All women need to live free from fear and violence

On this International Women's Day, we are reminded that women around the world continue to face ongoing struggles. It is disheartening to acknowledge that even in today’s world, Israeli women remain hostage in Gaza. This year, 19 women are hostages to Hamas terrorists: Naama, Judy, Noa, Romi, Arbel, Carmel, Maya, Eden, Inbar, Doron, Liri, Daniela, Shiri, Shani, Karina, Amit, Agam, Ofra, and Emily. There is still a presumption that fourteen of these women are alive.  

In my advocacy conversations, there is not one that passes in which the sexual violence of October 7 and ongoing rape against the hostages does not come up. I have stopped counting the number of times I have had to sum up the sentiment of the community and say #metoounlessurajew when referring to the deafening silence of leaders and elected officials. We wait for the world to speak out unanimously against the systematic and planned attack that happened to Israeli civilian women, children, and men on October 7.  

On March 5, the United Nations (UN) mission report finally confirmed that there is “clear and convincing” evidence that Hamas committed multiple sexual assaults during the October 7 attack on Israel. It also confirmed that there is powerful reason to believe that Hamas may still be sexually assaulting hostages. This report comes just a few weeks after the first public report on Hamas Sexual Crimes by the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel. It is the first systematic public account of the sadistic, savage, and planned sexual violence of October 7. The trauma from these crimes will leave its mark on Israeli society for generations. 

The events of October 7 have cast a dark shadow over the celebration’s achievements and progress. It is a stark reminder that for us, this day is far from a cause for celebration. In our community, we marked International Women’s Day by screening the film Supernova last night. This documentary provides a retrospective of 24 hours at the Nova festival in Re’im through the lens of young individuals who endured the horror.  

For our community, International Women’s Day holds a somber tone, as we are still in mourning, and we cannot celebrate until our Israeli sisters and brothers are free from the clutches of violence. This stark inequality in experiences highlights the urgency of advocacy and solidarity. We recognize that our collective fight for equality extends beyond our immediate surroundings. As long as the hostages remain captive, not all women are equal.  

Where does one turn for hope in such dark times? One option is the Torah and our ancient teachings. On International Women’s Day, we can look at the four matriarchs of Judaism, whose stories provide an inspiring lens through which we can reflect on the roles of women and their significance in shaping the strong narrative of our people.  

Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah—stand as pillars of strength, resilience, and wisdom in the history and traditions of the Jewish faith. Sarah, our first matriarch, exemplifies courage and faith. Her journey alongside Abraham, facing challenges and uncertainties, showcases her resilience and determination. Rebecca, known for her kindness and generosity, plays a crucial role in the story of the Jewish people. Her compassion and decisive actions highlight the agency and impact women can have on shaping destinies. Rachel, the beloved wife of Jacob, symbolizes endurance and love. Rachel’s enduring love and resilience inspire women to persevere through adversity and contribute to a world where love triumphs over hardship. Leah embodies inner fortitude and maternal commitment. Despite societal expectations and challenges, Leah’s role shows the multifaceted nature of women’s contributions. 

Amidst the darkness, even in modern times, we find stories of exceptional Jewish women. Stories of resilience emerge from the Israeli women who are facing adversity with courage and strength. During the leadership trip to our partnership region last month, our team on the ground visited Kibbutz Kfar Azza and spent time at the youth village, which was the hardest hit part of the kibbutz on October 7. Doron Steinbrech and Emily Damari, two next-door neighbours, were kidnapped into Gaza and they have not been returned yet. Our leadership met with the mothers. These strong women, burdened with grief and trauma, have taken their story across the globe, speaking out and calling for their children’s return to Israel. They have spoken to governments, including the United States, the European Union, UN and other state governments, showing incredible bravery to share their story and pain, to get their children back home. This is the strength and resilience of our people. Even in the darkest hour, like a seed in the dark earth, we find the power and resources to break through the earth and grow in the light, to fight for what is right and not give up even though it is a struggle and hard.  

As we commemorate International Women’s Day, let us recommit ourselves to pursuing justice for our Israeli sisters. Their battle poignantly reminds us we have not achieved true equality until every woman, regardless of nationality or circumstance, can live free from the threat of violence. Our advocacy must extend beyond borders, creating a world where every woman can celebrate this day without fear or oppression. 

Shabbat Shalom,  

Jacqueline (רָחֵל)