TV producer and author Yael Nitzan’s decades’ old dream is becoming a reality. Through the generosity of the Haifa municipality, an empty 200-year-old palace, once owned by an Arab sheikh, will be turned into “The Museum of Israeli Women.” Although in other countries there are museums documenting the accomplishments of women, Israel, with the world’s highest ratio of museums per person, has none dedicated to the women who contributed to the founding of the State of Israel and to its development.
The best known of the women on Yael Nitzan’s original list of candidates for commemoration in the museum is Golda Meir, Israel’s first and only female prime minister. Then there are some four thousand women who served in the Jewish Brigade of the British army, the forerunner of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Among these was Sonia Peres, the late wife of Israeli President Shimon Peres. Five women from this corps became founders of the women’s division of the Israeli army.
In the 1930s, more than 20 percent of the physicians in Eretz Yisrael were women, and female dentists outnumbered male dentists. Israel’s First Lady, Dr. Vera Weizmann was a physician who helped in the rehabilitation of those injured in the War of Independence, raised funds to establish the Tel Hashomer Hospital and worked on behalf of Youth Aliyah. Rachel Yanait Ben-Zvi, the wife of Yitzhak ben Zvi, Israel’s second president, taught women in Jerusalem how to milk cows, grow vegetables and make cheese. Because of her, the women were able to make their own food so their husbands could go out and build the state.
Hannah Maisel (1183-1972), one of the eight personalities included in the online Jewish Women’s Encyclopedia, had a doctorate in agriculture and came to Palestine to establish farms and agricultural schools for women between 1911 and 1926. She got donations from women in Switzerland and Germany. Maisel helped found the Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO) with Rivka Ziv (Rebecca Sieff), who also founded the Weizmann Institute of Science. Dorothy Bar-Adon, was a New Jersey journalist who joined the staff of the Palestine (now Jerusalem) Post in 1933. The country’s first female kindergarten teacher was Esther Shapira. She was among the women who, at the Ayalon Institute near Rehovot, helped make bullets in a secret underground factory for the War of Independence.
Then there was Shulamit Goldstein, the first female pilot in the Air Force. This 1914 Ukrainian immigrant learned to fly in Egypt. Later on she joined a work brigade at Rosh Pinah, taught nursery school (future Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was among her pupils), ran a poultry farm and manufactured fiberglass.
Yael Nitzan envisions a memorial at the Museum of Israeli Women to the hundreds of female soldiers who fell during their military service, and has plans to arrange courses for female offices.
Multi-talented and creative Ms Nitzan , who curated a Haifa exhibition of fifty female artists to mark International Women’s Day last March 8, hopes to complete the museum in two years and then serve as the museum’s director. One cannot help but admire this initiative and hope for its success on all fronts.