Profile: Roni Hazon Weiss

Roni Hazon Weiss has had a fascinating journey to become one Jerusalem’s leading religious feminist activists. Born and raised in a modern Orthodox family in Maaleh Adumim, and active in Bnei Akiva, her first turning point came when she studied at Midreshet Lindenbaum, one of the pioneers of Talmud study for women.

After her army service in the Education and Youth Corps, she studied Democratic Education at the Kibbutzim College of Education. Roni was one of three religious people out of a total of 70 on the course. “It wasn’t what I was used to, but I wanted to experience studying in a non-religious environment. I had spent all my life in Jerusalem and wanted to learn somewhere else. It was a good decision.” As part of her studies, she took courses on religious feminism with the pioneering Orthodox feminist thinker Dr. Chana Kehat, the founder and director of NIF grantee Kolech. “She spoke my language,” Roni reflects.

She wrote her final thesis on religious feminism, including Women of the Wall and “kosher” gender-segregated bus lines in Jerusalem. At the same time, she began getting involved with NIF granteeNe’emanei Torah V’Avoda (NTV), which aims to strengthen tolerance and openness in the education system and to develop a community based model which is inclusive and halachically tolerant. “I wanted an organisation that had a broader agenda than just women’s issues.” She also began teaching at the Givat Gonen high school in Jerusalem. “It was the first time anyone had taught democratic education in a public school,” she explains.

Roni wrote many weekly opinion pieces and Torah commentaries for NTV, which were distributed in hundreds of synagogues around the country, and gradually became more involved in politics. She became involved with the Yerushalmit movement, another NIF grantee, where she focused on improving conditions for teachers. Then, two years ago, she was one of the leading activists in the campaign to bring back images of women to Jerusalem’s billboards. “The campaign began by hanging huge posters [of women] from the balconies of private homes, coffee shops, and culture institutions…The second stage was to place posters on billboards throughout Jerusalem. The advertising company…told us that we were crazy, that all our signs would be destroyed, that it would be a wasted effort. To my delight, they were wrong. Some posters were vandalised, but most were not.”

Roni plans to remain active in the movement. She is married and lives in Jerusalem, where she is active in HaKehil, an egalitarian synagogue, and has one child with another on the way. “Jerusalem influences the entire country. The struggles that take place here – for better education, employment, and equality – can change the entire country. That’s why it’s important for me to be an activist here.” She wants to become a school principal, but her ambitions don’t stop there. “My dream is to be an Education Minister.” Given the progress she’s made so far in her short career, one wouldn’t bet against her doing just that!

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October 2014