I Am Woman. Hear Me Silenced?

I am woman, hear me roar, in numbers to great to ignore, lala la …

Does anyone remember the Helen Reddy song I am woman that was released circa 1971? It became a rallying anthem for empowered women. The other day I was reminded of these lyrics when viewing the You Tube clip, a little further down below, which features some rather extraordinary women who had their fair share of important things to say.

If 2011 was the year when the humble tub of “cottage” motivated social change in Israel then 2012 is fast becoming the year that Jewish women raise their voices and express their dissatisfaction when it comes to being relegated to second class citizenship. Not just here in Israel but in Diaspora communities as well. There was the infamous spitting incident committed against a 7 year old girl earlier this year. Personally, I think spitting on 7 year old girls for being “immodestly dressed” is less an issue of modesty and more an issue of sexual depravity for men who sexualize children. We were outraged when certain sectors of the community demanded that women be seated at the back of the bus. Sit at the back of the bus because it is immodest for me to sit next to you? Hell no! Anyhoo, back to topic.

For the last couple of years, attempts have been made by the South African communal leadership to ban women from singing as part of the entertainment at secular events such as Yom Ha’atzmaut or Yom hashoa. The rationale behind this decision which has irked my fellow Saffer (South African) sisters is that certain groups believe that men are prohibited from hearing women sing in public. Gentlemen, apparently you can’t control yourselves. Our spitting cobra that was mentioned earlier is naturally excluded from the mix.

A group of prominent South African Jewish women representing a cross-section of the community from Orthodox to Progressive made the following plea:

I join my fellow Saffer sisters by adding my voice to the growing outrage. The tenets of gender equality and human rights is something we consider SACRED.

And why do we care about what happens in the community in South Africa? Well the answer is fairly simple. Okay and a little bit complicated. First of all we care what happens to our brothers in all communities across the world. This is not an opportunity to play yenta (okay maybe just a tad – we are Jewish you know!) merely to offer support.

South Africa is the country which famously arose from the dark days of the heinous Apartheid regime (internal issues notwithstanding) and boasts the most progressive and universally respected Constitution. The rights of women to equality are fiercely protected and defended in the Constitution and Freedom Charters. Many fought and died so that democracy could be instituted in South Africa. In Judaism, while we women may have different mitzvoth or obligations we are no less equal to men. We are just as important. Both men and women are created in the image of G-d. If you don’t want to hear us sing or roar, perhaps excuse yourself for the duration of the event.

To the leaders of the SA communal bodies I say please do not undo decades of admiral work by instituting draconian decrees. You head up a community that has contributed disproportionally to the growth of the country and boast some of the most famous human rights activists. The most famous of which was Helen Suzman z”l, who stood as the lone opposition in parliament to the Apartheid regime. Did I mention she was a female, Zionist Jew? She roared with the strength of a pride of lioness. This is not the time to pander to the personal or political maneuverings of a few in the community but to celebrate the diversity of community members and stand behind your courageous and committed women.

As leaders of a community that is famously Zionist, remember that Israel is a country where women have and continue to hold powerful positions and portfolios in government. The formidable Golda Meir z”l, became Prime Minister when Israel was barely out of her teens. She shattered the glass ceiling. Tiny in stature, she was giant of a leader. We have seen women serve as leaders of the opposition, President of the Supreme Court and speaker of the Knesset. We bear arms in the defense of our country and woe betide any who deny us our rights. I am proud to serve as volunteer for WIZO, the Women’s International Zionist Organisation. We and others make sure that when the going gets tough, we gather Israel’s citizens in our arms. We stated earlier this year that not only will we not sit at the back of the bus but we will enjoy our seats up front. Hell, we will even drive the bus!

These are not times for chasms and divisions. These are times for unity and solidarity as we move forward in tense times.

Remember and protect these tenets. For they are SACRED.

About the Author
Rolene Marks is a passionate advocate for Israel and has appeared on radio, television and has been published in numerous publications. Rolene is a member of the Media Team Israel, an advocacy body that fights media bias against Israel.