Spurred by the #MeToo movement and the record number of women running for local, state, and national office this year, the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Greater Washington this week held several events focused on women’s political empowerment and featuring JCRC scholar-in-residence Mazal Shaul, executive director of WePower, an Israeli nonprofit that trains women of all affiliations to run for office.
The events focused on the universal challenges that women face in running for office, as well as the benefits of increasing the number of women running for office in both the United States and Israel, sending women the message: We need you.
“In our representative democracies where women are at least 50 percent of the population, women also should hold 50 percent of the offices,” Shaul said in an interview. Beyond that, women officeholders “bring a more realistic and professional perspective” to the table, looking at a problem and trying to find solutions, she said, while for men, “what is important is the power.”
"Storming the Halls of Power: Advancing Women in Political & Public Spheres in the U.S. and Israel," the largest of the scholar-in-residence events, drew some 100 people to Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C., on March 21, even as a snowstorm was bearing down. Shaul joined Susannah Wellford, president and founder, Running Start, a DC-based nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that trains women to run for political office, and Ann Lewis, president, Joint Action Committee Education Foundation, in a roundtable discussion moderated by Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin.
“I’ve been fascinated by the universality of the challenges we face as women,” said Siegel, opening up the panel at Adas.
The panelists stressed that women bring something unique to the political conversation.
“We have differences, and we bring these to the table,” said Shaul. “That’s why it’s so important that we have more women in office.”
Lewis pointed to the influence of the last election in encouraging women to seek election.
“We’ve seen a massive explosion in the number of women candidates,” she said. “I think the last election had this catalyzing effect and motivated so many women to run.”
The scholar-in-residence week kicked off March 18 at a private home in Herndon with discussion for some 20 Jewish leaders in Northern Virginia featuring Shaul along with Virginia State Del. Eileen Filler-Corn and WePower’s former executive director, Liel Even-Zohar, who serves on the council in Rishon LeZion, Israel. JCRC Associate Director Guila Franklin Siegel moderated.
Unlike men, women need to be pressed to run for office. “It takes women two, three, four, or five times to be asked to run,” Filler-Corn said. “What we’re seeing is that we can do it. Women run PTAs, they run their homes, they are CEOs. They can definitely serve in office. We need you.”
Step forward, Shaul told those gathered, “If you’re not ready to do it yourself — join another woman who is and build your confidence.”
And, stepping forward doesn’t mean just in politics, said Even-Zohar. “Take your place on boards of directors, in management, in politics. We are in the era of women. We should take leadership roles, no one is giving us these roles,” she said.
Later that evening, Shaul joined Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol at Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church for "Challenging the Status Quo: Engaging Women in Politics in the U.S. and Israel," a discussion geared toward teens and young professionals.
Shaul and Even-Zohar also participated, along with Orit Sagie and Limor Soen, graduates of WePower’s political leadership and training course, in a meeting JCRC held with the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and The Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists.