TedX Women comes to Jerusalem
This article first appeared on The Media Line.
“Hello, women of Jerusalem!” TedX organizer Fleur Hassan Nachoum shouted out like a game show host.
The audience at the Zappa nightclub in Jerusalem clapped and cheered.
“How many of you are here because these issues are important to you?”
Many of the women raised their hands.
“How many of you like the Tedx format?”
Again, a lot of hands.
“And how many of you just wanted an excuse to get away from the kids and the housework for a few hours?”
Fewer hands but some nervous giggles.
The first-ever Tedx Jerusalem was a cross between a friendly singles bar, a revival meeting and a college seminar. Hundreds of women, Jewish and Arab, from across Israel, came together to mix and mingle, and to learn.
“I had a blast and it gave me an opportunity to meet people in a different way,” Naava Shafner, the founder of ImaKadima, a start-up aimed at mothers who are also career women. “After I gave my five-minute pitch to the crowd, I felt like I could go up to anybody.”
The format combined Ted-style 15 – 20 minute talks by women including Esty Shushan, an ultra-Orthodox activist and film maker who spoke about a new trend for separate seating of men and women on ultra-Orthodox buses.
“Telling us to sit in the back of the bus is a way of silencing our voices,” she told the crowd. “It makes me feel helpless and angry.”
She launched a campaign called No Voice No Vote calling for ultra-Orthodox women to join political parties.
There were also a series of “open-mic” sessions of five-minute talks like Shafner’s. In some ways these were the most interesting.
“I was abused until I was five years old,” Jenny Sassoon, today a life coach, said. “It defined my life until I decided that I wasn’t going to let it do that anymore.”
Zoe Bermant told of growing up in England in an Orthodox Jewish home.
“In my house, the men emptied the dishwasher and took out the garbage and women did everything else. We even served the men their dinner first,”Bermant, the founder of Kiddy-Up, an app that offers information on businesses and events for parents of young children told The Media Line. “I never considered myself a feminist.”
Bermant told of a job interview when she was asked if and when she planned to start a family and how she could be fully committed to the prospective job if she had children. While illegal in Israel, as it is in the US, these questions are still frequently asked.
It was the first time a Tedx event dedicated solely to women had been held in Jerusalem.
“We are trying to create an ongoing community of dialogue and tolerance using the platform called TEDx,” organizer Beto Maya told The Media Line. “Originally we planned a small intimate event but as soon as we posted it on Facebook we were overwhelmed with responses.”
He said they had 2000 requests for just 300 places, and that they “crafted” the audience, to bring together a diverse group of people who can learn from each other. About 15 percent of the attendees were Arab – both Arab citizens of Israel and Palestinians from the West Bank. Participants paid $13 to cover the production costs.
The audience, while mostly female, did have a few male representatives.
“I’ve always been interested in TED lectures and I wanted to hear the experts and be a part of it,” Samih Badir, an Arab medical student from Kufr Kassem told The Media Line. “In our family, we already know that the women are smarter than the men. My mother is doing a PhD in math, and my sister plans to go to medical school too.”
His brother Omar, also a medical student, said that more women joining the work force is important for Arab society in Israel.
“The poverty rates in Arab society are very high because many women don’t work,” he said. “It is essential for women to join the work force to move forward.”
There were also Palestinian women from the West Bank who were able to obtain a special Israeli permit to come to Jerusalem for the event
“The event was very good and there were a lot of strong women talking about their professions,” Ayat Halaika, a young businesswoman from the West Bank town of Hebron told The Media Line. “I hope that I will continue to meet women from outside the West Bank. It is very interesting for me.”
Just 22, she has started a medical supply company called Medi-chain. She came to the event with her mother, who said she enjoyed it, even though she did not speak English or Hebrew.
The organizers obtained a TedX license, and agreed to follow a series of rules common to all Tedx events around the world. Co-organizer Hassan-Nahoum, who is slated to become a Jerusalem city councilor next year under a rotation agreement, said holding a TEDx event in Jerusalem presents unique challenges.
“We’ve got the Arab-Jewish conflict and the ultra-Orthodox-secular conflict here in Jerusalem,” she said. “So to have an event that unifies all sectors of society is really amazing.”