Abigail Morris, Chief Executive of the Jewish Museum London
When I consider the theme of International Women’s Day 2018 – pressing for progress in the global struggle for gender parity – I am struck by the importance of celebrating the often unrecognised contribution of innovative female figures of the past. At the Jewish Museum London our latest exhibition, Elsbeth Juda: Grit and Glamour, does just this. Elsbeth Juda (known professionally as ‘Jay’) was a British photographer best known for her work for The Ambassador magazine in the 1950s and 1960s. The exhibition showcases a selection of her most striking images for the magazine, featuring glamourous commercial shots and portraits of some of the best known faces in British art and design.
Elsbeth was born in Germany in 1911 and fled for London with her husband Hans in 1933. In 1946 Hans launched The Ambassador magazine focussed on promoting British fashion, trade and industry for the global export market. With Hans as editor and Elsbeth as in-house photographer and associate editor, The Ambassador was published monthly in English, German, French and Portuguese, and had subscribers in over 90 countries. Elsbeth also worked for advertising companies and fashion magazines including Harper’s Bazaar. She is yet another example of a Jewish émigré who brought a new artistic vision to Britain as a refugee from Nazism. She studied photography with the Bauhaus photographer Lucia Moholy and was hugely influenced by European modernism.
Although a trailblazing female photographer, Elsbeth’s artistic contribution is largely unrecognised today. She disregarded commercial photography’s formal convections, using unusual, often incongruous backdrops for her shoots. Partly as a result of her own modesty – always referring to herself as a ‘commercial photographer’ rather than an artist – she has never achieved the recognition she deserves. By exhibiting Elsbeth Juda: Grit and Glamour at the Jewish Museum London, we hope to highlight to those who know of her – and those who don’t - the incredible work of this remarkable woman and all that she achieved in her extensive career. Join us this International Women’s Day to celebrate Elsbeth Juda and help us #PressForProgress.
Elsbeth Juda: Grit and Glamour will run until 1 July 2018 at the Jewish Museum London.
My name is Lyn Julius, co-founder of Harif, the UK Association of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa.
Harif is a small group of volunteers who arrange talks, film screenings and advocate for the rights of ex-refugees from Arab countries and Iran. We are not just Sephardim and Mizrahim, in fact several Ashkenazim are prominent in the international campaign for justice.
Jewish public life in the UK is still dominated by Ashkenazi men, but gender becomes irrelevant in the struggle to raise awareness of the history and culture of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa, known as Mizrahim (Easterners) and Sephardim.
The publication of my book ‘UPROOTED: How 3,000 Years of Jewish civilisation in the Arab World vanished overnight’ marks a watershed in my work. It represents the first attempt to focus on the exodus and its causes, and is the result of over 10 years’ cumulative research on Harif’s associated blog, Point of No Return.
Suddenly my diary is filling up with speaking engagements and the prospect of a North American book tour. But a still greater challenge remains: How do we get the story of the Mizrahi exodus into the mainstream?
Although more than half the Jews of Israel hail from Arab and Muslim countries, the global news media systematically exclude the story of the Jewish refugees. Where Jews from Arab countries are mentioned, they are either portrayed as victims of Zionism or their history is misrepresented.
In Israel, Mizrahi women have been empowered to go out to work and get themselves an education- once denied them in patriarchal Arab societies. There are more women of Mizrahi origin in government than ever before. In terms of culture, Israel is more ‘Middle Eastern’ than ever, and female Mizrahi and Sephardi artistes, like the A-wa band and Maggi Hikri, Sarit Haddad, Rita and Yasmin Levy, are all playing their part. Meanwhile Jews all over the world are being seduced by the mouth-watering and colourful dishes of the Mizrahi kitchen. Mizrahi Woman are going places!
Shelley Marsh is the Executive Director of Reshet: the Network for Jewish Youth Provision and proud mother of two strong daughters
In Torah, Abraham is commanded by God to listen to the voice of Sara (Shema B’Kolech, Genesis 21:12): “In all that Sara says unto you, listen to her voice.” This is such an important statement and it should resonate strongly with us as we celebrate International Women’s Day 2018.
At my (non-Jewish) primary school, we put on a Purim play and I was given the role of Vashti. My nine-year-old self was less than thrilled because I understood my role was to be banished by the King. I understood Vashti’s role as passive. It was only much later, when studying the texts more closely, that I was able to recognise Vashti had spoken out and refused to accept the inappropriate instruction from her husband. Although focus is given to Queen Esther’s beauty, her eloquence and Vashti’s determination in speaking out is surely a core theme we need our young people to fully appreciate.
