On Thursday morning I attended a wonderful lecture at the home of our Israel Consul General. Dr. Bambi Sheleg a modern Orthodox Israeli Journalist. She is a feminist and a concerned Israeli citizen. She founded a new organization in Israel called Eretz Acheret (which means another land). She is trying to create a dialogue between many different segments of Israeli society. Sheleg was born in Chile and made aliyah.
Eretz Acheret publishes a widely respected magazine with copies in English. It is published 6 times a year and has more than 5000 subscribers.
You wouldn’t think that Sheleg was such a progressive. Looking at her she dresses like a modern Orthodox woman, head covering and all. But she is clearly a most thoughtful person.
In truth she calls herself a centrist. But from her remarks it is clear that even as a modern Orthodox woman she is committed to progressive values. She described movingly how she engineered her daughter’s Bat Mitzvah in Israel that included her daughter reading from Torah and Haftarah in a women’s prayer group. We Americans think nothing of it. A common occurence in Reform and Conservative shuls here in the U.S. But highly uncommon for someone of Sheleg’s religious background. Sheleg spoke about the stranglehold of religious extremism of the Chief Rabbinate in Israel and of the Haredi population and leaders whom the politicians on both the left and right court for their votes. She talked about the Rabbinate in Israel that won’t force husbands to divorce their wives even when they abuse their wives-leaving the women chained to their husbands since in the traditional religious system of Judaism only men can effect divorce.
She also spoke about the need for a different kind of non-profit media in Israel that might bring attention to the working poor, the lives of non-Jews in the Jewish state, issues of democracy, and the way in which many are turning to tradition but don’t want to be Orthodox in Israel.
She also spoke about the dilemma of low paid women workers in Israel. Those without advanced degrees and how society continues to leave them behind. She raised questions about how the Ethiopians have been treated in Israeli society; the ugly issue of racism rearing its head. And also the issue of looking at the impact of the large Russian immigration to Israel. But few are delving into these topics that is why her NGO, Eretz Acheret remains so important.
Sheleg raised many more questions than answers but she echoes a theme that I have pointed towards many times: The principle of Klal Yisrael–that we are still one Jewish people is important and that we must find better ways of engaging each other.
Clearly she is trying to do that in her work. Kol HaKavod.