At the Jewish National Fund, Pacific Region, Negev Dinner on April 10, left to right, are Ruth Rasnic, dinner honoree Shirley Barnett and B.C. Premier Christy Clark. (photo from JNF Pacific Region)
When many people think of feminism, it’s likely they connect it with the second half of the last century – names like Germaine Greer and Betty Friedan, who garnered followers in the 1970s for their discussion of equality and freedom.
Some will think of the suffrage movement at the beginning of the past century, which struggled to get women the vote.
But feminism for Ruth Rasnic means safety from harm, respect at home.
Rasnic is a much-decorated social activist recognized in her home of Israel for the work she started in the 1970s creating the organization No to Violence Against Women. She was also a founding member of Ratz, a political party that focused on human and civil rights, and, in 2008, she was appointed by former prime minister Ehud Olmert to his advisory council for women’s stature. She was awarded the Israel Prize for lifetime achievement in 2009, joining the ranks of Golda Meir, Abba Eban and Amos Oz.
Established by Rasnic in 1978, No to Violence Against Women provides emergency housing for victims of physical or psychological abuse. It also runs a 24-hour hotline and advocates for women’s rights.
Rasnic was in Vancouver recently to promote the collaboration between No to Violence Against Women and the Jewish National Fund, Pacific Region (JNF) to raise funds to rebuild a shelter in Rishon Le Zion. The goal is $1.5 million Cdn.
“By building shelters like the Rishon Le Zion shelter, giving women and children a safe haven, support, empowerment, legal aid, we enable them to carve a different future for themselves and their children,” Rasnic said.
The shelters provide victims of domestic violence with a safe environment in which to get a fresh start. They are provided with clothing, access to therapy, employment and assistance in finding new housing. A 24-hour housemother ensures that someone is with the women all the time. To ensure security for the women and their children, they are housed in a shelter that is not within their own city.
“Most women are in shock when they come to the shelter,” said Rasnic. “They have nothing. They may be haggard, malnourished, suffering from PTSD. Within a week, they are physically changed.”
Israel particularly faces challenges servicing victims of domestic violence because many women are new immigrants from Ethiopia, Eritrea and Sudan, and don’t speak common languages. Many have no national status and are not medically insured.
“These are some of the harrowing things we have in the shelters,” she said. “Seven to eight percent of our residents are women, with children often, who are stateless and have no status in Israel. We are now working with the government to ensure that while these women are at the shelter, they can get medical aid.”
Rasnic said that legislation around this problem should be passed after Passover.
Rasnic was a guest of honor at the JNF Negev Dinner on April 10, and the next day visited King David High School to speak to the students. She is adamant that education has to be a key factor in making any difference in abuse toward women.
“No male baby is born a violent man. No female baby is born a victim,” she told the audience at the Negev Dinner. “These are societal norms learned in the home, school and army.”
She has even produced a book, The Shelter is My Home, which is written looking at life in a shelter through a child’s eyes.
“Nobody can take out an insurance policy for their daughters,” Rasnic said. “This is our joint responsibility.”
Beyond the issues for which she’s best known, Rasnic also feels strongly about other social issues in her hometown of Herzliya. She has worked on no-smoking campaigns, which included a free course for those wanting to quit; she has worked to get better access for people with disabilities to public areas in city; and she helped transform a kindergarten space into a drop-in health centre for teens.
At a national level, Rasnic is troubled by laws still on the books that require a woman to get her husband’s signed agreement in the case of abortion or a get (Jewish divorce document).
“Oh, talk about the get,” Rasnic said, her whole body seeming to stiffen at the thought. “Rabbis have to find a solution to the get. They must do it. My own daughter’s husband wouldn’t give her a get for three years.”
While in Vancouver, Rasnic remarked on the federal government’s new cabinet, which comprises 50% women, and Christy Clark being British Columbia’s premier.
“I think it’s wonderful,” she said. “I think it will make a better society. I don’t think women are cleverer than men – I think we’re sensitized to different issues that men have simply ignored.”
No to Violence Against Women has three shelters in Israel, in Hadera, Herzliya and Rishon Le Zion. The fundraising efforts spearheaded by Rasnic are to rebuild the shelter in Rishon Le Zion, to be renamed the Vancouver Shelter. The cause was chosen as the beneficiary of the Negev Dinner by this year’s honoree, Shirley Barnett. To donate to the campaign, visit jnf.ca/index.php/vancouver/campaigns/negev-campaign.
Baila Lazarus is a freelance writer and media trainer in Vancouver. Her consulting work can be seen at phase2coaching.com.