The intersection of International Women’s Day, the war in Ukraine and Purim
This year’s International Women’s Day comes in close proximity to two other notable dates for Israel and world Jewry — both of which are intrinsically tied to women.
The first is the one-year anniversary of the war in Ukraine. While millions of people have been affected by the war, for those Israeli and Jewish communal professionals working with refugees, this crisis has been characterized as one that has overwhelmingly affected women, who have made the courageous choice to take their children by themselves and seek a new or temporary home in a new country. They have left behind parents, siblings and even spouses as they save their children from the falling bombs and the troops moving through Ukraine.
In March 2022, I visited the border crossings and several Jewish Agency for Israel refugee centers. The image that stayed with me was the eyes of the hundreds, if not thousands, of women I saw on that trip – those eyes that showed they were tired, scared and uncertain about the future. I watched as they pulled their children close to them as they began to get comfortable in the loving hands of our employees and volunteers. One year later, I can see many of those same eyes in Jewish Agency absorption programs and on the streets of Tel Aviv. Today, I see hope for the future, but I also remember that they are still longing for loved ones who they cannot yet see in person. These women have had to be strong and have placed their trust in me and my colleagues as we promise them a better life in Israel. Unfortunately, the one-year mark reminds us that the war is not over, and that our work has not ended in Ukraine, Russia or Israel.
The second significant date is the holiday of Purim, whose story centers on the actions of a woman, Queen Esther. Arguably my favorite phrase in the Tanach is found in the Book of Esther, when the queen discusses with her uncle Mordechai how she should deal with the looming destruction of the Jewish people at the hands of Haman. Mordechai tells her, “If you are silent and do not act at this moment of crisis, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from somewhere else, while you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows, perhaps it is for this very moment that you achieved royalty.”
I often think of that message. In the grand scheme of things, we can always stay silent and expect someone else to speak up on behalf of the Jewish people or those who are less fortunate. But perhaps this moment is the very reason we are on this planet. We can always let other people do the right thing, but then we may miss our entire shlichut, or sacred mission, in this world.
Esther took action after hearing her uncle’s words, and the Jewish people were saved from their enemies. I am convinced that similarly, all women have the opportunity each and every day to make the world a better place.
None of us is obliged to single-handedly save the Jewish people, but many of us have been fortunate to be in the position to do something significant. Nobody can afford to be silent in a moment of crisis, we must use our unique positions to make an impact, whether it is through charitable donations, volunteering or in my case, leading a Jewish organization while it navigates a crisis of historic proportions in Ukraine. I know that it was precisely for this moment in time that I was destined to lead The Jewish Agency.
Simultaneously, Israeli society is experiencing a challenging period. We are torn in half, and suffering from a lack of dialogue, understanding and compromise. Unfortunately, women’s voices are notably absent from public discourse. Undoubtedly, it is a woman who would use this as a moment to listen and raise her voice for the good of all of Israel. We are missing the likes of Esther who were willing to take a risk for the sake of the Jewish people. The Jewish Agency, where I am the first woman CEO and Director General in the organization’s history of more than 90 years, we are trying to correct this imbalance by creating a “women’s dialogue” forum within our Board of Governors to bring forward issues that concern women and address their impact on the larger community. During my tenure, we’ve also taken steps to create a more diverse workplace and management team at The Jewish Agency.
It is my sincerest hope that on next year’s International Women’s Day, we are celebrating the end of the war in Ukraine and seeing thousands of Ukrainian immigrants reunited with their families in Israel — living in safety and peace. I pray that the people around me — employees, board members and donors alike —continue to rise to the crisis of the day and remember that it is precisely for these moments that we are here together. We will follow the example set by Queen Esther and the women of Ukraine. We will not remain silent. We will fight for our family, our homeland and our people.