Roni Hazon Weiss, the Principal of the Society for Advancement of Education’s Shacharit and Dror High Schools in Jerusalem, was chosen as the winner of the Prize for Influential Women of Jerusalem, together with Professor Alice Shalvi, by the Kiverstein Institute.
At the awards ceremony, Ms. Hazon Weiss delivered the following acceptance speech:
For me it is symbolic that we are meeting here tonight at an intergenerational event like this here in Jerusalem, not far from where my grandmother Gavriella passed away on the night of Hoshana Rabbah, on the eve of Simchat Torah.
Although I was a young girl when she passed away, we were very connected. She lived in Haifa but really loved Jerusalem, so much that she spent one of her last days here at the Windmill Hotel.
More than 25 years have passed since my grandmother Gavriella passed away and my mother has since then had the custom of giving out bags of candy to girls and boys on Simchat Torah – in memory of grandmother Gavriella and later in memory of my other grandparents. It’s a joyful and optimistic custom from my mother’s home that we have the privilege of continuing in the community where we have found our home here in Jerusalem.
Tomorrow we will celebrate Simchat Torah together. The bags have already arrived and are waiting to be distributed. Beyond the role of passing out candy, Simchat Torah has changed for me from being an alienating, insufferable holiday to a real celebration. A holiday of redemption. The day on which I was privileged to be called to the Torah I remember well, the stomachache that accompanied the first time and continues to accompany further steps.
The closeness to the Torah, touching it, and the knowledge that the Torah is also mine and that I am not a guest. At the same time, the fear and anxiety. And more than anything, each year looking at the diversity of women across the age spectrum who come specially to be called to the Torah and for the -honor of the Torah for whom it is the first time. A bat mitzvah girl and a 90-year-old woman, alongside one another, one after the other called to the Torah for the first time.
At my bat mitzvah, my grandmother Rachel gave me the necklace that I wear every day, including today. The necklace has a medallion with a butterfly and the word love. It’s as if she told me, love is necessary in order to blossom like a butterfly. She marked the way for me. The vision I received from my father’s home, for which I am thankful. I don’t know whether our grandmothers imagined [this moment,] but I can share the process of growth that we went through as daughters in our home alongside our mother and we are part of the chain [of tradition] and our obligation is to continue it in the best possible way.
And we have a role to continue to give our girls and boys the opportunity to grow up in partnership, naturally. With a sense of belonging and security. To see the Torah as a source of strength to make positive change, and that the time has come to tell the her story of victories and of stages along the way. What for our children is obvious and natural here in Jerusalem and in general is still a struggle on the way that our mothers have paved and continue to pave throughout the generations and in diverse fields, communities, and places.
Dear Professor Alice Shalvi, it is an honor and privilege for all of us to stand at your side on this special day. You are a guide for many of us.
The first time we met was when I was an undergraduate student at the Kibbutzim College. You immediately responded to a request from me and my friend Dafna to meet with you at your home in Beit Hakerem. That special meeting opened a whole world to me – of education, feminism, socially active Judaism. From you, I learned, first of all, to say yes. How important it is that we say yes. It opens the heart and comes back to us. I especially remember the words you said at the meeting of religious feminists that was initiated by MK Rachel Azaria, a partner and dear friend. That we should look around us and make sure that there is a place for each of us around the circle, from all streams and peoples.
I am excited and full of gratitude for the choice of the Kiverstein Fund to create a network of women and to put education, which is the basis of creating an equal society from the earliest ages, on the table. I grew up in a home where my mother was a kindergarten teacher. The recognition of the achievements and the joint celebration here is very moving and belongs to us – to each of us. Thank you to the prize committee for the selection.
When we established Shaharit we chose to establish a state religious school with separate classes and shared spaces. To recognize the need of each of the sexes to develop by itself, with itself but also the importance of common meeting. In the social world, the partnership of men and women is important, and educating young women and men for gender equality is important, as is togetherness, while emphasizing the needs of each of them.
It is a privilege to live in a generation of redemption and alongside this I know that there are many places where equality is still not self-evident, and we still have a lot of work in front of us. But when I look around, I think about all the teachers who are partners on the journey, about the struggles but also about the victories and it is moving. Tonight is an opportunity to celebrate.
The teacher and poet Dalia Kava wrote this wonderful poem
A quiet row of women
Like a Russian babushka
A doll inside a doll inside a doll
Is folded inside me
My mother and my grandmother
Her mother’s mother and grandmother
And all the generations
A quiet row of women
Like a boulevard of strength
In recognition of the privilege and alongside it of the obligation to pay attention, to act, to make a voice heard and not necessarily quietly, but yes together like a boulevard of strength, for all the women who cannot yet and in gratitude for everyone who worked so that we can and that we may merit more in our lives. With the educational responsibility to continue the path and with great gratitude to the generations of women, those in front and those behind the scenes, for paving the way.
We have merited to live in Jerusalem the city of connections, of initiatives and of trailblazing. A city of tradition and innovation from which the Torah goes forth to other places in the country in many fields in feminist contexts and it is not up to us to complete the work nor are we free to desist from it. Together we will continue to have strength. In favor, in joy. I have merited a supportive family and for that my abundant thanks.
May our celebrations together increase and may we continue to make a better world here, together.