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Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Ruth Bader Ginsburg z”l: A Pioneer for Women’s Rights, A Trailblazer for the Jewish People

By Sue Beller, Board Chair, and Stephanie Blumenkranz, Director

"The Jewish religion is an ethical religion. That is, we are taught to do right, to love mercy, do justice, not because there's going to be any reward in heaven or punishment in hell. We live righteously because that's how people should live." 

– Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg z”l told the Sixth and I Congregation in Washington DC, on Rosh Hashanah in 2017.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg z"l seen in her chambers at the
Supreme Court on July 31, 2014. (Photo: AP/Cliff Own)

People of all backgrounds are mourning the loss of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg z"l. A pioneer for women’s rights—notably making the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause apply to women—and a trailblazer for the Jewish community—the first Jewish woman to be appointed to the Supreme Court.

Justice Ginsburg was a champion for the values that The Hadassah Foundation holds paramount. She was a fierce fighter for women’s rights and her contributions were instrumental in ensuring equal protection for women under the law. Justice Ginsburg understood the power of true social change and that to achieve this took time and perseverance, saying that "Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time". She was a giant in spirit, a role model to women of all ages, and her work has paved the way for so many women for generations to come. 

How significant that Justice Ginsburg passed on Rosh Hashanah. Those who die on Rosh Hashanah are considered “a person of great righteousness.” She most certainly embodied the Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam – repairing the world. We are more whole, we are more equal, because Ruth Bader Ginsburg has lived. Let us honor the magnificent person that she was by continuing her work for equality and justice.

A bouquet of flowers is left outside of the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC
following the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
(Photo: Reuters/Al Drago)


Thursday, June 25, 2020

Hadassah Foundation Responds to Surge in Domestic Violence Against Women

By Lonye Rasch, Board Alumna

With a dramatic increase in calls to Israel’s domestic abuse hotlines since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, the Hadassah Foundation quickly launched a COVID-19 Response Fund, Co-Chaired by Tracey Spiegelman and Audrey Weiner, to help the leading women’s organizations battle this alarming phenomenon. While the Foundation, “an investor in social change to empower girls and women in the United States and in Israel,” has targeted its grants for this year toward gender equality in positions of power, board members realized they had to respond to this need as well.

In a June 24 webinar hosted by the Hadassah Foundation, the directors of the first three organizations to receive COVID-19 grants—Orit Sulitzeanu of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel (ARCCI), Rafah Anabtawi of Kayan, and Michal Gera Margaliot of the Israel Women’s Network (IWN)—articulated the severity of the domestic abuse problem in Israel, explained what they are doing to mitigate it, and why they remain hopeful and optimistic.

Ms. Sulitzeanu noted that when COVID-19 first hit Israel, the hot lines were silent as people tried to sort out how they were going to handle this new reality. Then the calls began to escalate each week. Lockdown, she explained, meant that social workers were no longer available to help because they were deemed to be nonessential workers; psychological services were halted; hearings had to be cancelled because judges were working under very reduced hours; and boarding schools, where children from abusive homes had been sent to protect them, were now returning these kids to their abusive environments.

Ms. Anabtawi pointed out that Kayan, which bolsters grassroots initiatives to empower Arab women to assume leadership roles in their communities, has witnessed a more than 40 percent increase in both emotional and physical violence against Arab women. One of the problems, she says, is that the Israeli Knesset and the government in general has not made domestic abuse a priority. “The danger of a woman being killed is a real threat,” she says, “if she doesn’t take the necessary steps to ensure her own safety.”

It is not that the government totally ignores the problem. There are laws and initiatives that address the issue. Ms. Margaliot noted that in 2017, for example, a government mandate outlined a nationwide plan to devote millions of shekels toward fighting domestic violence. But only a portion of the money has been distributed.

In 2018, she noted, 30,000 Israelis protested for gender equality. The inability of Israel to form a government for such a long time, Ms. Margaliot added, took the momentum away from their cause. Now with the lockdown creating such enormous uncertainty, coupled with Israel’s economic crisis, the expectation is that abuse will continue to escalate. IWN, she said, has asked the government to host a roundtable to address the alarming rise in abuse, to identify where help is most crucial, and to come up with countermeasures.

Ms. Margaliot cited the case of a Haredi woman, who was abused by both her father and her husband. During this COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a “total collapse of women’s wellness,” Ms. Margaliot said.  And this woman mentally collapsed. “We need advocacy to get the government to financially support psychological services for abused women,” she emphasized.

More than that, Ms. Margaliot related that “we need a basket of solutions. We need money for hotlines, shelters, and housing for abused women. We also need to treat violent men as well as boys who are exposed to domestic violence.”  Noting that violence is a “vicious circle,” she explained that boys who witness abuse in their homes are more likely to become abusers later in life, while girls who witness this violence are more likely to become victims.

What COVID-19 has taught Ms. Anabtawi is how important it is to have empowered female leadership in local communities, who can raise awareness about abuse, both in the home and the workplace, report that abuse, and speak up for abused and marginalized women.

Ms. Sulitzeanu reported that on the very day of the webinar she and her colleagues at the rape crisis centers across Israel provided recommendations to the President of Israel’s Supreme Court in response to a report before the court on how to improve the legal system for victims of abuse. “I suggested that ‘restorative justice,’ which recognizes what happened to the victim, be integral to the process,” she said. In addition, she suggested to the president that all judges be educated as to what constitutes abuse.

