Austin National Council of Jewish Women Delegation Heads to Washington D.C.
NCJW Austin leaders at Washington Institute with Trailblazer Awardee Cecile Richards. From left: Amy Webberman, Melisa Markman, Bettie Forman, Cecile Richards, Elyse Rosenberg, Marsha Steinback. Credit: Bettie Forman
By Bettie Forman
In April, five National Council of Jewish Women Austin leaders traveled to Washington D.C. to attend the NCJW Washington Institute. They gathered with about 500 NCJW women from around the country and the world for three days of learning, connecting and advocacy. There were too many highlights to mention them all, but attendees discussed their favorites.
"Although I enjoyed and was thrilled to hear from many of the amazing speakers at Washington Institute, I felt most moved by two events I attended that involved woman representing various feminist groups in Israel. These women shared their work and spoke of the importance of support they have received from NCJW. In a workshop I attended entitled 'Building Feminist Coalitions in a Diverse Society,' we heard from Michal Samuel, a woman advocating for the integration of Ethiopian women into Israeli society, Naila Awwad, a Palestinian woman who is leading the fight against violence against women, particularly Arab women, in Israel, and Nena Bar, a deaf woman who works for disability rights, and others. Each was part of an organization selected by NCJW to participate in a coalition building project in Israel, and they spoke of how the support they have received has helped them find common ground, support each other and multiply their impact."
"The next day we heard from others in this Israeli delegation at a panel discussion called 'The Personal is Political: Creating a Feminist Movement in Israel.' The moderator of this panel was Professor Daphna Hacker, chair of the NCJW Women and Gender Studies program at Tel Aviv University. This is the first gender studies program in Israel, I learned, and was founded due to the support of NCJW. The panel included women such as Fainy Sukenik, a Haredi feminist and social activist who founded a group that supports Haredi and Orthodox women going through divorce, a situation which, we learned, involves loss of status and sometimes even employment for these women. I learned a lot from all of these woman and was deeply moved by their commitment to working to improve Israeli society for all women. And it was quite apparent, as the Israeli women looked out over the crowd of applauding women at Washington Institute, that this was a unique and special experience for them as well. It seemed like a moment of connection and hope for all."
"I was thoroughly impressed with the NCJW Institute. Besides having the amazing opportunity to see the cherry blossoms, I was awed by the programming. Not only was I inspired by the words of Cecille Richards, Heidi Heitkamp, and Sally Yates, I learned about the variety of ways in which NCJW sections around the country are creatively advocating for social change. I hope to bring back some of these ideas to our Austin. One of the main themes was 'Building a Movement, Not A Moment.' As we advocated our targeted bills in front of our conservative elected officials with their polite but banal responses, I needed to remind myself that we are navigating a movement and not to be discouraged."
"My favorite panel was a discussion of the state of women in Israeli society. Although I realized that a more conservative populace was coming to Israel in increased numbers, I hadn't quite integrated this with my memories of the strong feminism of Israeli women in the past, with the prime example of Golda Meir from the late sixties. Although she may have missed an opportunity to mentor and help other women up the ladder, she nonetheless was a model of gender not being a factor is strong leadership. Trying in her days to establish peaceful relations with Arab neighbors was, for me, very inspiring."
"Now, through this panel discussion, I understood more fully the plight of both Israeli and Palestinian women trying to forge a path for women living in Israel to live as respected women in society. Professor Daphna Hacker brought a group of four women who represent different organizations but are steadfastly seeking to accomplish this goal. Whether a lawyer for social justice or an ardent grassroots organizer, they share the mission of fostering connections between women of all beliefs, they were heartfelt in their desire to break some of the gender walls and further the respect for women."
"Certainly, our values and mission are constantly being tested in today's governmental climate. Like our Israeli sisters, we must keep working for social change. I came back from D.C., not only with a cherry blossom t-shirt, but, more importantly, a greater motivation to speak out and advocate for my beliefs.”
"There were so many good panels and workshops. I think one of my favorites was the opening plenary where we heard panelists who are today's movers and shakers. We listened to Alex Wind and Samantha Deitsch, students who founded March for our Lives and who attend Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School; Greisa Martinez Rosas, deputy executive director for United We Dream; and Sharyn Tejani, director for TIME'S UP Legal Defense Fund. They were all so articulate and poised and I'm sure in the future we'll see their names again, continuing to advocate for these very important issues."
"I also loved all of the award recipients: former Senator Heidi Heitkamp and former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, who both received the Woman Who Dared Award, and Cecile Richards, who received the Social Action Award. Having seen all of the great women on television many times, meeting them in person and even taking a picture with them, was one of my highlights."
"This was the first time I actually spoke about one of the issues to congressional aides, instead of just being a part of the group. I feel I am finding my voice and look forward to doing this again. I came home energized and ready to continue the great advocacy work that NCJW does."
"Aside from great panels and amazing speakers, Washington Institute gave us a much needed opportunity to connect with other NCJW members from around the country. I learned Texas is actually not the craziest state in the union when it comes to some deplorable legislation pertaining to women's reproductive rights. That being said—broad sweeping injustices mean we have even more work to be done than I already knew."
"On a positive note I also learned NCJW sections have participated in crafting some really good legislation that has been passed in other states, so our opportunities to influence our country and our world are truly limitless."
"One of the more impactful sessions were the workshops entitled 'Unpacking Oppression and Privileges Workshops.' These included white privilege, anti-Semitism, sexism and xenophobia. These difficult discussions helped us examine systems of oppression and led us to discussions on ways to create more inclusive movements in the future."
"We also had in-depth training on the issues we were advocating for. These included judicial nominations, women's health/abortion rights, gun safety/expanded background checks and voting rights. It was a powerful feeling to go to the Capital with 500 like-minded activists and make our voices heard on these issues." ■