Updates from Women on the Ground in Israel

Oct 26, 2023 | In Our Words

Elluminate is devastated by the horrific events in Israel and our hearts go out to the Israeli people and Jews around the world who are hurting, have lost loved ones, and are in disbelief. 

Now more than ever, we need to support the Jewish women leaders in Elluminate’s Collective network who are working for social change around the world, and specifically in Israel. Of the 50 women in whom we have invested to date, 25% are Israeli, and 4 of the 10 in our newest cohort are working in Israel. Now more than ever – they need us.

During this time, they, their colleagues, friends, and loved ones are under missile attacks and need access to food and safety; some of their children’s schools are destroyed. Like so many in Israel their lives are on hold and filled with anguish.

Elluminate Israeli Collective members are on the front lines, and have shared some insights regarding what is happening on the ground. We have been in touch with them regularly and are well aware of the emotional burden that this unspeakable violence has on them individually and on their families. We know you will find these updates valuable as we all try to understand the depth of these tragedies at a personal level and for the country as a whole.

Ela Alon, Itach-Maaki – Women Lawyers for Social Justice
In partnership with another NGO, Itach Ma’aki is bringing food and helping connect community members in the Bedouin Arab community in the Negev, including widows and single mothers, to psychological assistance and legal counseling. Dozens of people, including children, in this community have lost their lives, families lack shelter spaces, and there is a shortage of food and supplies. They are providing legal aid for women in danger of losing their jobs due to not coming to work, women who have been fired for their political views. Their Women, Peace, and Security Project is busy bringing gender perspective into the conflict, promoting negotiation, ending the violence and freeing those kidnapped.

Rina Ayalin-Gorelik, Association of Ethiopian Jews (AEJ)
Right now, the AEJ is acting as an intermediary between the community and services for the marginalized. It is important for the AEJ and the Ethiopian Israeli community that even through the horrors of the war, the needs, status and civil rights of Ethiopian Israelis and other marginalized communities in Israel are not ignored or allowed to fall to the bottom of society’s priority list. AEJ has collaborated with a few key NGOs and wrote an official letter to the Knesset urging a Southern evacuation for the sick, elderly, vulnerable and marginalized populations who have no protection as the war threatens their lives.

Avital Blonder, Jindas, is working with communities in assessing and addressing their needs. Our Director of the Rights and Resources Center in Ramat Eshkol, Lod is currently managing not only our residents’ cases but also those directed to her by the municipal hotline. Our Jewish-Ethiopian Community Coordinators are in one-on-one contact with individuals in need in the community, and our Arab Community Coordinators are providing activity packages for children and will be leading a program for activities for the elderly that will engage both children and young adults. We are also starting a 10-session group therapy program for small, diverse-age groups overseen by a professional therapist that will address anxieties and offer group and individual support.

Karyn Grossman Gershon, Project Kesher, which builds Jewish community by empowering Russian- and Ukrainian-speaking women, reports that its Israeli office has been offering support group programming in Russian and Ukrainian on Zoom. Many of the women in its network live in some of the most destabilized areas in southern Israel. It is also planning special Zoom programming for Shabbat, along with an art and storytelling program for children to address trauma. (The organization was also quoted in The Chronicle of Philanthropy this week, talking about how its constituents are traumatized not just by what’s happening in Israel but by the ongoing war in Ukraine.)

Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll, Chochmat Nashim, has been posting stories on their social media pages of women who saved their communities or their loved ones with acts of bravery, intelligence, and honor. In addition, Shoshanna recorded a podcast with her experiences of the day and a range of responses and reactions to it.

Yael Rockman, Migdal Oz Beit Midrash For Women, has moved classes online. The entire community is committed to volunteering to do what they can to help with the war effort. Students in the seminary have been volunteering in various capacities, including babysitting and preparing food for those in need. Graduates of the program have set up a network connecting volunteers with families in need of assistance.

Dina Shalev, Lada’at – Choose Well
La’daat is a mixed Jewish-Arab organization, which is adding extra challenges and heartbreak – they will need to mend the relationships and build trust between Jews and Arabs. This is probably the most painful situation they have ever been in. The organization is continuing to operate their counseling centers, and have started a service to accompany women to their OBGYN appointments if their partners have been called up for reserve duty. They are gearing up for the future, where they anticipate that the main need will be accessible therapy and rehabilitation.

Mazal Shaul, WePower, is advocating for the establishment of a special committee to deal with the civil aspects of war that can adequately provide needed assistance and support for families. They are also fighting the Israeli government to include women at the decision-making tables.

Esty Shushan, Nivcharot, whose work promotes the rights of ultra-Orthodox women and inclusion in positions of power, is working to open doors for those Orthodox women who want to enlist. In light of the challenging situation facing Israel, Nivcharot recognizes its present role as instigators of change in the relationship between the IDF and ultra-Orthodox girls. Over the past week, there have been numerous initiatives addressing the requests of ultra-Orthodox men to enlist and contribute. Yet, all these initiatives have remained closed off to ultra-Orthodox women. The organization issued a call out this week to ultra-Orthodox women via social media and received dozens of responses from women eager to serve as support during these combat times. Esty is currently in touch with senior officials in the IDF regarding this matter.

Orit Sulitzeanu, The Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel
The Association of Rape Crisis Centers and the nine local rape crisis centers under their umbrella have expanded aid services along with their hotline. They are currently evaluating the needs for women in Israel and bracing for the likelihood of increased victims of sexual assault due to the war. The organization is encouraging rape survivors for whom the events are re-igniting past traumas to call its hotlines for help. It has also raised concerns about sexual violence by Hamas attackers and has reached out to the Red Cross to help bring back the hostages.

Dana Talmi, Yahel – Israel Service Learning
The Yahel Social Change Fellowship has been suspended for the time being, and all of the fellows have now departed Israel in a attempt to keep them and Yahel’s staff safe. In order to help those in need and support the organization’s partners, Yahel started a crowd-funding campaign that has currently raised over 160,000 NIS. These funds have been channeled to support grassroots initiatives through their trusted partners across Israel. Efforts include supporting Bedouin families in Rahat, providing food to soldiers and others in need in Lod and Ramat Eliyahu, purchasing games and activity kits for children while schools and afterschool programs are closed, assisting asylum seekers in South Tel Aviv with baby formula and diapers, and more. In addition to giving financial support to our partners all over Israel, Yahel is also working on matching our alumni community with volunteer opportunities.

Susan Weiss, Center for Women’s Justice
The Center for Women’s Justice circulated a document they wrote a few years ago called “Pledge of Compassion and Dignity” to prevent tragic agunah (women trapped in their marriage) cases. The document, which can be signed by a married man, authorizes an agent to write and deliver a get in the event the man is unable to do so himself—if he is taken captive in war, is in a coma, or has suffered irreparable cognitive impairment that renders him halachically unable to grant a get. CWJ is encouraging married men to sign this document before going to war and share it in order to preserve women’s wellbeing.