This blog post was written to honour the memory of Agam, Ilan, Ela, Romi, Gali, Shani, Adi, Yael, Maayan and Tzur who were taken from us too soon.
This post does not attempt to make sense of the ungraspable. Rather, it is a tribute of love, hope and empowerment.
It is through believing in ourselves and in our mission that we can do, create good and promote good. Sometimes, at the most basic level, believing in ourselves means taking care of ourselves and/or of our families.
But doing what we think is right does not come easy. Many times, what we know deeply, instinctively, is not accepted by people in positions of authority or the general opinion. When this happens, we can be knocked off our feet by people claiming to know better than we do what is right for us and right for others. It is in these situations that the importance of standing tall and holding on steadfastly to what we represent, is more important than ever.
In this post, six strong and courageous women share their stories – a time in their lives when they challenged, dared and defied authority; women who sensed that something was wrong and held on to their truth.
1. Vered Cohen-Barzilay – Social Entrepreneur, Writer, Feminist
I was in first grade, around 7 years old. It was the early ‘80s in Tel Aviv when schools didn’t have air conditioners and spring and summer were hot. My teacher decided that because it was hot, we should get undressed – get naked and study with no clothes. I refused. I was shy and didn’t think it was appropriate. The teacher didn’t like it. She pressured me. At first she thought that peer pressure would be enough, that I would see my friends naked for a week and that I’d join them. But I was stubborn. And though parents didn’t like this way of teaching, the school reassured them that the teacher is a good one. I was lonely but I remained stubborn. One day, during one of the lessons, one of my classmates asked the teacher why Vered is not undressed like everyone. So the teacher asked the children to tell me to get undressed. Every child in turn told me how great it is to be naked. When they finished, they all screamed at me – “get undressed.” I refused. I didn’t feel it was normal and I wasn’t comfortable with being naked at school. I blocked out their voices. It was hard to cope because it felt like I was rebelling against my mother. I was a good pupil. I didn’t want to rebel.
I realized that I need to get them off my back and I agreed to take off my shoes. They all applauded at my surrender. An hour later without my shoes on, I stepped on a thumbtack and was taken to the doctor. It was also my lesson to never surrender, not even to make a small gesture if I feel deeply that something is wrong or socially wrong. From that day on I was ready to pay a personal price and I did so later in life. But I know that not being loyal to yourself, your sense of justice and principles is a worse choice.
2. Ilana Ben Sason – Director of Marketing, ThetaRay
Friday night November 3rd 2006 is one I will never forget. I was 30 weeks pregnant. I woke up in the middle of the night feeling terribly nauseous. My husband, Ronen, asked if I wanted to go to the hospital. I felt something was wrong and said yes.
In the ER, the nurse didn’t think it was strange that she had to take my blood pressure six times till she got the reading that satisfied her and an IV with some anti-nausea medication always works. The doctor joked that I must have eaten something spoiled at my mother in-law’s and sent me home first thing in the morning. I knew something was wrong, but the doctor sent me home.
A few hours later when I just couldn’t shake the feeling that something was very wrong, I told Ronen to take me back to the ER. Getting ready to leave, I started seeing black spots, pieces of my picture were disappearing. As we arrived at the hospital it went black; I couldn’t see anything.
A highly competent doctor walked in to the nurse’s station while she was checking and re-checking my blood pressure, because she too was not satisfied with the result. The doctor took one look at me and knew what was wrong. A few minutes later I was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia and was told that I was going in for an emergency C section. I then had a convulsion and passed out.
I woke up on November 5th having given birth to my first-born son, Yoav Adi, the day before. We spent six weeks in the NICU with a premature baby who was born 1.500K with under-developed lungs.
This story took place over 11 years ago. Thank God Yoav is a strapping healthy boy and his mother never lets a gut feeling go unnoticed or untreated. Even the doctor who told me I would never be able to have more children was told to shove it. Having five children today, there is not a day that goes by where I don’t tell my children “what does your tummy tell you?” when trying to help them make a decision.
3. Ruth Ebenstein – Writer, Historian, Public Speaker, Peace Activist
Professor Norton, cheeks pink, hair disheveled, roared at Stacey. She leapt back, tears collecting in her eyes. She dropped her gaze to the floor.
To me, it was obvious.
There was no way I was going to sit there and listen to our lush-of-a teacher admonish Stacey when he was wrong. To hell with the consequences.
Twelve college seniors were seated around an oval table in our Advanced Reporting class at the Medill School of Journalism. One spring weekend had been set aside for research. Our grades were riding on our performance. I had announced immediately that I observed the Sabbath, and could not be slotted for Saturday. Stacey, who had gotten into the very-pricey Northwestern University on a scholarship and worked two evening jobs to stay there, had quietly shared that her boyfriend was flying in from Portland that weekend. Please don’t slot me for Saturday, she explained meekly. I bought tickets for a show six months in advance. In her entreaty, I could hear how much money, and love, had gone into that purchase.
And now it was Thursday. Two days before that Saturday.
