Grantee News

November 2020
In Israel, your position and job in the military often dictates your success in life after you complete your service. Mechinot, or pre-military training programs, function much like pre-college preparatory schools do in the US, giving graduates an advantage over others. Alma is a pre-military academy for young women who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. This six month program trains young women to become leaders in their community, take meaningful action in their lives, and fulfill their potential. In spite of COVID-19, Alma will continue its educational programming as planned while making changes as needed to adapt to the ever-changing situation. Currently, there are thirty participants in the current cohort which began on August 31st. One of the Alma graduates, Dorit, has a story many of the participants share. She grew up in a family with very limited financial resources.

Dorit grew up in a very low-income family. Her father is disabled and her mother suffers from mental health challenges. Although she attended high school, Dorit did not graduate with the matriculation certificate that is standard in Israel or the necessary education that provides the foundation for meaningful army and university experiences.

Dorit enrolled in Alma after high school and, throughout the program, increased her self-confidence and advocated for an army placement in a rescue unit, where she served for three full years.

Dorit, aged 23
After her discharge from the army, Dorit felt she had no choice by to put aside thoughts of obtaining a higher education, and instead took on a job as a cleaner in a factory to support her family. Alma is committed to the long-term success of its participants, and has a post-army counseling program and connected with Dorit. Dorit reflected upon her personal goals and dreams. The Alma staff provided employment counseling and worked with her to continue the momentum that she made prior to the army, and gave her the boost and information she needed to complete difficult matriculation exams and apply to college. She has since been accepted to and started Ashkelon College’s preparatory program for Industrial Engineering. Dorit is the first person in her family to attend college and break the cycle of poverty. She has been extremely successful in her studies thus far and is constantly reminded of the impact Alma has made on her life. As she says, “The process wasn’t easy and it took a lot of effort. Thanks to Alma, I found a sense of resilience and self-worth that I otherwise wouldn’t have.”

The Center for Women’s Justice has been hard at work to end the mistreatment women in the name of religion, despite the challenges of the pandemic.

One of CWJ’s current clients, Anna*, walked into a rabbinic courtroom expecting divorce proceedings, but walked out with her entire family’s Jewishness revoked.

Women know that when they walk into the rabbinic court for divorce proceedings, they run the risk of being refused a get (legal Jewish divorce), with the implicit or often explicit encouragement of the rabbinic court judges. But women whose families came from the former Soviet Union run an additional risk: that the rabbinic court will revoke their Jewish identity, as well as those of their children and family members.

30 years ago, Yulia* left the former Soviet Union and made Aliyah to Israel. She met a man, got engaged, and went to register for marriage at the Rabbinate. Following a comprehensive “Jewishness investigation”–which even included phone calls to her mother in Yiddish–the Tiberius State Rabbinic Court declared that she was Jewish. They married, had two daughters, Anna* and Lena*, and lived happily ever after. Almost.

In 2016, Anna found herself in the midst of an acrimonious divorce at the Ashdod Rabbinic Court. During one of the hearings, her husband yelled out, “She’s not Jewish!”

The rabbinic court overreached and summoned Annan’s entire extended family to the court against their will. They opened Jewishness investigations against three generations: the mother, the sisters, children, nieces and nephews. In one fell swoop, the rabbinic court declared that the entire family was not Jewish and that all of their marriages were null.

CWJ submitted a petition to the Supreme Court, together with Generation 1.5, which supports young Israelis of Russian descent. In the petition, they protest the injustice done to Anna and her entire family.

Click here to read the story in The Times of Israel and hear Dr. Susan Weiss, executive director of CWJ, in an interview about this case.

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