native Polish speaker who assisted with the English translation.

Reading it, I discovered that Dorka had noted the date of the transport to Auschwitz—August 17, 1944. On the opening page of her diary, inaugurated on July 2, 1945 in Łódź where the Altman sisters returned after liberation, Dorka venerated her parents who perished in Auschwitz. A few pages later, Dorka acknowledged their loss and expressed her hopes for the future:

I will never see my beloved parents again. I know that all too well. But if it were possible to go to Ima’s grave, to Aba’s, to pray for their souls, or at least to cry my eyes, I would feel a lot better in my heart…. I miss them terribly…. I can’t speak of this [to] my sisters, so as not to remind them, although they are suffering as much as me…. They think about our future existence…. I would just like to leave this country, which created so much evil for me, such complete tragedy for me. Possibly in the Promised Land it will be better for me.

Exactly one year later, Dorka glimpsed the shores of Zion from the deck of the Birya, the Turkish vessel she boarded near Marseilles, France for the journey to Eretz Yisrael. As the sun rose on July 2, 1946, a cry broke out among the ma’apilim—illegal immigrants—on the ship. We stood up like one person and together we started to sing ‘HaTikva’ from all of our hearts,” Dorka said. “Now, when I hear ‘HaTikva,’ I am used to it, but then it was very emotional. Even with confused words, a thousand people [were] singing from their hearts.”

Unbeknownst to the British authorities guarding the entry to the port of Haifa, an American reporter named I.F. Stone had embarked on the journey. “The journalist took a megaphone and pointed it towards the British. He shouted to them in their language. ‘Whoever listens to such a “HaTikva” knows that you cannot defeat these people.’”

In a recent conversation by Skype, I asked Dorka why she didn’t bring the diary to Eretz Yisrael in 1946. “We were told [by Haganah emissaries leading the Bricha—the escape from Europe] that we would not be able to carry many things on the journey.” A representative of one of the Jewish agencies assisting survivors in Poland offered to take the journal from her and deposit it in a safe place in Warsaw.

Today Dorka regularly speaks to visiting groups at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. On the eve of the 70th anniversary of Israeli independence, Dorka described her passage on the Birya to an attentive crowd of Israelis and reminisced about her incarceration at Atlit in July 1946.

“The British soldiers were intense,” Dorka recalled in our June conversation, “but not threatening.” The British permitted nearby kibbutznikim to visit the camp everyday and mingle with the newcomers. “We loved them very much. They taught us songs in Hebrew. We would go very near to the soldiers, singing ‘Kalaniot,’” a Hebrew folk song about anemones ablaze in the valley. The bloom of the flowers matched the red of the soldiers’ berets. The tune had become the code song to alert Jewish fighters about the advance of British forces, but Dorka and the other ma’apilim were unaware of the cipher. “We annoyed them [the soldiers]. They were nervous. Because they were nervous, it was funny for us. We were young,” Dorka said.

Then, less than two weeks after Dorka arrived in Mandate Palestine, the Irgun bombed the King David Hotel on July 22. At Atlit, Dorka heard few details about the explosion other than something “big” had happened in Jerusalem.

A few weeks later, Dorka moved to the contested city. A representative from Agudat Yisrael, one of the ultra-Orthodox political parties facilitating Jewish immigration to Mandate Palestine, arrived at Atlit and requested to bring Dorka to Jerusalem to study. At Penina Bet Yakov, a girls’ boarding school, female teachers greeted her. “They say here comes a new girl. She speaks Polish. Who wants to be her friend? Another time a Hungarian girl arrives. The next time a Romanian girl arrives.” Then a German girl entered the classroom. “She looks at me. I look at her.”

A year earlier, when Dorka began chronicling her wartime memories, she could not have imagined reconnecting with this schoolmate from the Łódź ghetto. To her confidante—the diary, Dorka had disclosed, “I don’t have any friends. They all fell victims of Majdanek and Auschwitz. I’m the only one from my class still here, possibly by accident, or saved by a miracle.”

The two survivors became lifelong friends.

