A voice for all of Israel’s women

Esther Hertzog profile


Photo: Bilal Chasdia
Social anthropologist Esther Hertzog (standing) facilitates a program of Anuar, a leadership group of Israeli and Arab women, which she co-founded

By Masada Siegel, Special To The Dayton Jewish Observer

Sometimes a chance meet-ing with a like-minded person can bring change in the most unlikely manner.

Just ask Esther Hertzog, social anthropologist, who heads the Social Science Department at Beit Berl College, near Tel Aviv.

A political feminist, she founded Shin, the Israeli movement for women’s equal representation, in 1989; women’s political parties in 1992; a women’s parliament in 1999; and co-created Anuar, an Israeli-Arab women’s leadership group, in 2002.

Hertzog will discuss her experiences during two programs of the DJCC’s Cultural Arts and Book Festival.

She established the women’s parliament as a public forum for debating from women’s points of view after Israel’s 1999 general elections.

Esther Hertzog

“It is a critical forum where we discuss any issue, from social affairs to terror and peace and really anything on the public agenda,” she said. “We organize these events six times a year all over the country. During the Intifada, it became especially important for women in businesses who were living in the shadow of the events. They brought together Arab and Jewish women to discuss how it impacted them personally and on their businesses.”

Earlier this decade, on her local radio show, Hertzog interviewed Israeli Arab Ibtisam Mahameed, also a feminist and peace advocate who founded a women’s party in her Israeli-Arab village of Faradis. The two became friends and formed Anuar.

Anuar, which means “lights” in Arabic, brings Israeli and Arab women together every few months for a weekend retreat.

“We discuss issues that are relevant to women’s rights and situations we are trying to do something (about) to improve everyone’s quality of life,” Hertzog said. “We are not causing a revolution, but we do as much as we can.”

Hertzog said between 150 and 200 women participate at each Anuar retreat.

“The reaction from the Arab women,” she added, “was that we needed to do these activities on a regular basis so we could come together to work, to meet and to support one another.”

At an event in Nazareth, an Arab woman told of the numerous shootings and innocent deaths in her village. She asked Anuar to work with her in a show of support to bring awareness about the street violence.

“So, we organized a women’s parliament meeting in her village,” Hertzog said. “It was interesting how the politicians felt threatened by our presence. We called it Women against Weapons and turned it into a global discussion where we talked about the huge problem all over the world, how weapons are mainly used by men and it is done so to control capital. It was a fundamental discussion. We also brought testimonies of mothers whose children were killed through gun violence to address the audience.”

Hertzog said that often there is no connection among Jewish and Arab women in Israel. Anuar has tried to bridge what seems unbridgeable.

“We have created ways for women to get closer and provided an opportunity for Israeli women get to know Arab women and become friends,” she said.

“Many Jewish women didn’t get to know Arab women, either because of latent fear or hostility or feeling intimidated or suspicious.”

She’s coming to Dayton at the invitation of her friend, bestselling novelist Martha Moody, who is also chair of the DJCC’s Cultural Arts and Book Festival.

Hertzog’s son, a tour guide in Israel, introduced Moody to his mother when Moody taught creative writing in an Israeli-Arab village in December 2007.

While in Dayton for the festival, Hertzog will also lead a program about the anthology which she has edited, Life, Death and Sacrifice: Women and Family in the Holocaust.

This book explores how women faced life and death under the Nazi regime, their suffering and their dilemmas in ghettos, labor camps and extermination camps.

It is based on three international conferences on Women and the Holocaust which took place between 2001 and 2005, organized by Hertzog and her colleagues at Beit Berl College, Beit Terezin and Beit Lochamei Hagetaot.

The 15 articles included were written by prominent scholars and offer insights from diverse academic disciplines.

Hertzog is the child of Holocaust survivors; she was born on a boat during her family’s journey to Palestine.

During her visit to the United States, Hertzog will present lectures and serve on panels at Wright State University, the University of Dayton, The Miami Valley School, Denison University, and Yale University.

Esther Hertzog will lead two programs for the festival, both at the Boonshoft CJCE. Monday, Nov. 2, 10 a.m.: Women and Family in the Holocaust. Tuesday, Nov. 17, 7 p.m.: Bringing Jewish and Arab Women Together, cosponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council. Both programs are free. Call 853-0372 or go to www.jccdayton.org for more information.

Previous post

Zimro project celebrates music of New Jewish School

Next post

Tightening the belt