|Mikvahs for social change and other liberal Orthodox news|
|Written by Ruby Ong|
The ritual bath, or mikvah, is a communal space regularly attended by hundreds of thousands of women – yet controlled by ultra-Orthodox men. Is it possible to do more there than dunk and say a blessing? Is there a way to make women's voices heard among the still waters? Can a mikvah be a community space to educate about women's health, family violence prevention and more?
On March 9, eight inspiring women attended the first-ever Mikvah Round Table in Jerusalem organized and led by SHATIL's Orthodox Women's Project Coordinator Anat Yona. Each of the participants is connected to the mikvah issue from a different perspective and position, but all resonated with each another's hopes and actions.
Among the initiatives represented is an empowerment training for poorly-paid mikvah attendants to inform them of their employment rights and to enable them to support and assist distressed women in the community, as well as to transform the mikvah experience into a more pleasant and meaningful one.
A vibrant discussion ensued about strategies for social change and for including women in the decision-making process around the mikvahs – including whether Orthodox women should quietly work to change the system from within or use more public strategies.
The participants were energized through coming together, networking and learning from one another. One participant said, "I was especially excited by the discussion about the many empowering strategies at the disposal of the members of the group. Congratulations on this welcome initiative."
NIF's Jewish Pluralism Grant Officer Shira Ben Sasson Furstenberg commented, "I feel we are enabling something powerful and meaningful that is still in its infancy but has tremendous potential for growth and impact."
A second meeting of the new forum to study the topic in greater depth and discuss directions for action will be held after Passover.
NIF/SHATIL’s work with the liberal Orthodox community continues on many fronts. Havruta – Religious Homosexuals in Israel – an organization founded by graduates of Hesder yeshivas and religious pre-military preparatory programs that receives guidance from SHATIL – attracted more than 200 people – including rabbis -- to a conference they co-sponsored with Hebrew University's Hillel House in Jerusalem in March, "Homosexuals and Lesbians in the Orthodox World." With SHATIL's help, the conference received wide media coverage on television, radio, newspapers and online.