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Radical Modesty

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February 19, 2013

Choice USA Executive Director, Kierra Johnson, will be traveling this week in Israel with the National Council of Jewish WomenIsrael Action Networkand a group of progressive women leaders. While there she will be blogging about the experience for ChoiceWords.

“Sometimes you have to go against the stream for the sake of the stream.” Dr. Dalia Fadila.

Today I had the pleasure of meeting Dalia Fadila, and women from the Arab feminist organization called Kayan.

These women are the personification of a bridge. Within themselves they bridge Israeli, Arab and Palestinian. They are inextricably tethered to both the modern and traditional. Some are married and mothers while others have chosen to remain without a partner or children, perhaps for now, perhaps forever. While Dalia is highly educated, some of the women from the village of Arrabe have struggled to attain higher levels of education. Each woman we met had a very distinct identity that she expressed through her words, her dress and her body language. Some covered their hair. Others wore their manes loose and untamed. Some beamed from au-naturel complexions while a few glammed it up with turquoise eyeliner, magenta lips that would make MAC proud, and luscious mascaraed eyes you could get lost in.  And all of these women have pride in their history, culture, family and community.

Today was my first intimate experience with radical modesty. With respect, humility, confidence and grace these women are negotiating more. They are demanding more. They are creating the pathways to more.

Young woman from Kayan, NGO in Arrabe village

Dalia Fadila is a dean of students and assistant to the president in the Al Qasemi Academic College of Education in Baqa El Gharbiya. She spoke of her family having lived in Israel for generations and while she identifies as Arab and Israeli she often feels like she is not wholly accepted by either of the places she considers her community. Applying a gender lens to her experience further complicates the rubix cube of identity, politics and culture. Women are often the holders of culture and this woman, like the women of Arrabe, believes that she can be traditional and be an individual and make choices about her body, children, money and education.

She has created a new NGO called Q Schools. The “Q” stands for quality. These revolutionary Q Schools seek to provide a better education for young Arabs. She calls it, “developing the country’s human resource.” She is providing good books, good teachers, good management, good training and mentoring, and is engaging parents along the way. This sounds like a model we could use in the U.S. With 50% of black boys dropping out of high school in Washington DC, we could stand to invest a little bit more in our human resources too!

The Arab women of Arrabe founded Kayan. A feminist group that supports the social, educational, political and personal agency of women in the community. Since the short time since they were founded in 1998, these women have accomplished major success. The first is getting the government to prioritize public transportation in Arab villages which has meant an increase in mobility and increased potential of access to jobs, family, and education. This group of radical women are also introducing economics through a gender lens. They are teaching women to read budgets and explaining why it is important to understand the ins and outs of money and the politics behind it all.  These women are having conversations about independence,

mobility, decision-making and education within the context of their community. They are not interested in divesting from their communities. In fact it is quite the opposite. Their tactics and solutions are grounded in the very culture, religion and community they seek to change.

The day was packed as we visited the Golan region and stood at the border of Israel and Syria. We walked the ancient streets of Tiberius and gazed out over the sea of Galilee, where Jesus practiced his ministry. However, today, my heart, my mind and my spirit belonged to the women I met in Akko and Arrabe. The women who swim upstream.

Sea of Galilee



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