It takes elbows…

Written by Aliza Kline

What does it take to create real change in Jewish life? I mean real change, not just changing language from kiruv to outreach to engagement. I mean changing access to ritual, and reframing Jewish experiences so that they actually feel different.

How different is it to make change in Israel versus North America? After a month here I have many more questions than answers – though I learned a new expression last week from Hamutal Gouri, a well-respected organizational consultant and activist who is facilitating a New Israel Fund sponsored Mikveh Round Table.  She said it takes “marpikim” – elbows – pointy elbows – demonstrated by flexing bent arms like in the chicken dance.

In the week since I learned this expression I have found myself using it in a number of conversations with women who are interested in seeing real change – especially regarding access to and ownership of mikveh in Israel. It’s immediately clear whether the woman I am speaking with knows how to use marpikim herself or if she’s in need of some sharpening.  I’d translate this as being decisive, assertive, even authoritative. Israel is not a country for passive, milquetoast types. Especially if it’s changing the government sponsored                                                                   system of mikveh.

Passion is the basis for this kind of leadership, but it is not enough. I am inspired by many of the passionate, brilliant women I have met but also enormously frustrated at the lack of real change. For several years I have engaged in great conversations about the potential for a new kind of mikveh here in Israel.  I know that religious life is exponentially more complicated and political here than in the U.S.  I hope to hold on to my optimism and possibly naiveté as I sharpen my own marpikim to see just how far this conversation can go.

I just received another email about yet another idea for a new mikveh here – please God, in the coming year, may we make real change, may we move from vision to reality, pushing with our sharp elbows if we have to.

Aliza Kline, Founding Executive Director, has led Mayyim Hayyim from its initial stages, overseeing fund raising, publicity, design, construction, staffing, recruiting volunteers, and board development. In May, 2009, Aliza was awarded an AVI CHAI Fellowship (best described as the “Jewish MacArthur Genius Grant) in recognition of her accomplishments, creativity and commitment to the Jewish people


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