As a community, there are a range of challenges we must raise our voices on and ensure we are actively listening. Some of these are issues which affect the Jewish community as well as wider society, including removing the stigma around mental health; speaking up about safeguarding concerns we might have; openly discussing alcohol and drug abuse. We need to be mindful we are not immune to these issues. I am blessed to be one voice in a community of strong women who know how to raise their voices and lead appropriate action.
There is one area that we need continue to speak up about which is specifically Jewish. That is the issue of “agunot”; women who are chained in marriage because their husband may have disappeared or is lying in a permanent vegetative state or has decided he does not wish to allow the divorce to go ahead. Denial or the inability to receive “a get”, a Jewish divorce, means a woman cannot remarry under Orthodox auspices.
Pirke avot 3:15 teaches “All is foreseen and freedom of choice is granted. The world is judged on goodness but in accordance with the amount of people's positive deeds.”
Freedom of choice in ending a marriage is not always granted to women. The positive deeds to improve this situation must be raised more widely throughout Israel and the diaspora. People have spoken out and some positive action has been taken in the UK. However, only last week, MK Aliza Lavie, addressed the issue of agunot in the Knesset committee for the Advancement of the Status of Women for International Agunah Day. Regrettably, representation from the Israeli rabbinate was absent.
Our youth live in global and local worlds. They are positively engaged in social action and we should be proud of their endeavours. We must educate and encourage our young people on all aspects of Jewish life so they are able to speak up for what they believe to be right.
Two talented female musicians, Achinoam Nini and Mira Awad sing:
“Your eyes, sister, they say all that my heart asks for…”
This International Women’s Day, we must strive to listen, to educate, to challenge and to move forward.
Claudia Mendoza, Director of Policy and Public Affairs, Jewish Leadership Council
Also published at The Jewish News
One of the first projects I was assigned to on joining the Jewish Leadership Council was the Commission on Women in Jewish Leadership. Its findings showed women in 2011 comprised only a fifth of all trustees and a quarter of chief executives in communal organisations, and a quarter of members of the Board of Deputies.
This year, the theme for International Women’s Day is ‘Press for Progress’ and although the Jewish community looks to be less imbalanced in 2018, there is certainly some way to go.
Thankfully, the debate around the role of men and women in society, specifically representation and equality for women, is one which has evolved. Unfortunately though – as with all issues which ignite passion – there is still a level of toxicity which is detrimental to the cause.
In some quarters for instance, saying men are not wholly wicked and women are not wholly virtuous is akin to blasphemy. We need men to be signed up in partnership if we are to make real and lasting progress and this means not alienating them from the start.
It is vital for women to be represented equitably in every sphere, but if they are not there we need to be asking why they are not there and what we can do to get them there. There may be some roles women don’t want, but I suspect for many there have been hurdles along the way – including discrimination – that have prevented progression.
The debilitating cost of childcare means many women take a back seat for a significant period of their working lives regardless of whether they want to. Few people would pay to go to work but unfortunately this is the choice many are left with – put your career on hold or pay more than you earn in childcare. A long career break can lead many women to lose confidence in their abilities.
Listen to Debbie Sheldon, Chief Executive of Work Avenue talk about women in the workplace and pressing for progress.
My name is Raina Sheaf and I am taking part in the JLC campaign to support International Women’s Day.
I am the CEO of The Zone Centre for Youth in Leeds.
In some ways, I expect the Suffragettes would have mixed feelings about the world for women today.
My guess is that they would feel:
‘Pride' for what has been achieved and for the fact that women have not given up the “press for progress”.
‘Upset, maybe Anger' that some women are still fighting for equality.
‘Sadness' for all the millions of women who still don’t have a voice.
Pressing for progress happens every minute, every day and every hour.
Women and Men are constantly working, campaigning and advocating for progress and change.
The current #metoo campaign, women uniting in black dresses or carrying white roses, are symbols of progress.
We must however, recognise and celebrate the differences between women and men, and we must push for the rights and for the progress for women and indeed men and children, who are silenced, who are living, working and barely surviving in unspeakable circumstances.
We should never become complacent, or lose fact that progress, be that in education, economic progress, human rights progress, freedom of choice and speech, opportunities for progress in careers and in all other areas of life, should be pushed for, by ALL people, for ALL people everywhere.
I am delighted to be taking part in the JLC campaign to support International Women’s Day. As a Trustee of the JLC, Vice Chair of Jewish Care, co-Chair of Lead and a Trustee of Jami, I believe that our community has made significant progress in recognising the value of gender equality at all levels within our communal organisations and in working towards ensuring that we harness the capabilities of so many extraordinary women across generations and denominations. We must be able to our celebrate achievements so far, as well as continue to do more to attract female talent.