With the discovery of the Diary of Dwojra Altman, I am compiling an essay—juxtaposing singular excerpts from the journal with edited passages from my recorded conversations with Dorka. While I write about her wartime experiences, I often look at Memory Unearthed: The Lodz Ghetto Photographs of Henryk Ross. No matter how chilling the deportation scene is, an educator at Yad Vashem points out in a video, Ross’s picture “cannot show us what happened inside the cattle cars or what happened when the Jews of Łódź arrived at their final destination—Auschwitz. For this historical information, we rely on the testimonies of survivors.”

 

Mainstreaming Refugee Women’s Rights Advocacy

By Tally Kritzman-Amir

Asylum-Seeking Women as Women: Mainstreaming Refugee Women’s Rights Advocacy

For many years I’ve been working with asylum seekers, men and women, in Israel. A few years ago a client – an African asylum-seeking woman in her early 40s – came to our office. Her set of issues, not necessarily unique to her, highlighted the need for us to work differently to better serve this population.

She had kids, and was a victim of domestic violence. She was wondering whether she should report her husband’s abuse, fearing one the one hand for her children’s and her own safety, and on the other for the economic stability of the family. She was afraid that if she was to report her husband, he would be detained and she would have to support her family alone on her low wages. When she did eventually report him, the spiral she feared ensued, but it was even worse than she expected.

He was indeed detained and indicted, but the worst came after he completed his sentence. He was moved to a “residency center,” similar to an immigration detention facility. In theory, he was free to go in and out, however, he had to spend the night there, away from his children. The facility was remote and inaccessible by public transportation. Then, he was approached with a suggestion. He would receive $3,500 if he agreed to go to a third country with which Israel has an agreement to take African asylum seekers off its hands. Once he agreed to the deal, his wife – our clinic’s client – was left to provide for her children on her own, without their father. Additionally, she had no contact with her husband and no access to the bank account in his name (though her salary had been deposited in it for years), and she was unable to divorce him.

Our legal clinic was unsure what we could do for her. We were used to fighting for people’s status, but clearly this client needed so much more than that. Being undocumented was only one dimension of her personal drama. What could we do to treat the issues this woman confronted more holistically?

The life experiences of this client were not new to me.  A few years ago, I took part in a research project documenting the difficult lives of asylum-seeking women in Israel. Through that research, we concluded that the vulnerability of this population justifies their treatment as a discrete group within the asylum-seeking community, but they are rarely treated as such. That research also showed that feminist organizations are not inclined to engage with asylum-seeking women, and that advocacy to promote women’s rights is conducted within the confines of the “ghetto” of NGOs devoted to migrants’ rights and clinics. This renders asylum-seeking women unable to enjoy the rights feminism has achieved within Israeli society.

The Coalition on Asylum-Seeking Women and Children in Israel

The limits of our abilities to help such a client, together with the findings of that research, resulted in the creation of the Coalition on Asylum-Seeking Women and Children in Israel, which has been operating since September 2016. It consists of 15 NGOs and legal clinics with the main goals of promoting migrants’ and refugees’ rights, women’s rights, and children’s rights. The coalition focuses on providing legal services in different fields of law, including outside of our comfort zone of immigration and refugee law, in the unknown territories of family law. We also deal with issues of the social and economic rights of asylum-seeking women and children. This includes the submission of an amicus brief on behalf of a dozen women and children’s rights NGOs, on the constitutionality of the deposit law, a law that came into force in May 2017. According to the deposit law, 20% of the (already low) salary of asylum seekers will be transferred to a deposit made available to the asylum seeker when she leaves Israel. This economic measure had a dramatic effect on already-vulnerable women and children. Finally, the coalition’s member organizations have put together demonstrations against the recent plans to deport African asylum seekers from Israel to third countries. Such demonstrations included a demonstration on International Women’s Day attended by disempowered Israeli and asylum-seeking women and a protest march of Israeli and African children.

The Feminist Engagement with Asylum-Seeking Women

Over the years, feminist engagement with asylum-seeking women has centered on an effort to identify these women as a discrete category of asylum seekers, worthy of protection under the refugee convention. Such efforts have focused on demonstrating that the forms of persecution women typically endure are unique and that protection gaps within the refugee convention and within the definition of refugees heighten women’s risk. This is due to the absence of gender as a convention-recognized ground for asylum, and the general male-oriented convention grounds, both in text and interpretation. Feminist efforts have thus sought to argue that refugee law should protect women from acts of persecution carried out by private actors in the private sphere, often abetted by lax enforcement of state laws. Such efforts have proven to be somewhat fruitful. Since the mid-1980s, many Western democracies recognize practices such as female genital mutilation, forced marriages, child marriages, trafficking, domestic violence, sexual violence and others as recognized forms of persecution. Women who seek asylum from these types of persecution in these specific countries are often given protection, even when said persecution is not directly attributable to the state.

