Jewish Agency Partner Unites Beit Shemesh Women

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Community activist, Miri Shalem, has assumed a leading role in bridging the social chasms in Israel's Beit Shemesh, the site of widely-reported tensions last winter between ultra-orthodox and mainstream residents. Her work as chairwoman of the Beit Shemesh Women's Council, including organizing a dancing flashmob, was recently recognized by the New Israel Fund.

Dancing for Jewish Unity in Beit Shemesh

(The Flashmob) was a statement that there is another narrative here. Beit Shemesh is a microcosm of Israeli society, and the work that I do is to try to make some kind of connection between (ultra-Orthodox and mainstream Israeli) popluations.

While the Jewish world was preoccupied with the ugly news headlines and images during the height of last winter’s tensions in Beit Shemesh, between ultra-Orthodox and mainstream Israelis, Miri Shalem just wanted to dance. Using Facebook, the chief executive officer of the Beit Shemesh Community Center and chairwoman of the Women’s Council organized a flashmob that brought some 250 women of all ages and streams of Judaism together to dance for Jewish unity.

The flashmob video went viral, attracting more than 120,000 YouTube views, and the entire Jewish world knew that the headlines and photos did not capture reality. For her visionary leadership, Shalem was recently honored by the New Israel Fund with its Award for Social Action and Initiatives for Women in Memory of Yaffa London-Yaari.

“Even a street dance, such as the flash mob, was a protest against the religious radicalism that was going on in Beit Shemesh,” she said. “It was a statement that there is another narrative here. Beit Shemesh is a microcosm of Israeli society, and the work that I do is to try to make some kind of connection between [ultra-Orthodox and mainstream Israeli] populations despite their differences.”

Shalem, who works in close collaboration with The Jewish Agency for Israel and the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington D.C., through the Partnership 2Gether framework, added: “What I’m really trying to do is weave delicate threads between the different populations that live here and heal tears that exist in our society.

The Beit Shemesh Women’s Council, the force behind the flashmob, consists of 30 women from the national religious, ultra-Orthodox and secular streams of Israeli society.

“The main objective of the women’s council is to break the barriers between the separate sectors of society and create a place where women can empower themselves in every aspect of their lives.”

Women’s council members attend professionally moderated meetings where they try to help one another understand the various issues in each community and to develop a joint project designed to improve the overall quality of social life for all residents of Beit Shemesh.

“The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington is proud to partner with The Jewish Agency in supporting Miri Shalem and her work with the Women’s Council of Beit Shemesh,” said Steve Rakitt, chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. “This project creates a shared dialogue and real action that lowers the barriers between divided populations in the city. Our support of this and other tolerance building projects in our partnership region creates hope for our friends in Beit Shemesh and those across the Jewish world, looking to create a tolerant and healthy civil society in Israel.”

About the Jewish Agency for Israel
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Joshua Berkman
Jewish Agency for Israel
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