This is no time to press the pause button. This is the time to #pressforprogress This is a collective leadership responsibility for both men and women. We could do worse than act in the words of Dolly Parton …‘If our actions create a legacy that inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, then you are an excellent leader’.
May the best qualities and values of the JLC shine brightly in celebration of International Women’s Day.
Watch Joanne Greenaway from the London Beth Din talk about her role in dealing with difficult cases of Get refusal. She uses her legal background to make sure that no stone is left un-turned in resolving difficult situations, and ensures that women feel represented within the Jewish court.
Joanne is also soon to qualify as a Ma'ayan, a new role of the Chief Rabbi, which aims to place high-level female Torah educators in to leadership positions within United Synagogue communities.
I was chatting recently to a colleague at work about his experiences of racism in the workplace. It was a shocking conversation because he identified comments and behaviours that I recognise but had not understood as discrimination and exclusion. Then he told me how hard he found it to talk about, because he has been successful in this environment by dialing down his feelings about this treatment. Bringing these feelings into the light took courage and was exhausting. He asked about my experiences as a woman and as a Jew, and I had little to share. He felt I was dialing it down as a form of self preservation. He may be right.
I tried to conjure up the feelings he described of exclusion and prejudice and I found it not in my working life but in my community life. When I was 17 I wrote an article to my synagogue magazine saying that I was ashamed of my community. My family belonged to a synagogue which, somewhat eccentrically, allowed a girl to have a bat mitzvah that was exactly the same as for a boy, including being called up and reading from the Torah. But after that as a woman you could play no part in leading the service or participating on the bimah. I can feel my anger today at this discrimination and injustice exactly as I felt it then. My letter did lead to some change. But for most of our synagogues over 30 years later the position is much worse than it was for me then.
We live our lives in the modern world and give our daughters the same education as our sons, we work in organisations where we expect women to take their place at the top table, in a country with laws on equality of treatment. Yet we attend celebrations for boys and girls entering their teenage years that are fundamentally different. We tolerate, no we celebrate, when a community turns to a young girl and says firmly "we do not expect the same of you as the young boys in this community, we do not expect you to learn as much, to participate as much or to lead, that is for your brother but not for you." At the party we will hear about this girl who attends a great school, is academically gifted, musically accomplished, captain of sports teams, and we applaud. But forget it, the damage is done, and at the most impressionable age. You look at the leadership of our communities and wonder where the women are. I can tell you. At 12 years old you told them to leave it to the men.
The men who support women
As a woman in a time-consuming community leadership role I am acutely aware of and grateful for the wise counsel, support, and generous time that my husband gives me. Without that willing co-operation I doubt that I would have ever accepted the position. I certainly would have been less effective. Of course, it helps that he too is quite active in his chosen sphere of voluntary activities and therefore fully understands that we both have frequent and demanding calls on our time in addition to our family life together.
We long ago decided that for us to be able to do what we have chosen to do, certain sacrifices would be necessary but we would never lose sight of what is really important i.e. our family. Accepting joint invitations becomes a hesitant activity, necessitating a check on two diaries – has he committed us to something else on that day, is he available? And just occasionally we need to decide whose diary takes precedence, which is where my husband’s support is vital – he has quite a few times given up something that he wanted to do in order to accompany me, rather like Dennis Thatcher trailing behind Margaret, trying to look interested. Once or twice he’s even “done a Prince Philip” by saying something entirely inappropriate, not by intention but simply by being himself.
On many days and evenings I am doing the job I accepted which means me being away from the house, sometimes locally, sometimes further afield. He professes delight in having uncontested control of the TV remote but I do know that just occasionally he would rather have me around. We do try to eat dinner together whenever practicable, even if that means starting to eat at 10PM. The only evening that we can guarantee not to be disturbed is Friday, which we value highly and always enjoy our Shabbat meal together. It’s a chance to fully relax, have a moan about our respective voluntary activities and cross-check next week’s diaries.
There is, I’ve found, a delightful synergy from having him around. It’s great having someone back at home who will listen to my worries, give counter arguments, fill in the blanks in my knowledge, suggest ways to solve problems, correct my errors, field phone calls, edit my written grammar and provide those thousands of other little metaphorical prods, pushes, pulls, lifts that we all need. Having him with me at an event is reassuring, someone to recognise when I need rescuing from a painful encounter with an interminable bore, someone to tell me when I’m talking nonsense myself, even someone to smile back at me from an audience when I’m asked to give a speech.
I am certainly the more visible in the work I do and whilst my husband’s efforts in assisting and supporting me in doing that may go unrecognised in the community I serve, I value it most highly. I suspect had he been asked to write about women supporting men, he would express similar thoughts.
Jewish Representative Council of Greater Manchester and Region