Recently there has been a call to further deepen the engagement of refugee law with feminist theory, to promote a feminist reading of core concepts in refugee law, such as the concept of exclusion or surrogate state protection. Such cases highlight the fact that these concepts not only disproportionately affect women, but also influence women and men differently and can thus benefit from application of feminist methodologies.

The Current Research Project

In my current research project, I draw from the work with refugees and asylum-seeking women in Israel to argue that international refugee law would benefit from an additional form of engagement with feminism. In particular, I argue that refugee law should not remain at the level of status, or even at the level of the International Refugee Law framework. Instead of simply introducing feminist theory into International Refugee Law, I suggest that the underlying commonality among all women, regardless of status, would benefit from conjoining advocacy efforts on behalf of refugee women with those on behalf women more generally.

Such a legal perspective, arising from more fundamental human (women’s) rights would encourage the development of a legal framework that would allow the promotion of a deeper protection for asylum-seeking women, changing the legal focus from questions of status in determining whether someone, male or female, qualifies for protection as a refugee, to a broader focus on an entire set of necessary civil, social, economic and cultural rights. It also creates opportunities for solidarity between asylum-seeking women and other women, including other immigrants, citizens and residents, national minorities, and general feminist and women’s rights groups. Moreover, such a linkage will allow asylum-seeking women to benefit from the progress already achieved by feminist movements regarding women’s rights, rather than marginalizing them and confining them to seeking rights exclusively as refugees.

The call for mainstreaming the discourse of refugee rights into the discourse of women’s rights offers an important theoretical contribution that goes beyond the discussion of asylum-seeking women’s rights. The overarching question is this: Is it strategically preferable to advocate for the rights of refugees via instruments of International Human Rights, rather than via International Refugee Law?

In examining this question, I find significant arguments in favor of abandoning the prevailing view that International Refugee Law is a separate branch of international law to be applied and interpreted according to its own fundamental concepts, and separately from other areas of international law. Since the adoption of other human rights instruments, namely the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) in 1966, as well as regional human rights instruments, and, in this context, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1979, this tendency to view refugee law separately from international human rights law has been questioned. These international conventions on human rights should be applicable to refugees, as they apply to “all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction,” (ICCPR) or “everyone” (ICCPR, ICESCR). In other words, their applicability is not limited merely to citizens, residents, lawfully staying persons, etc., and they apply not just within a state’s territory but also along its borders and in other areas where states apply coercive force.

While there have been calls to interpret International Refugee Law in light of International Human Rights Instruments (as well as International Humanitarian Law), this argument goes further by asking, what would be the benefits of advocating for refugee rights – not just for refugee women’s rights – through a Human Rights framework, rather than a Refugee Rights framework? Put differently, which legal approach would be more beneficial in protecting refugees’ rights?

The exploration of this question is essentially a theorization of the work of the aforementioned coalition on asylum-seeking women and children in Israel. By embedding a theoretical legal question in the lived experience of women asylum seekers and women’s rights advocates, the expected outcome of this research stretches beyond its theoretical value to a reflection on the advocacy effort and raison d’être of the coalition.

Finally, in light of the recent shifts in the Israeli policies towards asylum seekers, the focus on asylum-seeking women and children and their integration is of high importance. This is ultimately the population that will not be resettled or deported from Israel, and thus their integration – and ability to enjoy the fruits of the feminist struggle in Israel – is an effort worth making for their own sake as well as for the sake of other women.

 

Dr. Tally Kritzman-Amir is a scholar-in-residence at HBI and a senior lecturer of Immigration and International Law at The College of Law and Business in Israel. She is a visiting fellow at The Human Rights Program of Harvard Law School.