Ms. Anabtawi emphasized that her communities most urgently need increased capacity for hotlines, as well as the resources to address the problems that the hotlines reveal. She noted that the local leaders they empower are effective resources for identifying those women who need help and what specific kind of support they require.

An “Aha moment” came to Ms. Margaliot when she learned that the Israeli Government’s National Security Council gathered a group of people to come up with an exit strategy as the  lockdown is being eased. Many were physicians and economists, she said. There were no women among that group and no educational experts, despite the central need to educate everyone. Clearly, she brought out, women need to have a seat at these tables.

Yet, all three presenters remain hopeful about the future. “As we help even one woman, it gives me hope and optimism to face the challenges ahead, “said Ms. Anabtawi. Expressing a similar sentiment, Ms. Sulitzeanu shared a message from one women her organization helped recently. “You put a light in my life,” the woman wrote.

“Things can be different,” noted Ms. Margaliot.  “We can make them different. We just need political imagination, a clear vision, and persistence.”

The Hadassah Foundation will shortly be awarding Phase 2 grants from its COVID-19 Response Fund in collaboration with women's funds in Israel and the United States. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

The Hadassah Foundation's Response to COVID-19

Women, especially those on the periphery, have been hard hit by the consequences of the pandemic. Women are disproportionately losing their jobs, gender based violence is on the rise, and marginalized populations are facing growing economic and health disparities. The work of many of our grantee partners is needed now more than ever, while at the same time, these organizations are facing increased financial difficulties.

The Hadassah Foundation signed on to the Council on Foundation's Call To Action: Philanthropy's Commitment During COVID 19, to best support our nonprofit partners and the people hit hardest by the impacts of COVID-19. We take this commitment very seriously and urge other funders to do the same.

In keeping with the commitments in the Call To Action, we have taken the following actions:

Connected with each of the US and Israel Grantee organizations to assess the impact the pandemic has had on them and their recipients so far.
For the duration of 2020, we offered the option to convert project-based grants to general operating support, in order to fund their greatest needs.
They can also chose to expedite their upcoming payment, so they have additional cash on hand in the coming months.

Reached out to organizations in the midst of being considered for funding to open lines of communication, making it possible for them to modify or completely change their proposal to meet a pressing need due to the current environment.

Working on a strategy to collaboratively and creatively allocate funds to meet short-term urgent needs as well as longer term implications of the pandemic.

In the weeks and months ahead, The Hadassah Foundation will continue to share with you the actions we are taking. If you have questions or would like to discuss the actions we have taken, contact us at

Thursday, March 5, 2020

#EachforEqual this Purim and International Women's day

Written by Rebecca Barabas If you follow the Hadassah Foundation on Facebook, you've probably seen our posts about the upcoming International Women's Day. This year's theme, #EachforEqual, is especially important to the Hadassah Foundation and our grantees. As the Foundation's grantees and grant participants think about equality, we see different ways of viewing equality and different needs for equality in the American Jewish and the Israeli communities.
Increasing its significance, the Jewish holiday that most directly celebrates a woman comes on the heels of International Women's Day this year. Purim explores the power dynamics between King Ahashveros and his wives, where we see the need for equality in antiquity. While Queen Vashti's reaction to domestic abuse has JWI's JCWLP program member and Maharat graduate Ruth Balinsky Friedman asking Who is the real hero of Purim and JWI CEO Meredith Jacobs proclaiming #IAmVashti.
Purim's connection to gender is further explored in Maharat graduate Rabba Wendy Amsellem's optimistic view of the Purim story, Back to the Garden: Purim, Patriarchy and a Path Forward. Rabba Amsellem writes: "Esther's power is finally Esther’s power suggests a movement back towards a prelapsarian state in which men and women coexist equally and God interacts with humans freely and in a state of grace."
As Purim and International Women's day are celebrated, join us in being #EachforEqual.

Female pioneers at Kibbutz Tel Amal (now Nir David) (Photo GPO)


Equality in Israel 
Founding head of the Rackman Center Ruth Halperin-Kadri writes about "the myth of the independent and free pioneer and the false notion that women were also equal in Israel" in One Hundred Years of Patriarchy. And as women are still fighting for equal rights today, Halperin-Kadri stresses that the Israeli suffrage movement is a vital part of its history. Center for Women's Justice is working to help women in Israel obtain equality within marriage law. In this video (subtitled in English), CWJ's Rabbi Leah Shakdiel teaches the history of the Jewish marriage law, based in slavery, that traps thousands of women as agunot. 

Equality in Religion
In Behind the Veil of Tzniyut: Using Religious Modesty to Block Women as Ritual Leaders, Maharat's President and co-Founder Rabba Sara Hurwitz writes about "how the interpretation of religious modesty has cultivated an underlying resistance to and exclusion of women assuming ritual leadership roles in Jewish synagogue life in Israel and America." Rabba Hurwitz discusses the laws of tzniyut and why women should be welcomed into leadership positions in religious communities. 

Equality in Action 
Read what and Jewish Feminist Alumnae Network (alumnae of JWA's Rising Voices Fellowship and jGirls) write about equality. In Why Feminism Needs Teenage Boys Emma Nathanson describes her reaction to learning that her male classmates did not identify as feminists and the need for male feminists in the fight for gender equity.