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Jerusalem Women who Left their Mark – Then and Today

International Women’s Day is an excellent time to remember women who left their mark on ancient Jerusalem in the past, and to appreciate women who are leaving their mark today. Throughout history, Jerusalem has produced both female and male leaders who have gone down in history for their significant endeavors. Recently, a seal bearing a woman’s name – Eliana daughter of Ga’el, was found in the City of David excavations, yet another testimony of the important status of women in ancient Jerusalem. In honor of International Women’s Day, we have highlighted several Jerusalem women who left their mark – then and today.

 

Contemporary Women

Rachel Azaria – Born and raised in Jerusalem, Rachel Azaria holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Hebrew University. She is currently a member of Knesset representing Kulanu, as well as the Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem. She was previously a city council member representing the Yerushalmim party. Azaria has led various social initiatives over the past few years, including the ‘stroller protest’ and the ‘Jerusalem tent protest.’ She also served as Director of Mavoi Satum, assisting women who have been refused a religious divorce by their husbands, as well as being involved in environmental activism.

Dr. Eilat Mazar – Dr. Eilat Mazar holds a PhD in Archaeology from Hebrew University and specializes in the archaeology of Jerusalem. She is the granddaughter of the famous archaeologist and president emeritus of Hebrew University, Professor Benjamin Mazar. She is also a guest researcher at the Shalem Institute at the University. Dr. Eilat Mazar is responsible for some of the most important Jerusalem discoveries of our times, including: King David’s palace, the Menorah treasure, an impression of King Hezekiah’s seal and dozens of other finds that have shed new light on the history of Jerusalem during Biblical times.

Dr. Mazar has been participating in the City of David excavations since she was a college student in the 1980’s, and her academic research and archaeological work focuses on ancient Jerusalem.

Professor Ada Yonath – Born and raised in Jerusalem, Professor Yonath studied at Hebrew University and the Weizmann Institute. In 2009, she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for her breakthrough work on the structure of the ribosome, the part of the cell responsible for protein biosynthesis. Her discovery is of great importance since the basis of every living organism is protein activity. Understanding the structure of the ribosome facilitates planning and developing new medications, new scientific discoveries regarding various diseases and a wide range of innovation that influence the health and quality of life of every human being.

Over the past few years, Prof. Yonath has been focusing on finding new antibiotic medications, providing consultation services to the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world and to the American government, together with her group. She is also involved in various academies, organizations and international committees, as well as consulting for several countries. Her scientific achievements have won her numerous prizes and medals in Israel and internationally, including the Rothschild Prize, Israel Prize, Wolf Prize, the prestigious Nobel Prize and many more.

Professor Ruth Gavison – A law professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Professor Gavison served as the Chairperson of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, and she is the founder and head of Metzilah, the Center of Zionist, Jewish, Liberal and Humanist Thought. In conjunction with Rabbi Yaakov Medan, she published the Gavison-Medan Covenant, a proposed constitution intended to benefit religious and secular communities regarding issues of religion and state. She is also an influential personality involved in religious and social issues in Jerusalem.

Professor Gavison was awarded the Israel Prize for legal research in 2011, and recently won the Worthy Citizen of Jerusalem award, in addition to several prizes and awards presented to her over the years.

Sivan Rahav-Meir – Living in Jerusalem, Sivan Rahav-Meir is a journalist, publicist, radio broadcaster, television presenter and prominent opinion-shaper. She hosted programs on the Israeli Educational Television network and on Israel’s army radio, Galei Tzahal where she also served as a soldier. Rahav-Meir is a reporter and presenter on Channel 2 and was responsible for several important journalistic news stories. She wrote her first book at the age of 17 and co-authored another book with her husband, journalist Yedidya Meir, with whom she also co-hosts a weekly radio show.

Sivan Rahav-Meir is a source of inspiration for women throughout the country. Her weekly lectures in Jerusalem are attended by hundreds of men and women interested in hearing her contemporary interpretations of the weekly Torah portion.

 

Women of the Past:

Bathsheba – Granddaughter of Ahitophel of Gilo, King David’s advisor. She married King David after the death of her husband Uriah in battle. Within a short time, she became a central influence at the king’s palace and acted behind the scenes to ensure that her son, Solomon, would inherit the throne after David’s death. Thus, she shaped the course of history for future generations.

Queen Helena – Queen of Adiabene in northern Assyria, who converted to Judaism along with her sons and moved to Jerusalem in the first century CE. Josephus Flavius and the Jerusalem Talmud wrote about her, relating that she became an important key figure during the second Temple period, contributing significantly to the Temple and to Jerusalem’s poor.

Queen Salome Alexandra [Shlom Tzion] – A strong and dedicated woman who assisted in arranging the rise to power of Alexander Jannaeus of the Hasmonean dynasty. After his death, she reigned in Judea during the second Temple period. She appointed her son as High Priest and was favored by the nation as a leader who brought economic and political prosperity.

Hulda the Prophetess – A prophetess active during the reign of King Josiah, she was a contemporary of the prophet Jeremiah. Her prophecies spoke of the downfall of Josiah’s reign. Her modest story in the Bible is testimony of her importance, as her words and legacy were well preserved in two biblical stories. Jewish sages explain that the leaders during the time would turn to her in times of crisis for advice.

Michal, Daughter of Saul – The younger daughter of King Saul and first wife of David. She bravely acted to save the younger David’s life from her father’s wrath. The Bible speaks of her independence and her strength, and we learn that Michal criticized King David and ridiculed him for dancing before the Ark of the Covenant (she was later punished for this act).  

 

 
 
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