Let’s Treat Women as Less than Men: My Response to Rabbi Kelner

By Rivka Neriya Ben Shahar

 

Last week, a video surfaced that reminded us once again that Jewish and Israeli feminists still have work to do. Rabbi Yosef Kelner, one of the rabbis in Eli mechina, a training course for Modern-Orthodox male students preparing to undertake army service, told his students unbelievably chauvinist things about women as part of a special series of lessons about marriage.

Rabbi Kelner said that women “are weak-minded. They just babble, that’s it,” that education is turning them into “girlillas,” and that “women were less intelligent than men,” saying, “just because they send them en masse to universities they’re suddenly all great geniuses? No!”

He also attacked them religiously, saying they don’t have spirituality. I don’t really know where to begin, but I would invite him to my shul, Shira Hadasha in Jerusalem (he will not come, obviously, like most of my family members), to meet women with so much spirituality that he could get some to bring back to his yeshiva.

But I still ask myself: why did he say these things? He had a goal, and I think that I figured it out.

In the 1950s, the Ultra-Orthodox community needed to create a huge change in girls’ education. Because of the agreement between Ben Gurion and the rabbis, Ultra-Orthodox men were—and are—not allowed to work until they take part in the army service. They became a “society of scholars,” a term coined by Prof. Menachem Friedman to describe the Ultra-Orthodox men who stay for many years in the yeshiva and don’t work.

Who would marry such men? Rabbi Avraham Yesha’ayahu Karelitz, known as Chazon Ish, who helped chart the course of Ultra-Orthodox Judaism in the period between the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel, and Rabbi Avraham Yosef Wolf, a dean of the Beit Ya’akov teachers seminary, had a great idea: They would tell the young women that they should have an agreement with the men like the one that Yisachar had with Zebulun.  In that story, it was agreed that the Zebulun tribe would work while the Yisachar tribe studied Torah. They would share income in this world, for the promised of shared benefits in the next world.

The rabbis made a similar deal with the young Ultra-Orthodox women, telling them that they should be the breadwinners in this world to enable their husbands to study Torah. In turn, they would both be rewarded in heaven. This strategy has worked. For more than 60 years, the young Ultra-Orthodox woman’s dream is to marry a yeshiva bocher and enable him to study.

I have thought a lot about this question: How could a community “produce” brides for specific groups of men? For example, how could Israeli society educate young women to agree to marry men that will stay in the army for 20 years? For a long time, it was considered a great honor, but more recently, the IDF has realized that they need to pay a higher salary to the standing army if they want them to be able to attract spouses and support families.  In this case, secular Israeli society is thinking about the reality of this world.  The poor Ultra-Orthodox community is still talking about the paycheck for the next world.

The Eli mechina needs to find a solution for another problem. Their students have one year in the mechina, and then they serve in the army for at least three years. Many of them stay longer. The young women in the Modern-Orthodox community, the potential brides of these young men, usually go to universities and get at least a B.A. degree, and many have M.A. degrees.  How could these men, with high school educations and long service in the army, live with the fact that the women that they will marry are going to be much more educated than them? Rabbi Kelner has the solution! He teaches the men that the women are not really smart, that their minds are shallower than men’s minds, they are not really multitasking, that they go to the universities “just to spend their time,” and if they get Nobel Prize or become famous thinkers they are mutations.

It’s a clever idea. If you can’t be higher than someone else, just make her/him lower than you. Rabbi Kelner can’t stop the young women from studying, from pursuing their professional and academic careers or spiritual development, so he tells the young men that all of these developments are not important. Great! Such a nice way to help your students to have a good family life. Rabbi Kelner, like the Ultra-Orthodox, needs to “produce” a group of young people that can find a match in specific situation.

I must respond to one “fact” that Rabbi Kelner mentioned.  He said that according to statistics, women are more likely to have car accidents in American intersections, because when they want to turn, it’s hard for them to understand that somebody else is also using the road. Maybe Rabbi Kelner would tell me that cars are “man tools” and women are not supposed to drive. U.S. transportation statistics, however, show that women have less accidents, and less serious accidents. The data is not in his favor.

One thing I know for sure, next time my students ask why we need to talk about feminism and claim that everything is fine nowadays, I’ll suggest they watch this amazing talk.

Rivka Neriya Ben Shahar, Ph.D. is a Helen Gartner Hammer Scholar in Residence at HBI.  

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