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April 8, 2019 by

Israel’s Trailblazing Candidates Dima Taya and Michal Zernowitzki


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Worlds apart, and running on the tickets of opposing parties, Dima Taya and Michal Zernowitski both plan to play a key role in bringing peace, seated at the same governmental table. In addition to running as the first Muslim women on the Likud party ticket, Dima Taya (Dima Sayyif Tayia Zidan) at 27, would also be the youngest Knesset member in Israel’s history. Another trailblazer, 37-year-old Michal Zernowitski, is the first ultra-Orthodox Haredi woman on the Labor party slate. And, while Taya is listed as number 62 on the Likud party ticket, Zernowitski  is positioned as number 21, which for a new candidate is very high.

Both are eager for their dreams to soar, their visions to be fulfilled, and for God’s blessings to live on in a diverse, gender-inclusive democratic Israel. “Dream is a very big word,” Taya told me. “I dream for cooperation and for my sector to understand that under this state it’s possible to have our freedom, our rights, our identity, because a homeland is not the place you are born in, a homeland is the place where you have dignity and freedom.”

While it hardly seems realistic that either woman will win (or, “go in,” as Israelis say) both women are seeking greater power. Israeli elections are always full of excitement, as well as quarrels when it comes to forming the government. It’s not like in the USA, where there are two parties. Every election has new parties, with new policies decided by the electorate, explains Zernowitzki, anything can happen.

“I hope to affect the world one day,” Taya told me when I interviewed her in Israel last month, and I’m not afraid of the difficulties. The difficulties make you stronger. People change their minds every day, just like the weather. You have to have your own agenda and to go for the truth, then you can be a leader and change things to the positive side.”  A political career in Israel can very disconcerting for women, as evidenced by Taya, running on Likud, and Zernowitski, on the Labor slate, when one would expect the opposite to be true.

But as these two deeply religious women reveal, feminine aspects of the Divine presence energize revolutionary change in mysterious ways. Accordingly, the righteous women of this generation, the prophetesses of our time, are scheduled to bring redemption. As such, Israeli women are at the ready to bring their wisdom to the place where decisions are made. “I’m in politics and I love it,” said Zernowitski, “I really believe if you want to influence Tikun Olam – equality, justice and peace, the best place to do it is in politics. Because you know you can do a lot of things publicly, as an activist, but you can only change the laws inside the Knesset, and that’s why I want to be there.”

“I grew up in a religious party that would not allow women to run as candidates,” she continued. “Traditionally, women voted, but they didn’t dare try to get elected. (They still don’t). I am paving the way for change, to make Haredi women’s lives better – but I’m not doing it by myself. We are a group of Haredi feminists struggling to expand the role of women in our society.”

“You know women in the Haredi community often work, while their husbands study Torah. Some work 8-9 hours a day; others work two jobs, and almost all are paid low salaries. We don’t have a choice. We have to work. We are not like our mothers. We will no longer be satisfied with low- paying jobs, and few of us want to just stay at home with the children. We want to do things in our communities. We want good careers and good work. Ten to fifteen years ago no one talked about feminism in the Haredi community; looking back, change was in the air.”

Even at her Bais Yaakov high school for religious girls in B’nai Brak, an experimental program was launched. A few girls, Zernowitski among them, were given the chance to participate. Michal continued her studies after high school, graduating in the first class of women to earn cutting-edge degrees in computer science at Machon Tal, the women’s division of the Jerusalem College of Technology. Zernowitski explained that, although she is married with four children (11-year-old twin sons, a 9-year-old son and 2-year old daughter), on the campaign trail she is away from home more than anticipated, except on Shabbat. During the primaries, she would rush to arrive home one minute before Shabbat and leave one minute after. Her family and community were very supportive. “My kids,” she added, “are my biggest supporters.” When asked if, as a Haredi woman, she will be able to uphold Labor party mandates, Zernowitski replied, “I’m also a social democrat.”

Taya is a newlywed with a supportive husband; she married two years ago in a traditional marriage ceremony with celebrations in the town of Calancoa, where her father’s family “planted and harvested the best strawberries.” She described being part of an Israeli delegation to the U.S., which was “amazing, even though at one university, there was a woman wearing a hijab who screamed that she didn’t want to hear me. This is not a way to negotiate because if we don’t talk, we will never reach an agreement. This is a wrong way, just to hate.

“When I was a girl, I lived with my liberal open-minded father. At 14, he sent me to study in England, where I spent 3 years living with a British family. Though I never lost my faith in the Koran, which is full of high values, I was introduced to other religions and cultures, and became more open to meeting other people, and to accept and understand them. “It was in those years that I began reaching out, curious to know and to ask things. I think it was this experience that makes me the Dima I am today, an open-minded, serious woman, with three certificates from an international college, who gives credence to the belief that women today have an important mission in the world.”

“Many Muslim women think like me, we are all against violence and want to be free, to have careers and to raise up a new generation, not to think because we are woman, we should be torn down. “Women are not weak. Not me. I’m strong, Strong enough to stand all of my life to speak the truth and to help humanity. And if I get elected as a member of the Likud party, I will open the door for women not to be afraid to speak out. And we will tell the world, look, we’re Arab woman inside the Likud party, or inside the Parliament, and we speak out with one voice.”

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Lilith Magazine.