Stacey tried again.
“Do you remember, Professor Norton, when I said that I couldn’t—”
“NO,” he sneered. Seated to his right, I smelled the scotch on his breath.
“Like hell, you won’t be there.”
All twelve students froze. Who wanted to mess with the drunk, livid professor, three months shy of graduation?
My eyes scanned the room. Nobody? Nobody was going to say anything?
Well, I’ll be damned, I thought to myself. And you call yourselves journalists?
“Professor Norton, she did tell you.” I spoke loudly. I stared right into his watery eyes.
A chorus of voices.
She did! She did! She did! SHE DID.
In June, I got my grade.
An A in Advanced Reporting. And for Life, I gave myself an A+!
4. Resa Gooding – Chief Marketing Strategist, Cacao Media
Always one to think and operate outside the box I am fully accustomed to challenging the status quo when I feel it’s not in my best interest or those that can easily become preyed upon. One such incident I recall happened at university in my freshman year. Deciding to live on campus without fully understanding the ramifications of such, soon turned into a nightmare. On one occasion, I remember being chased out of my bed at 3am to hike the Blue Mountains in my pjs, going through unsafe areas and hearing gunshots on the way. Yes, I studied in Jamaica. I thought to myself this was not what I came here for; there is no need to jeopardize my life.
Soon after that incident, I devised a plan to craftily be excluded from such activities. I took the time to research and learn the personalities of the university’s chancellor and principal and found opportunities to hold office with them to explain why I don’t think that as a foreign student I should be exposed to such dangers. I knew this was an institution deep-rooted in tradition – after all Bob Marley isn’t famous by chance, so I realized it was important to appeal to their moral judgments rather than approach the issue as a personal investment. I pressed upon the bad publicity the university may attract should some unfortunate incident occur to any of the students they are now responsible for and the unnecessary risks being taken for a senseless tradition. In short, much to the annoyance of the seniors, I managed to get the policy changed and to exclude any extreme exercises. This gave students the choice whether to participate or not without being victimized if they chose not too.
This was my first eye opener to realize there is always a way to strategically go above authority and get what you want especially when you feel in your gut something isn’t right for you.
5. Hamutal Gouri – Founder, Consulting, Training and Storytelling for Social Change
There were many occasions when I spoke up and wasn’t listened to. Looking back and thinking about them, I have to admit, as a feminist, well-equipped with gender glasses, most of those situations occurred in situations with men; men who were more senior than I, or to be precise, men who were in a position to dismiss or ignore my input.
One instance happened years ago, when I had to deal with a delicate work situation. I handled it, I thought then and now, sensitively and wisely; I consulted with others, investigated the details and shared my findings with everyone involved. I succeeded – or at least so I thought, to solve the issue in a good way.
But some time later, a more senior manager decided to ignore the agreed solution. Instead he implemented a reverse solution on his own accord. It was subsequently discovered that his solution was both harmful and erroneous. Others, including myself, were forced to minimize the damage.
Having said that, not every bad decision is a fatal error. Fatal errors cause tragedies. The tragedy of Nahal Tzafit was not a natural disaster, it was a fatal error caused by blindness, hubris and arrogance.
There is a difference between the important ability to stand up for ourselves, even at the cost of taking an opposing, unpopular position, to refusing to listen to the wisdom of others.
The terrible and senseless deaths of the young lives that were cut short is tragic and final. But hopefully an important lesson will be learned about the sin of arrogance.
Lisa Zigel – Head of Marketing, GivingWay
When my daughter started preschool she wept every day, begging me not to go. She said that the teacher was mean. I thought that she was just having a difficult adjustment. Ten days in, I saw the preschool teacher take a sobbing child roughly by the arm and hiss something into her ear. I knew that my daughter was right.
I immediately called the municipality and told them that by the end of the week, I want my child in a different preschool. They refused, but I would not budge.
It took three days of being a stubborn terror, calling incessantly while parents wrote nasty things to me in the Whatsapp group. By Thursday, Shai was in a new preschool where she thrived for the next two years.
I’ve found that in Israeli society, when our kids experience conflict, whether it’s with a teacher or a student, the common narrative goes something like “don’t get involved, kids need to learn to solve their own issues. Everything will be fine.”
I call bull****. It’s our own fear of confrontation and discomfort with speaking out, that is at the root of this.
What it really teaches kids is that they are alone and have to figure out how to deal with something their parents can’t (or won’t) deal with. It causes kids to cave in to pressure from their peers and authority figures. They then grow up and do the same as adults.
It’s very important to me to advocate for my girls and that they witness the things that I will do to help them and defend them, even if it makes me deeply uncomfortable or requires sacrifice, for example, my own social standing. By doing this, I have shown them:
- That they are worth standing up for and defending
- How important it is to stand up for yourself and others, even if it’s incredibly difficult to do
As they grow, I almost never have to do it anymore – they are very capable of advocating for themselves. And they know that, whatever comes, if they need me, I’ve got their back.