I am one of Thatcher’s children. We are not directly related (or at least not that I know of), but I am of that generation who grew up with her as Prime Minister. And despite growing up with a female head of state, I have still been swept up in the excitement of a female being the candidate of a major political party in the United States Presidential Election.
This is historic because of the difference between a Presidential and Parliamentary system. Margaret Thatcher became leader of the Conservative Party because 146 MPs voted for her, and in Israel Golda Meir was the only nominee to succeed Levi Eshkol as Labour leader. Here, for better or for worse, people vote directly for the President and as a result of a popular vote, for the first time there is a woman atop a major political party’s ticket.
Regardless of political affiliation and one’s personal opinion of Hillary Clinton when she won the Democratic Party nomination, it was an historic moment. Watching the Convention and listening to the speeches left me with no doubt that we had witnessed a major glass ceiling being shattered. Eight years ago, I was here when Barack Obama became the first black President of the United States, and I felt the weight of that historic moment. I am feeling it again.
Growing up in RSY-Netzer (the Reform Jewish youth movement in Great Britain) one of the defining features of the movement was the fact that young men and women were completely equal. All positions of responsibility and leadership were open to all, regardless of gender, and this egalitarianism came to define my Judaism.
In my early twenties, I went on a journey in which I sought to define my Judaism. I wanted to be post-denominational, simply Jewish without the need for a movement to define that Judaism. But as I explored further it became clear to me that a defining adjective did exist for my Judaism and it was that of egalitarianism. I defined myself as an Egalitarian Jew; I did not want to be a part of a Jewish community in which others were not afforded the same opportunities as I for reasons of gender or sexuality.
The importance of equality grew from my understanding of Judaism. In the first chapter of our Torah, male and female are created together when we read: “God created human beings in the Divine image, in the image of God, God created them, male and female God created them.” And in the midst of our holiness code in Leviticus, we read “love your neighbor as yourself,” with no caveat of gender or sexuality. All of us are created in God’s image, and all of us are endowed with equal rights and responsibilities. Regardless of political affiliation, we should all celebrate the breaking of another glass ceiling, even if you won’t be voting for Hillary at the forthcoming election. As she said in her convention speech: “I’m happy for boys and men – because when any barrier falls in America it clears the way for everyone.”
It was appropriate that in that week’s Diaspora Torah portion we read about the daughters of Zelophehad, who broke down barriers in their own day. They came before not just Moses, but the entire community of Israel, to ask for a share in their father’s inheritance. In receiving God’s support for their claim they were not the only beneficiaries, their precedent established the right of daughters to inherit from their fathers and broke down a barrier for all women.
While I celebrate this moment as a Jew who values egalitarianism in all areas of life, I am also celebrating this moment as a father. On that Thursday, as Hillary accepted the nomination, I was able to look at my daughter and tell her that if she wants, one day she could be President of the United States. This was a moment not about party politics; it was a moment in which women and girls could finally look at the Presidential candidate of a major political party, and see themselves.
As Jews throughout our history we have been well acquainted with ceilings holding us back and holding us down. But we know that at a Jewish wedding, we celebrate the breaking of a glass. And as Jews, regardless of our personal politics, we should celebrate the breaking of a different type of glass, as another glass ceiling comes crashing down.