What does women’s empowerment have to do with Jewish and pro-Israel advocacy?
“As a Jewish woman working in the legal world, women’s empowerment means fighting as hard as we can to protect Jewish rights so that the next generation of female Jewish leaders will live in a better, more egalitarian world,” says Brooke Goldstein, executive director of The Lawfare Project. “It means stopping anti-Semitism wherever it happens so that the Jewish women leaders of tomorrow will not be afraid to call out anti-Semitism when they see it.”
For International Women’s Day, marked annually on March 8, JNS spotlights five women who are unabashed advocates for Israel and the Jewish people.
Brooke Goldstein: Advocating in the courtroom
The Lawfare Project—led by Goldstein, a New York City-based human-rights attorney, author, and filmmaker—deploys a global network of legal professionals in defense of the civil and human rights of the Jewish people and pro-Israel community.
“In that pursuit to defend Jewish rights, we’ve done a lot of work defending the rights of women, as well,” says Goldstein. “Part of defending Jewish rights means guaranteeing an equal seat at the table for Jewish women, like me, so that we can speak up and fight back when we experience discriminatory laws or practices that unfairly victimize Jews because of our heritage.”
Canadian-born Goldstein is also the founder and director of the Children’s Rights Institute, which tracks, spotlights and legally combats violations of children’s basic human rights around the world.
Her award-winning documentary film “The Making of a Martyr” uncovers the illegal, state-sponsored indoctrination and recruitment of Palestinian children for suicide-homicide attacks.
“Every step forward makes the world a safer place—for everybody, but especially for women who are often the first people in a minority community targeted by bigots,” says Goldstein.
Gila Milstein: Advocating through philanthropy
Along with her husband Adam, Gila Milstein is co-founder of the Milstein Family Foundation, which supports a wide range of pro-Israel organizations with the goals of instilling pride and courage within the young Jewish generation, strengthening the U.S.-Israel alliance, and combating bigotry and hatred in all forms in the United States.
“In Israel, Israelis are required to perform ‘Miluim’ after they complete their required full-time military service—they continue to serve the country as reservists. Here in the United States, my husband and I consider our philanthropy to be our Miluim. I am thankful to have the opportunity to give and to strengthen the community that makes up who I am today,” says Moroccan-born Milstein, who moved to Israel at age 6.
Milstein is also president of Stand By Me, which supports Israeli-American cancer patients and their families in Los Angeles.
“Philanthropy is an important way for me to make an impact and add value,” she says. “This is what women’s empowerment is all about: creating opportunities and platforms for women, and men, to stand up and make change where it is needed most.”
Masha Merkulova: Advocating by training the next generation
Merkulova is founder and executive director of Club Z, a Zionist youth movement whose mission is to create a network of knowledgeable, articulate and impassioned activists at the high school level who go on to advocate for Israel on college campuses and beyond.
“Standing up for Israel and the Jewish people means understanding who we are and where we come from, and appreciating our rich, collective heritage,” says Russian-born Merkulova. “It is our duty to then help others, including the next generation, see the light of our community and the State of Israel.”
Before starting Club Z, Merkulova spent more than 10 years as a communal activist in the San Francisco Bay Area, spearheading of educational and social events that addressed modern-day campus anti-Semitism.
“Women’s empowerment means harnessing our unique female qualities to empower every person,” says Merkulova. “We should set an example by striving to be the best version of ourselves, every day.”
Liran Avisar Ben Horin: Advocating immersive experiences in Israel
As CEO of Masa Israel Journey, Ben Horin manages the leader in providing immersive five- to 12-month experiences in Israel for young adults ages 18-30. Previously, she served as chief of staff of the director general of Israel’s prime minister’s reforms.
The Masa Leadership Academy—a first-of-its-kind initiative founded last year that will cultivate and develop 1,000 Jewish leaders from around the world by 2021 — plans to address the Jewish community’s gender disparity in leadership, including by fostering leadership among haredi women. Also last year, Masa released a survey of nearly 1,000 alumni of its Israel experience programs which found that 53 percent of men and only 42 percent of women consider themselves a “Jewish leader.”
“This is a problem that the Jewish world can no longer afford to ignore. We can cultivate a new culture, which reinforces that Jewish women have a unique ability—and responsibility—to lead, providing women with the tools and opportunities to secure seats in the C-Suites and board rooms of our communal institutions,” Ben Horin has written. “The Jewish future depends on it.”
Miriam Shepher: Advocating by strengthening Israeli-American and Jewish identity
Shepher is the Los Angeles Council chairwoman emeritus and a National Board member of the Israeli-American Council (IAC), which works to build an engaged and united Israeli-American community that strengthens the Israeli and Jewish identity of the next generation, the American Jewish community, and the bond between the Israeli and American people.
“I come from Tunisia, where the Jewish community lived as second-class citizens,” says Shepher. “Today, through my role with the IAC, I enjoy so many privileges that my family in Tunisia could not. I am proud to be an active leader of the Jewish and Israeli-American communities. I am blessed to engage in work that strengthens Jewish identity, bridges Israeli-Americans and Jewish Americans, and ensures the continuity of the Jewish people.”
Additionally, Shepher is the co-founder and president of Life Alert Emergency Response Inc., the leader in personal emergency-response systems whose advertising popularized the phrase “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up.”
“Women’s empowerment means drawing on our deep well of skills to positively impact those around us,” she says. “Our femininity is a source of immense strength.”