Hey, Civic Leader: Strut Your Stuff

This photo is part of a digital photo campaign sponsored by the Kiverstein Institute to promote voting for women candidates in the "Minhal Kehilati" Community Council elections, which are taking place in eight neighborhoods across Jerusalem tomorrow, December, 22, 2020. (Avigayil Piperno-Beer)
This photo is part of a digital photo campaign sponsored by the Kiverstein Institute to promote voting for women candidates in the "Minhal Kehilati" Community Council elections, which are taking place in eight neighborhoods across Jerusalem tomorrow, December, 22, 2020. (Avigayil Piperno-Beer)

“Let’s go, candidates.”

Avigayil Piperno-Beer, a portrait photographer, balanced her professional- grade Canon on her lap and raised her eyes to connect with mine. Her warm voice was matched by an encouraging smile.

I scanned the beckoning grins of other women candidates from across Jerusalem who were also running in the December 22nd neighborhood elections for spots on their respective Community Councils, known in Hebrew as “Minhal Kehilati”. Clear skies stretched over leafy gardens lavishly planted with fruit trees and flowers. The air was crisp. It felt like a summons, a bidding to walk across the gravely pavement and step into the sun.

An invitation, an entreaty. C’mon, Ruth. Take your place as a civic leader. Strut your stuff.

And so I did.

With Dorit Graiver, candidate in Old Katamon flanked on my left, and Nechami Baruchin, candidate in Gonenim-Rosco on my right, I stepped onto a makeshift runway of leadership.

Ruth Ebenstein, vying for one of Baka’s three elected spots on the “Baka Rabati” Community Council, stepping up to the plate. Clad in black shirt and slender skirt, high-heeled in salmon pink to mark my signature sign of optimism, I strode onto the gravel and sauntered into the light.

Journalist and social activist with thirty years of experience building networks and making change. Mom/stepmom. Breast cancer survivor (lumpectomy was some ten years ago). Daughter and granddaughter of Shoah survivors who made aliyah in 1948 and made Baka their home. Upbeat go-getter, not easily daunted. Devotee to truth. (I know, not the first trait you think of when you consider politics…) Joining a circle of #womentowatch.

There was a live undercurrent of excitement. Did that gleam of amusement sparkle only in my eyes or did it resonate in everybody’s?

The photo shoot was sponsored by the Kiverstein Institute, a feminist initiative that brings together women community builders and influential Jerusalemites from all sectors to amplify women’s impact on the city. Mindful of the fact that women are significantly underrepresented in communal administration—currently comprising less than 19 percent of elected members—the photo campaign encourages Jerusalem residents to vote for women candidates.

This isn’t just a women’s issue; it’s a societal problem. Better decisions are made when women are at the table, particularly in representing citizen needs for local governance.

The underpinnings of this effort were rooted in Shine Theory, a feminist approach that posits even when we compete against each other, we can support one another. The goal was to boost women’s visibility and bolster women who’d taken the plunge to run.

And because women are prone to critiquing their appearance, the Kiverstein Institute hired a professional photographer to capture group and individual images that women candidates would more likely embrace and share, explained Peta Pellach, a senior fellow.

And so they did. I think we all looked sensational.

Photo credit: Avigayil Piperno-Beer

Even the heavens offered up a glorious blue sky with a warm, welcoming sun.

Certainly, the cause was worthy, which is why I squeezed in nonexistent time during a crowdfunding campaign at work to raise funds for democracy education to do the photo shoot on the picturesque grounds of Beit Hansen.

I had no idea what gift I’d be giving myself. I did not expect the photo shoot to turn into a momentous day of women’s empowerment, sisterhood and fun. That it would be a healing balm for the spirit.

Prior to that sparkly Thursday afternoon, I’d met all of the other candidates only on Zoom. We’d participated in a Jerusalem Municipality mentoring program to bolster women candidates, run by Dr. Mazal Shaul and Hadas Shachnai of WePower, a non-profit that helps help women attain top positions in government, business and politics. The program was organized by Orly Ben-Aharon, the mayor’s adviser on the status of women, and Hilit Krause-Israel, who heads the Municipality’s Leadership and Gender Education Department, together with Adv. Inbar Lazar, head of the Mayor’s bureau. I’d joined a circle where women cultivated, fostered and supported other women.

When we spotted each other in person, squeals of joy and Corona-safe hugs in the air abounded. Animated faces, dusting the setting with laughter. Oh, you’re real!  You’re not just a Hollywood square on Zoom.

And thus the experience was not just an occasion to gussy up. We congregated to aggregate our power. The togetherness amounted to something greater than just us. Help women advance to top level decision-making and elected positions. Propel social change. Foster a more equal and just civil society.

It was about much more than just which one of us would win, but rather, how all of Jerusalem could win.

The open, leafy landscape of fig trees and slabs of Jerusalem stone mirrored the possibility that could emerge. A canvas as yet unwritten.

Part of women’s style of leadership is collegiality, affirmed Yiska Oppenheim, who owns a company for branding, strategy and marketing identity and oversees the Institute’s strategical thinking and digital programming. That comes across in the photography. Women are photographed smiling with their competitors. (Fear not: Masks were worn before and after the photos were shot.)

Tomorrow’s elections constitute a one-of-a-kind Jerusalem celebration of representative democracy. These Community Councils are indeed a unique phenomenon.

Ruth Ebenstein, campaign flyer for the Minhal Kehilati elections in Baka. Photography and design: Yitz Woolf

I’m excited for what lies ahead. I have so much to offer my Community Council and my constituents. To apply what I’ve learned through thirty years of journalism and activism to civic representation. As a seasoned immigrant, a mother, a professional, a caring and high-energy, engaged, empathic citizen.

Baka residents, vote for Ruth Ebenstein. (Don’t forget to bring a photo ID with your address!) Jerusalemites, vote for women candidates. I reckon you’ll be glad you did.

Ruth Ebenstein: an optimist in rose-colored glasses. Photo credit: Avigayil Piperno-Beer
About the Author
Ruth Ebenstein is an award-winning American-Israeli writer, historian, public speaker, and health/peace activist who loves to laugh a lot--and heartily. She is the author of the forthcoming book, Bosom Buddies: How Breast Cancer Fostered An Unexpected Friendship Across the Israeli-Palestinian Divide. She is also the author of "All of this country is called Jerusalem": a curricular guide about the contemporary rescue operations of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and has written two teleplays for children, Follow that Goblin and Follow that Bunny. Her writing has appeared in the Atlantic, Washington Post, Los Angeles Review of Books, Tablet, WomansDay.com, Good Housekeeping, Triquarterly, CNN.com, USA Today, the Forward, Stars and Stripes, Education Week, Brain, Child, Fathom, and other publications. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
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