(WOMENSENEWS)– Thirty-year-old Stav Shaffir is shaking up the Israeli government for the better. Shaffir boldly redefines feminism and Zionism and is an inspirational young feminist with whom I’d love to share a cup of coffee.
My experiences visiting Israel as a young Jewish woman have been fairly “decaf,” as I’ve been hushed and forced to wear a skirt more times than I care to recall. One tends to lose a sense of empowerment when relegated to a second-class role as a woman at the Kotel (Western Wall). Israel is an intensely gendered society, and in all walks of life women, though blunt and forthright, are nearly always treated as inferior. Aware of this blatant inequality, it’s easy to lose faith in the nature of the Israeli political system. I consider myself a Zionist, one who loves the Jewish homeland and who always will. However, it’s important to me that women too see an engaged and politically active future for themselves; yet in Israeli political life, so few do. The Rabbinate (Jewish religious governing body in Israel) has a stranglehold on society, and they severely curtail women’s rights. While Israeli politics is energized by a head-spinning number of political parties, the spark of progressive Zionism that advocates for women’s advancement is almost nonexistent.
Enter Shaffir, a breath of fresh air and a long overdue liberal female voice.
Upon first being introduced to Shaffir, my decaf view of the Knesset gained a few shots of espresso. I have always felt completely iced out of the spiritual space in the Old City of Jerusalem, but with her avid support for Women of the Wall, Shaffir has enabled me to experience a renewed sense of hope for women at the Kotel. This allows me to imagine a more inclusive future for women in Israel. Before Shaffir and Women of the Wall, girls and women in Israel were shut out of the holiest places, but Shaffir is working to change all that. She can be seen in the heart of Jerusalem proudly praying in her talis (traditional Jewish prayer shawl). In addition to actively supporting Women of the Wall, Shaffir recently proposed legislation that would allow same-sex couples in Israel to receive government recognition for civil unions. In many ways, Shaffir speaks truth to power, and is not afraid to talk honestly and openly, and when necessary, even rebuke the prime minister.
Even in the American political experience, the role of women is marginalized. There are so few women, and even fewer younger women. At the grassroots level, women are natural activists, demonstrating what’s just and ethical. But in order to rise up, one requires, among other things, serious money. Shaffir is the youngest and poorest member of the Knesset, with a reported net worth of merely $20,000 in 2013, a stark contrast from Donald Trump’s $4 billion, for example. Even in today’s modern society, women often earn far less than men. Additionally, women frequently are provided with fewer financial and career opportunities, so the fact that Shaffir’s voice has overcome her small paycheck is truly refreshing in today’s political world.
Thanks to Shaffir, I can one day hope to walk down the streets of Jerusalem with my head held high, and to pray at the Kotel with the same privileges now only afforded to men. She is going places in Israel, and changing the country for the better. I’ll be watching her work and benefiting from the change that she will undoubtedly bring about. I’ll be in her corner, and she’ll be in mine, and one day I hope Shaffir and I will share a fair trade cup of joe at last.
This story is part of Teen Voices at Women’s eNews. In 2013 Women’s eNews retained the 25-year-old magazine Teen Voices to continue and further its mission to improve the world for female teens through media. Teen Voices at Women’s eNews provides online stories and commentary about issues directly affecting female teens around the world, serving as an outlet for young women to share their experiences and views.