Helping Feminism Flourish in Israel

Even though Virginia Snitow is largely responsible for enabling the women’s rights movement in Israel to come to life, she will swear she is not an activist. Snitow will admit something other woman often deny. “I am a feminist.”

A New Yorker and a mother of two grown children, she is an elegant maverick, an 80-year-old dynamo whose grace is rivaled only by conviction. She has taught English in Harlem high schools, been National President of the American Jewish Congress’ Women’s Division, has written articles for The New Republic, founded a film company and earned a place in Who’s Who in American Politics. She has spent the past thirteen years as chair of US/Israel Women to Women, an organization she founded in 1978 to promote equal rights in the Holy Land.

“A group of Israeli women came to me in the mid-1970’s and told me things I’d never known: that there were 100,000 battered women in Israel; that they couldn’t get a divorce without their husbands’ consent; that an abortion law women had fought to change had been taken away as soon as the Likud party came to power.”

Snitow was also shocked by reports that a shelter for abused women in Herzliya was being forced to close for lack of funds. She called together a group of resourceful, committed women who pooled together their finances and saved the shelter. US/Israel Women-to-Women was born.

Over the past 13 years, Women-to-Women has been instrumental in an array of campaigns and projects, including winning rights for Israeli women’s sports groups, implementing reforms in the army, and subsidizing women’s studies programs. “We give money to organizations that move women’s consciousness, status, equality and economic conditions forward,” Snitow says. “We help Israeli women help themselves.”

A luncheon in May in Manhattan celebrated Snitow’s 80th birthday and her retirement as chair of Women-to-Women. History professor Jewel Bellush will succeed her.