ICJW President Leah Aharonov (L)
Photo: Miri Shimonovich
Jerusalem has always been seen as a source of religious inspiration for Jews from all over the world, but as a crucible for new initiatives to advance women’s rights and female leadership - really?
Women from 19 countries came to the International Council of Jewish Women’s quadrennial educational seminar, which took place in Jerusalem this month, to learn about pioneering new ideas and programs that they can take back to their communities. Delegates from Colombia, Ecuador, Cuba, Uruguay, Argentina, Australia, South Africa, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Georgia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Sweden, Western Europe and North America, spent four days with their Israeli counterparts exploring the Jewish philosophical concepts of Time and Place from a broadly feminist perspective.
Are women approaching the scholarly women in their surroundings with halachic questions because it is more natural and less stressful to ask them? It doesn't really matter. What's important is that it's happening – here and now
The International Council of Jewish Women (ICJW) represents 52 Jewish women’s organizations in 47 countries around the world, providing a voice for Jewish women at the United Nations and in other international forums. As a leading NGO, ICJW represents the concerns of the Jewish community and women in general, campaigning for equality, promoting feminine leadership, opposing domestic violence and trafficking, encouraging interfaith dialogue, and championing Agunot (Jewish women awaiting religious divorce).
ICJW affiliates organize local social-welfare projects, educational programs and leadership training for women.
Mayor Nir Barkat with the audience (Photo: Miri Shimonovich)
The Seminar was opened by Mayor Nir Barkat at the International Conference Center, as part of the launch of Jerusalem Education Week. Jerusalem City Councilor Edna Friedman spoke about the new Jerusalem Charter for the Advancement of the Status of Women, and how Jewish women around the world can benefit from this initiative and model it in their own communities.
The delegates met with new Kadima MK Orit Zuaretz, and participated in a discussion on the conflicting demands of career and family time led by the chairperson of the Council of Women’s Organizations in Israel Talia Livne.
They toured Jerusalem to learn about the impact of historic female leaders, and discussed the relevance of the Jewish matriarchs as contemporary role models. They were addressed by prominent female academics on a wide range of topics, including women and prayer and their role in the synagogue. During the Seminar it was announced that the winner of the ICJW Research Prize is a French academic who is studying the role of women in progressive synagogues.
ICJW also launched its new Bea Zucker Online Bible Study Program, written by Dr. Bonna Devora Haberman, which offers Jewish educational materials with a feminist slant via the ICJW website to women everywhere.
ICJW President Leah Aharonov, who lives in Israel and has led the organization for the last three years, explained that this Seminar will have a ripple effect in every Jewish community that was represented: “At the Herczeg Jerusalem Seminar, delegates of all ages were able to exchange ideas and experiences with women from such different societies, and to find inspirational ideas in Israel to take back and share throughout the Diaspora. The knowledge they have gained will no doubt empower women to play a greater role in Jewish life in the communities from which they came.”