It’s a crucial time for supporting female Israeli leadership

Eight weeks after the brutal attack on Israel by the terrorist group Hamas, our communal pain remains raw. Much of the savagery perpetrated specifically targeted women and girls, who were raped, tortured, dismembered, burned to death — all too horrible to even contemplate.

Gender-based violence is an international human rights violation, and the Jewish community has been vocal about the silence of the United Nations and others to recognize and condemn it as such. It took almost two months for UN Women to call for accountability. We are still waiting to hear from organizations that have been working decades raising awareness and developing policies about the impact of war on women and girls.

This is an atrocity, full stop. 

Today, Elluminate is joining the Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations, the World Zionist Organization, Shazur/Interwoven, the National Council of Jewish Women, the Schusterman Family Philanthropies and a delegation of diverse Israeli feminists at a session at the United Nations to give voice to those who are silenced and to demand that these sexual and gender violations by Hamas are finally and unequivocally condemned and addressed.  

Elluminate recently met with an Israeli women’s leadership delegation to New York, organized by the World Zionist Organization and Shazur/Interwoven, to learn firsthand about their heroic efforts, the obstacles and fears they face during wartime, and the future of gender equality and women’s rights in the country going forward. 

Months after the Israeli government moved to diminish the Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women, and as Israel continues to respond to attacks on the military front and international stage, we must recognize that Jewish women leaders on the home front are on the front lines. They are running their organizations, whose work is more imperative than ever in the present climate, and they are pivoting to meet both the micro and macro needs of a country in crisis. And all the while, the wives and mothers among them are also juggling caring for themselves and their families as husbands and children are called up for service, schools are closed or school days shortened, and entire households are displaced.

The Collective, Elluminate’s international network of Jewish women CEOs running social innovation organizations, includes 13 CEOs and 11 organizations in Israel that have all been part of our Jewish women’s leadership program. As the war extends and short- and long-term needs become more clear, we want to ensure that these women leaders — all using a gender and Jewish lens as they work for social change — are supported with funds and resources and are prioritized as civil society takes a leading role in Israel’s response and recovery. 

More than that, we find it imperative that women who have been trained to lead with moral courage and a gender perspective are seen as the central catalyst for the country’s decisions on war and peace and the negotiating and rebuilding of an equitable, inclusive and pluralistic society. 

This is much more than theoretical. In November, hundreds of Jewish women leaders, social entrepreneurs and philanthropists gathered for Elluminate’s annual Convening in New York to examine and elevate their role as change makers and movement builders to approach pressing societal challenges. The situation in Israel loomed large, of course, and Collective leaders described the challenges of the moment and the need for creating new paradigms. 

To respond, Elluminate has established a subgroup of its Collective, composed of Israeli women CEOs and their organizations, all of which are addressing needs and issues in the country exacerbated and revealed by the current crisis. We are activating the connections of our Collective to move through this period with shared understanding for each other, and also to build upon the strength of Jewish women’s leadership to lift all Israelis — including peripheral and marginalized populations — as we navigate this most challenging time and beyond.

Orit Sulitzeanu, for example, who leads the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, is speaking globally about the human rights violations against women in Israel, the silence of the international community — especially women’s organizations — and the trauma experienced by women in Israel and its short and long-term effects. 

Karyn Grossman Gershon of Project Kesher is helping Russian and Ukrainian women in Israel, some of them who have been displaced multiple times, who are facing the double trauma of finding themselves in the midst of another war while they are still coping with the experience of the one they escaped. Rina Ayalin-Gorelik, who leads the Association of Ethiopian Jews, is immersed in the welfare of members of another vulnerable community, many serving in the IDF and whose families need new levels of support during the war.  

Avital Blonder, who works to plan and support urban renewal projects in Israel’s social and geographic edges as CEO of Jindas – Social Urban Vitalization, is focusing on solutions for evacuated and displaced individuals and families from the country’s periphery. At the same time, Ela Alon, executive director of Itach Maaki – Women Lawyers for Social Justice, is working with the Israeli government to ensure that the vulnerability of Arab-Israelis during wartime and after is recognized and addressed. 

And Mazal Shaul, who leads WePower to boost women’s participation and engagement in civic activism and in the political arena, has created a massive phone tree to locate hundreds of WePower participants in the south of the country who have been out of touch since Oct. 7.   

Elluminate aims to help guide funders, donors and media to support the women in our network who are leading the way. We are living through an unwelcome time in Israel’s 75-year history, but it is also an inflection point — one where we can elevate Jewish women who are using a faith and gender lens to build an even greater, stronger and more equitable civil society and government for the next 75 years and beyond.  

Melanie Roth Gorelick is the CEO of Elluminate, formerly the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York.