During the interview with Yachad candidate Baruch Marzel earlier this week, as we were looking over the newly-printed party platform, we asked why there were no women on the party list.
The answer was rather vague, but a staunch Yachad supporter who entered the room during the interview smiled and said “ask Fayga.” Who?
Marks is a young dynamo, a volunteer in the party, an American olah who wore large gold hoop earrings, a blue jean skirt, and has very long blond hair, wrapped around itself in a large, makeshift bun. She came into the room to remind the candidate of an appointment (aren’t all candidates always running late?). We caught her eye and asked to speak with her. We’re glad we did.
Marks said she is running the Anglo women’s forum for Yachad. Some of the initiatives they have been discussing includes legislation to assist women, such as revising the “cottage” laws and possibly legalizing home births.
The cottage industry initiative sounds odd, but it’s actually an important economic issue for women.
The Israeli regulations governing home (“cottage”) businesses is cumbersome and involves layers of bureaucracy. As a result, many people who have cottage businesses end up doing it illegally. That frustrates those who prefer to stay above board, and it also means the loss of tax revenue for the state. One example of a cottage industry is home-made (literally) baked goods. It’s a big industry for charedi women, and Yachad wants to see changes that will benefit everyone.
When asked about women serving in the army, she laughed and pointed to the dog tags around her neck. She served in the Israeli air force, and she proudly noted, her charedi brother also serves in the IDF.
Marks also talked about the accommodations that have only recently begun to be made for charedim to serve. For example, on many army bases there was no kashrut supervision. She also talked about wanting to create a nachal unit for charedi girls.
That conversation led to a discussion about doing more to incorporate charedim into the larger Israeli society. She was very frank: “I don’t believe everyone can sit at home and learn. The state can only manage to support about 10 percent of the learning population. The rest have to work, they see that the kollel salary won’t cover the costs of housing, food, electricity. But, she said, we need to create incentives, just as there are incentives for people who serve in the army. Once the incentives are there, people join in.
As Marks walked us through campaign headquarters, one thing quickly became obvious: there are at least as many women working there as there are men. And, as one of the men pointed out, the women are actually working, while many of the men are kibitzing in the hallways.
There are several large rooms and a few smaller offices in one section of Yachad campaign headquarters. There are lots of women in these rooms, some with a few men as well. Some of the women have their head covered, some do not. Some are wearing dark dresses, many are wearing bright shirts and skirts of different lengths (starting at the knee).
Marks introduced Liat Malka, who is the campaign assistant to Rebetzin Yishai (the wife of the Yachad party leader, Eli Yishai). Malka was amenable to having photographs taken of the Yachad women working, but had to ask if it was okay with the individual women. Some said yes while some demurred, but for a party that is described by those who think this is a bad thing as “ultra Orthodox,” it was interesting that quite a few women were fine with being photographed.
Although Malka was introduced as the assistant to “the Rebetzin,” Marks later explained that most people simply call the Rebetzin by her first name, Tzippi. Marks confided, “she doesn’t like to be called the Rebetzin, but that’s what I call her and others do as well. She doesn’t chase after respect or kavod, it chases her.”