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Archive for : women’s rights

Repair Interview: Talia Niederman on Year Course and Women’s Rights in Israel

Young Judea’s Year Course program brings talented and committed high school graduates to Israel for a year of learning, volunteering and discovery. Talia Niederman, an 18-year old from New Jersey and a lifelong participant in Young Judea, recently got back from her gap year in Israel. Needless to say, she had a life-changing experience.

Although she’s super busy this summer working as a counselor for Young Judea’s Camp Tel Yehuda, Niederman took some time to tell Repair the World about her background with service, why she felt compelled to join Year Course, and how she and her fellow YC’ers created a program to help women in need.

What is your background with service and volunteering – is it something you’ve always been passionate about?
Yes, I’ve always thought it was important to incorporate some form of social action into my life. In high school I was very involved with Young Judaea and did a lot of volunteering and service through the movement.

How did you hear about Year Course and what inspired you to participate?
Well I’ve been involved with Young Judaea since I was 10. I think it was around 9th grade that I told my parents I was going on Year Course. They weren’t originally too crazy about the idea. Throughout my time in Young Judea I was always hearing about all the amazing things YCers were doing. Back in the States we would try and parallel them in whatever ways we could. I remember the first event I ever planned was making sock dolls for the Darfuri refugees (a group the Year Course two ahead of me worked with heavily). Hearing all the things I did about my predecessor, I would be crazy not to have gone on Year Course.

What types of programs did you work on while you were in Israel?
I volunteered in a four places over the course of the year. In our Jerusalem section I worked at an after school program for Ethiopian Jews. In Bat Yam I worked at a battered women’s shelter and the Tel Aviv Rape Crisis Center, and in Arad I volunteered at a foster home. Each of these was roughly three months.

What experience had the most personal impact for you?
The most impactful thing for me was Garin Kol L’Nashim. Six (which eventually turned to seven) of us created this Garin to combat various women’s issues in Israel. It was from the Garin that we got the inspiration to work at the Tel Aviv Rape Crisis Center and the battered women’s shelter. We also collected 400 toiletry items for a shelter for sex trafficked women, created two education kits for people in America, made t-shirts from which we donated the profit to the battered women’s shelter, and continuously kept a blog.

The Garin not only helped us to help the broader community, but it gave us a forum to discuss various women’s issues with each other. By the end of the year it was me and three others. The four of us really built a wonderful and proactive community together, for which I am extremely proud and grateful.

Find out more about Young Judea’s Year Course program and how you can get involved, here.

Her Ladyship…on International Women’s Day

I’m not ashamed to admit my addiction to Downton Abbey, the Emmy® Award winning drama about the Crawleys, a well-to-do British family around the time of World War I. The acclaimed series—a phenomenon, really—transports viewers to another era; one in many ways simpler (and no this is not commentary about smartphones and technology), and one in many ways much more complex. Think servants working downstairs, gilded furniture, marriages arranged to your cousins and multiple-course formal dinners, after which women are sent away so the men can discuss the “real business” of the day.

Like many, in my addiction to this fictional saga, I’m struck by the impulsive and impassioned character, Lady Sybil Crawley, the youngest of three daughters born into this life of opulence and privilege. Not only does she – in her own way – defy her aristocratic upbringing, she fights for women’s rights, often asserting in conversation that women can – and should be – equal players in politics, the workforce and family matters.

And on this, International Women’s day (and Purim, by the by), I’d like to point out some highlights of what makes this character so swell:

  • She empowers other women: Lady Sybil insists that one of the chambermaids – a character with whom she is not expected to engage beyond her duties helping her get dressed – get a job as a secretary, a career (gasp!) that excited the maid’s passion. Lady Sybil’s belief that women should not be simply expected to play out a role assigned to her, but rather to follow one’s own aspirations tempers the maid’s worry that her family would not understand giving up a good job (as a maid, no less) to do something that she felt inspired to do.
  • She maintains her own identity (and a touch of style): The glory of Downton and its ladies is embellished evermore by the refined, intricate, conservative, lacy, ultra-feminine styles of the day (not so much our wash-and-wear attire of today). But Lady Sybil rebels. In a much subtler scene, Lady Sybil enters flaunting a new style of dress – pants! – considered a bit risqué for the day.  By shocking her parents and the (ever delightful) Dowager Countess, Lady Sybil reminds us that every woman should be able to build her own identity on her own terms.
  • She’s outspoken: Outside the safety of their Abbey, Lady Sybil defies her father and attends voting rallies comprised of men that, at the time, often include discussions of whether or not women should have the right to vote. By showing up, she shows that women can–and should–be part of the conversation.  Her presence alone helped change the dialogue.
  • She takes action: Lady Sybil refuses to sit idly during a time of crisis like so many others of her social class. She, instead, enlists herself in training to become a nurse, heading straight to work helping those injured at war. Regardless of her privilege, the Lady makes a point to get her hands dirty for the greater good, all the while engaging with people from outside her close-knit community.
  • She has integrity: Her family condemns the Lady’s marriage to Tom Branson, the family chauffeur. Yet, Sybil is guided by her heart, not by tradition. Despite this tension, she continues to love and respect her disapproving family even when they threaten to cut her off.

Lady Sybil’s actions on Downton Abbey wouldn’t likely end up being recorded in today’s history books. These acts – usually done quietly – reflect those of women who stand up for themselves, their daughters, their mothers, their sisters and their supportive brothers across the globe everyday.  But, all combined, Lady Sybil’s characteristics complete the portrait of a strong, inspiring woman deserving of recognition and to whom we can still connect today.

I, like many others who are addicted to the Abbey, have many modern-day Lady Sybils in my life: my great grandmother who went to work to support her family at a time when that was frowned upon, my aunt who faces every challenge with dignity and poise, a dear friend who fights for equality through modeling an inclusive life to her daughters, and on and on. They inspire me daily.

My hope – as a man who proudly considers himself a feminist – is that on International Women’s Day, we honor not only the great pioneering women who have led the cause of women’s rights throughout history but also the Lady Sybils in our own families and communities who have done their part to build a better world for us all.

And this year, perhaps you can honor your favorite “Lady Sybil” by dressing as her for Purim.  I know that I will – as long as I can find some trendy pants…




Repair Hero: Betty Friedan

March is National Women’s History Month – and in 2010, the month’s celebratory theme is: writing women back into history. On that note, I can think of no better person to honor as this week’s Repair the World hero than Betty Friedan (1921-2006), whose writing forever shaped the feminist movement, and the country’s very understanding and estimation of women:

When Betty Friedan (nee Bettye Goldstein) graduated from Smith College in 1942, women’s rights and opportunities in America were severely restricted. Despite a stunning academic record and a degree in psychology, she spent many years suppressing her professional ambitions to live out the suburban homemaker’s life, so typical of post-WWII society. But Friedan would ultimately grow beyond her limited surroundings.
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