Peta Jones Pellach
Teacher and activist in Jerusalem

The Education of our Young Women

Four months ago, I wrote about “the deadly cost of boys’-club governance,” asking whether after this war, will we learn to honor and value the contribution of women to the country’s security, homefront, and recovery.

We don’t have to wait. We already know the answer. With regards to women, we are a third-world country – or worse. After all, many developing countries have a much better record than we do in appreciating women’s contributions and leadership potential. Women are not recognized, valued or rewarded in this country.

What country with self-respect, in 2024, would award its major annual prizes to thirteen men and one woman? What developed state would fail to see what impression that makes on its own citizens as well as to the world at large? What country is not ashamed to be so portrayed? Israel has no shame.

It does not surprise me that the Israel Prize is under the auspices of the Minister of Education. My experience with the Ministry of Education in recent times makes me despair.

My ten-year-old granddaughter attends an all-girls’ school. When her parents chose the school, I was pleased to see that they have a very good music program. Every girl learns to play a musical instrument and that means an annual musical concert (for the mothers and grandmothers.) We were in a prestigious concert hall. Each grade had its turn on the stage. Between grades, when the stage was being set up and the girls were not performing, videos were screened, to entertain the audience and to inspire the girls.

We are at war. It is appropriate to choose videos that lift our spirits.

But it was a girls’ concert for an audience of women. So why did we not see one woman in the videos? All the performers, all the people doing good deeds, contributing in many ways, helping each other, all of them were men! I understand that this school might not have wanted to show women soldiers (understand without approving) but, as women are taking the lead in supporting the families of the hostages, the evacuees and the economy as a whole, as they are the main care-givers, should those women not be shown?

It appears that screening only men does not contradict any educational standards here, as it would in many other countries. It appears that failing to recognize the contribution of women IS an acceptable message. Women do not achieve, do not have to achieve and do not need to be appreciated.

One reason women were not shown in some scenes is because they really are absent. They are absent from the highest ranks of decision-making. It partly explains why the decisions made at the top are so poor.

I had the privilege of attending a session of the organization 929 held at the President’s Residence, in honour of the festival of Purim, when the Megillah of Esther is read. It was a beautiful event. After the first lady, Michal Herzog, gave a powerful opening, praising the heroism of Esther and comparing her to many brave women today, three outstanding (women) intellectuals each gave their take on the Megillah, drawing out relevant lessons for society today.

Each of them recognized that the two leading characters in the story are Vashti and Esther and they each offer a model of leadership: Vashti represents principled resistance; Esther represents self-sacrifice and working from within to make change. Sapir Bluzer reminded us that women in Israel are able to achieve great things but that they are notably absent from the one place where most decisions are being made today – the war cabinet.

Two thousand five hundred years ago, a woman could save our people and her predecessor could provide a model of resistance and upholding values. Jewish tradition praises the Woman of Valour. Today, women are not invited to the table.

Perhaps if their voices were heard, there might be a way to turn the war cabinet into a peace cabinet or, at very least, a conciliation and diplomacy cabinet that worked for the return of the hostages.

Of course, the absence of women there is reflective of their absence from many of the political parties that form part of the coalition government. What other true democracy considers parties that exclude women as legitimate parties, much less legitimate coalition partners?

In our recent municipal elections, such parties won the most seats (because the more liberal sectors of the community did not exercise their duty to vote in large numbers, letting down themselves and ensuring that women were not properly represented). The result is that only 6 of the 31 members of the City Council are women. The result of that is that women will not be represented on all the committees and that a woman’s perspective will not be heard or aired on all issues – at least for the next five years.

What message does that send – what do girls see when they look at the war cabinet, at the government, at the local council? What young women and girls see in politics is men. As Kamala Harris said, you do not imagine you can be what you cannot see. The education our daughters and granddaughters are being given belongs in the 1950s. They see that women have to work as hard or harder than men but not expect to be recognized. They see that women do not have a place in government where decisions that affect their lives are taken.

The Minister of Education is not ashamed of the committee that he established to select the recipients of the most important annual awards of the country. He sees nothing wrong with sending a message to Israel and to the world that men, not women, are doing all the important work.

It is just one of the terrible errors the so-called leadership of this country is making. It is just one reason why our country is letting us down so badly in almost every way.

The disgraceful gender imbalance in the Israel Prize is not the only reason to question the decision of the committee and the Minister who approves their decisions. Awarding a prize to someone who threatened to leave the country if his community was drafted to serve like other Israelis, is equally problematic to me. I will admit, I was more surprised by his inclusion than by the exclusion of women. But I was NOT surprised that there are no standards and there is no shame.

We don’t have security, we don’t have faith in our leaders and we can’t even hold our heads high to say we are upholding our values.

About the Author
A fifth generation Australian, Peta made Aliyah in 2010. She is Senior Fellow of the Kiverstein Institute, Director of Educational Activities for the Elijah Interfaith Institute, secretary of the Jerusalem Rainbow Group for Jewish-Christian Encounter and Dialogue, a co-founder of Praying Together in Jerusalem and a teacher of Torah and Jewish History. She has visited places as exotic as Indonesia and Iceland to participate in and teach inter-religious dialogue. She also broadcasts weekly on SBS radio (Australia) with the latest news from Israel. Her other passions are Scrabble and Israeli folk-dancing.
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