This is the fourth year of Lishmah, the Joint Council’s mechina gender studies program. There are 32 mechina locations whose students participate in at least one course on gender on an ongoing basis throughout the year. All of these mechinot also ensure that women are represented in their senior management: every one of them has a female mechina head, branch head, or education director. Each year, representatives from these mechinot meet as the program steering committee. This year, they met twice.
The first meeting focused on gender in the army. The members of the steering committee took part in a discussion with Ifat Tomer-Yerushalmi, the advisor on gender affairs to the chief of staff of the IDF, and used a gendered lens to probe the idea of educating students to serve with meaning. The second meeting was dedicated to identity and sexuality. Committee members participated in a talk about masculinity by Michael Keren, a lecturer on gender and masculinity, as well as a discussion of LGBT identity with Ahinoam Kats, a Hoshen activist and former branch head at the Gal Leadership Academy. Finally, they held an open discussion with LGBT mechina alumni.
This year, 1,500 students from 32 different mechina locations participated in the project. Twenty staff members oversee the project on the ground, in addition to 36 lecturers, teachers, counselors, and workshop facilitators. Every participating mechina taught at least 15 lessons on gender during the year. Most of them taught more, for a total of nearly 375 lessons over the year and an average of around 18 lessons per mechina.
Certain changes had to be made due to coronavirus restrictions. Some lessons were taught on Zoom or to separate capsules of students. Certain mechinot, though, managed to finish teaching all of the classes in person either before the restrictions were put in place or afterward. Nevertheless, these changes in the Lishmah routine actually encouraged students at some mechinot to take the initiative and even lead discussions of additional topics, such as pornography, gender in the army, and gendered issues in Israeli society. Several mechinot broadened their treatment of healthy sexuality or violence against women in light of current events and the consequences of the lockdown. Other additions to the program that resulted from the pandemic were a workshop for women on women’s place in the beit midrash and a discussion of feminism and leadership. Lishmah has proven highly significant in boosting students’ consciousness of the importance of gender at the mechinot and in general. In fact, the very existence of such a gender studies project is an important statement. It makes clear that gender equality and increased awareness of gender are among the Joint Council’s top priorities. We hope to continue promoting the project in the coming years in a bigger, deeper way.
This year the Lishmah steering committee created a pamphlet on discussing gender with students at the mechinot (Hebrew), including guidelines for mechina staff members. Click here to download the complete pamphlet (Hebrew) >>
Fun fact: In October 2018, the Academy of the Hebrew Language published a Facebook post (Hebrew) explaining why a woman who heads a mechina can be called a roshat mechina (rather than rosh mechina).
According to the Academy, it’s possible to create a feminine form of any title, position, or rank in Hebrew when it’s held by a woman. This decision wasn’t intended to satisfy any particular ideological requirements. It was based on ancient Hebrew sources, where women receive feminine titles for their positions. All through the ages, feminine forms of functions and descriptions have been used for women, such as malkah for a queen, neviah for a prophetess, and shalitah for a ruler. In Modern Hebrew too, there are feminine forms used for women in any number of roles, such as chashevet, saparit, chaza’it, shadranit, shagrirah, alufah, praklitah, kochevet, kantzelerit, mankalit, and roshah. In the same spirit, the Academy sees no reason to object to feminine forms of other titles and functions that Hebrew speakers create as they use the language.
The opening discussion at this year’s first steering committee meeting