Where Have All the Women Gone?

I subscribe to a variety of listservs, Facebook groups, and news outlets across a wide range of the religious spectrum, in order to have an understanding of local issues in different circles of the Jewish community. One group, which I have found to be informative, although I may not always agree with most of the opinions posted in the group, is a Facebook group for female Jewish outreach professionals.  Most of the members, nearly ninety-five percent, would not consider themselves to be Modern Orthodox. They are right leaning, which is what made their reaction to recent news all the more inspiring to me.

As I was following the story of Angela Merkel being photoshopped out of the front page photo in the Hareidi newspaper, HaMevaser, I was somewhat torn about my reaction. I was most concerned with those who had just lost their loved ones, and I did not feel like it was the time to give attention to fanaticism in Orthodoxy. I felt uneasy pushing an agenda, shedding light on the likes of HaMevaser, when I should have been mourning or praying.

What really surprised me throughout this ordeal was the conversation that ensued among these generally right-wing women outreach professionals. The conversation opened my eyes, and I hope that their sentiment is heard as a call for action. It is not only left-leaning people who feel disenfranchised and dare I say, enraged, by the omission of women in leadership during such a difficult time. The women who are hosting challah baking and strongly identify as traditional Orthodox Hareidi women, are enraged as well. They worry about their public roles diminishing because of their absence in the media.

They are frustrated that their faces will not be in public relations material or their annual dinner’s video simply because they are women. They worry that they will not be able to do their jobs because a Judaism without women is inauthentic, extremist, and not what they signed up for. They see HaMevaser’s tactics as fanatic and one woman in this group suggested that this portrays Orthodox Jews as radicals, specifically as being no different from the Taliban.

While a number of photoshopped images made their way across my Facebook newsfeed as a way of protesting or calling out HaMevaser’s censorship, one photo said it all for me – the photo highlighting that only three women had to be erased from a group of world leaders.

When all of us women feel this way, across the board, how do we take a stand?  How do we make sure that we have a voice in all publications?  How do we ensure that we aren’t erased and that we have a role and an impact?  It seems that following the example of the newly minted “Bezchutan” party could be a great place to start. Maybe it is time for ultra-Orthodox women to become editors and decision makers in Hareidi publications. If they are not given those opportunities, then it’s time to start a new newspaper and create more jobs and opportunities for women to have a voice.

We can also spread awareness in other ways, similar to the photoshopped image which crops out all of the men.  One woman in the group suggested, in a joking manner, photobombing images–making sure women are included in all photographs of male rabbis or politicians.  Maybe it is time for us to unite in a photobombing social media campaign. The National Council of Jewish Women recently funded a successful advertising campaign with women’s images on busses in Jerusalem. What I would like to suggest, or rather affirm, is that women’s exclusion is not a Haredi problem, it is our problem. There are men and women, some who identify as liberal, and others who identify as Hareidi, who see this as an opportunity to call for change.  Let’s heed that call and empower all women.

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