Israel is a country defined by its strong, accomplished, and sometimes defiant women.
Even before the founding of the Jewish state, women played a prominent role in the Zionist movement, and this did not change when Israel was created almost seven decades ago. Today, women play leading roles in all areas of Israeli life, including politics, law, art, the high-tech industry, and more.
The images below show us the many faces of Israel’s most prominent women. First up is, of course, the extraordinary Golda Meir. In 1969, Israel became one of the first modern countries to have a female head of government when it elected Meir as prime minister. Affectionately known by all as simply “Golda,” Meir distinguished herself over years of public service. Ukrainian-born, American-raised, and quintessentially Israeli, she rose through the ranks of the Zionist movement, serving as a secret negotiator with Jordan, Foreign Minister, Labor party leader, and finally a prime minister renowned for her ferocious dedication to Israel’s security. Meir may have looked like a kindly Jewish grandmother, but she was in fact an iron-willed, tough-minded, and indefatigable leader who redefined what women the world over could accomplish.
Following in Meir’s footsteps are Dorit Beinisch, the first female president of the Supreme Court, and Ayelet Shaked, a former high-tech entrepreneur who has become a leading member of the Jewish Home party and Minister of Justice.
Women have also played a major role in the arts. Perhaps Israel’s most famous female artist is the singer-songwriter Naomi Shemer, who penned songs that defined the Israeli consciousness for decades. In particular, she wrote and sang the immortal “Jerusalem of Gold,” a modern hymn to the Jewish people’s dedication to their holiest city.
Along with her is Leah Goldberg, a multi-talented writer who is now most famous for her poems, which made a major contribution to the development of modern Hebrew literature. Revered for her mastery of this ancient language renewed in the land of its birth, she now appears on the 100 shekel bill. Perhaps Israel’s most famous artist, however, is Oscar winner Natalie Portman, known the world over for her emotional performances and dedication to her homeland.
The world of business is also marked by strong and powerful women. The best known and most successful is Shari Arison, a prominent philanthropist who helped build a major wing of Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital. The owner of Bank Hapoalim, the country’s largest bank, she is the richest woman in Israel and the entire Middle East.
Women in sports and the media have also distinguished themselves, including Yarden Gerbi, who won a bronze medal in judo at the 2016 summer Olympics, and Lucy Aharish, whose status as the first Arab-Israeli to anchor a Hebrew-language newscast testifies to Israel’s diversity.
In a region that is often extremely, and increasingly, oppressive toward women, Israel stands alone as a place where women are free to realize their talents and take leading roles in society. In doing so, it is a beacon of freedom in a world that is increasingly darkened by repression and tyranny.
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Banner Photo: Weizmann Institute of Science / Wikimedia