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NIF Prizewinner Unites Beit Shemesh Women to Fight Exclusion

22 June 2012

Miri Shalem sees no contradiction between being an Orthodox Jew and insisting that women be seen and heard in public places. She has lived in Beit Shemesh for 18 years and was spurred into action earlier this year after a young Orthodox schoolgirl was spat upon and cursed by ultra-Orthodox extremists for alleged immodest dress (her school uniform).

Shalem is one of three recipients of this year's NIF Yaffa London-Yaari Prize for Women of Outstanding Achievements. She will use her prize to promote dialogue between women of the various communities in the city and set up a consultancy center within the Ramat Beit Shemesh Community Center that she has managed for the past four years.

She said, "Beit Shemesh is a microcosm of all Israel and I feel my job is to connect diverse communities and promote dialogue."

In protesting the attempts to exclude women from public spaces, Shalem organized a flash mob dance in a Beit Shemesh public plaza earlier this year in which several hundred women participated. "Those few minutes were the most effective statement we could make against religious extremism and spitting, and to show that there is a different kind of life."

With her scholarship, Shalem plans to hire 15 volunteer consultants who will empower women through employment and entrepreneurship counseling, health and nutrition, fashion and style and personal coaching.

Shalem said, "Beit Shemesh is my home and nobody will tell women what we can and cannot do here."

$250 million to Israeli social change groups since 1979.