Irene Rabinowitz
New Englander by birth, Israeli by choice.

Stranger in a not so strange land

Two weeks into my month long stay in Jerusalem, I’m just beginning to get a glimpse into day to day life in this city. A month’s not nearly long enough; three thousand years, maybe. For the first week, a friend was staying with me and we played tourist, although both of us had been in Jerusalem on prior visits to Israel. Now I am on my own and because I know almost no one here, I am truly on my own and went one whole day not speaking to anyone (strange for me, to say the least). Fortunately, I am one of those people who is fine in solitude and social media can work for short term companionship. Friends at home are keeping up with me and checking in on Facebook and enjoying photos and videos I post. It was possible to welcome a new Jewish family to my town and to help plan a Purim party. I have plenty to read and some work to do, but I have been basically taking it easy.

Yesterday I reeled myself in and focused on why I am here. To learn about my homeland (although I don’t live here deep down I know this to be true), to feel a connection, and to see what the future holds. When I started blogging on TOI, I decided that I would not comment about Israeli internal politics, not knowing enough to have informed opinions. Watching the news from Israel online at home, reading TOI daily (but, of course), the barrage of information, opinions, issues, etc. can make your head spin. Green lines, fences, permeable borders, settlements, land swaps….all of that is exhausting. But today, I learned that all is not what it seems by spending time with a group of women who have taken a stand for their communities and their kids’ futures. And a stand for their country. This is not about politics, per se. It is about Jewish women.

The poster on my timeline was intriguing: “The Mothers Say Yes to Israeli Sovereignty, a week long vigil of mothers at the Prime Minister’s House”. So off I went to the second day of the vigil which was being held by Women in Green. The banner read: “The Mothers say YES to Israeli Sovereignty! over Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley.” The exclamation point made me smile. Assertive, but not annoying. That this is a response to the possible plan being put forward by John Kerry (more on him and American politicos some other time) was clear. International pressure on Israel has been enormous and Kerry is on some strange legacy building trip. But enough of that. Back to the women. I am not sure what I expected, but what I found was a group of women who were, well, dare I say it, more like me than most of the women I have seen since being here.

The image that is often given of the women and their families living in Judea, Samaria, and sometimes the Jordan Valley, is one of radical hard edged, humorless extremism. The women I met today are anything but. They are women who just want to live peaceably in an Israel that encompasses the whole true land. Some wore head coverings, some did not, some were young or in their middle years, some were my age or older, some wore pants, others in traditional modest clothing. Standing on the edge of the small crowd, just watching, I was approached by a woman who introduced herself in Hebrew and easily switched to English when she realized I was language challenged. I asked some questions, she answered. Other women smiled and chatted. One women in particular, originally from Baltimore way back when but now living in Efrat, spent a lot of time with me talking about the mission of Women in Green and why she got involved. She translated for me when it was clear that I was getting lost while the speakers were talking.

We laughed when a particularly handsome security guy, dressed all in black and armed to the teeth walked by. Several of the women jumped up and started calling to him, hustling over to the barricade to chat with him. Some of these women were quite a bit older than him, but my new friend and I decided you cannot blame a girl for trying. He was that handsome. We said goodbye, exchanged information, and tried to figure out if we had met before because it seemed so.

Later I thought about the feeling of familiarity that arose. There is a connection that all Jewish women could have, based on heritage and blood. We are separated by religious beliefs, poverty, political stands, and just every day life. I know these are complex issues that divide Jewish women; in the United States, Jewish women are involved in groups that berate Israel for the “occupation”. They deny that anti-Zionism is a new form of anti-Semitism. As a new friend said to me today when I said these Americans are ill-informed, “you can ask them if they’d rather be stupid or wrong, their choice”. We laughed together and that was the first time I had had an authentic laugh with an Israeli woman on this visit. She is anything but a radical hard-edged humorless woman; she is a Jewish woman with ideals and love of country. If I lived here, she would become a friend.

All of these women that I saw today and those who take shifts later, these mothers standing up for their country and the true Zionist ideal are spending hours at a vigil and doing what Jewish women have always done. Holding it together with humor, fast thinking intellectual spirit and always with open arms to another Jewish woman who came to learn. Not so radical after all, is it?

About the Author
Irene Rabinowitz made aliyah in November 2014 and lives in Jerusalem. Prior to making aliyah, she lived in a small odd town at the tip of Cape Cod for 28 years. She lived in New York City for 16 years as a young adult (or old child), but is a Rhode Islander by birth. Irene has served as a local elected official and retired from a long career in non-profit management at the end of 2013, after serving as the Executive Director of Helping Our Women for 18 years. While still consulting with NGOs in both Israel and abroad, she has most recently been the Director of Development at Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance.