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Unmasking Contemporary Israeli Heroines

The following (in alphabetical order) are merely a few of the female heroines of contemporary Israel. Not only are they positive role models for the next generation, their contributions in the fields of art, medicine, public service and sports cannot be underestimated in terms of positive social change impacting the face of Israeli society.

Which famous women in various fields (arts, medicine, politics, etc.), Jewish or otherwise, have most affected you individually, your community and your society?

Gila Almagor (1940- ), Actress and Author

Gila Almagor is the daughter of a father who served as police officer in the British Army and a mother who was mentally ill. Almagor never knew her father as he was killed by an Arab sniper when her mother was five months pregnant. Her mother later remarried.

At the age of 13, Almagor was sent to the Hadassim Youth Village where she studied for two years. When she decided to fulfill her dream of becoming an actress, she moved to Tel Aviv, rented a room near the Habima Theatre and presented herself at the entrance examinations for the drama school. Despite the fact that she was not yet 17 years old and that the examinations were meant for those who had finished army service, she was accepted.

Her premiere performance was on her seventeenth birthday, in the play The Skin of Our Teeth. From the Habima Theatre, Almagor moved to the Cameri Theatre and eight years later she went to New York to study acting. Since her return to Israel in 1965, she has worked as a freelance actress.

Almagor has played leading roles in many productions, including Anne Frank, Jeanne d'Arc, The Crucible, Three Sisters, The Bride and the Butterfly Hunt, They Were All My Children and Medea. She has appeared in more than 40 films including Siege, Queen of the Road, The House on Chelouche Street, Life According to Agfa and The Summer of Aviya and in television series.

In 1987, she published The Summer of Aviya, based on her personal biography, which has been translated into numerous languages. The theater production in which she starred was awarded the Rubina Prize and the film version screened at festivals worldwide, winning international prizes. Her second book, Under the Domim Tree, published in June 1992, also garnered widespread success and was made into a movie that won the Vulgin Prize at the 1995 Jerusalem Film Festival. In 1997, Almagor received the Israeli Oscar for her contribution to Israeli cinema and, in 1999, an honorary award for her life's work at the international film festival in Haifa.

Almagor is one of the founders of Ami (Israeli Artists Association) and the president of ASSITEJ Israel - the Israeli branch of the Association of Theatre for Children and Young People. Today, Almagor serves as a member of the Tel Aviv-Jaffa City Council and as chairperson of the Culture Committee for the city.

Almagor established the Gila Almagor Wishes Foundation, a non-profit organization that supports sick children and fulfills their wishes. She also heads the Tel Aviv branch of the Israeli Cancer Association. In July 1996, she received the President's Merit Award for Volunteers in recognition of 14 years of volunteer work.

Shulamit Aloni (1928- ), Knesset Member

Shulamit Aloni is the pre-eminent fighter on behalf of civil and women's rights in Israel. She was born in Tel-Aviv and served in the Palmah in the War of Independence. Aloni received her B.A. at David Yellin Teacher's College and her L.L.B. at Hebrew University, Jerusalem. She worked as a teacher, attorney and publicist before becoming a Knesset Member in the 6th Knesset representing the Ma'arach Party. Aloni continued to serve in the Knesset through the 1990s, representing Labor, Ratz (Party for Civil Rights that Aloni founded), Ya'ad and Meretz. Her primary committee work was for the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. Aloni also served in various governments as Minister of Education and Culture, Communication and Science and Technology.

Aloni's public activities include editor of radio programs, regular columnist in Yediot Aharonot and La-isha and activism in the fields of education and legal aid. She founded the Israeli Council for Consumerism in 1966 and the Movement for Civil Rights and Peace in 1973. Because of her work with Public Appeals, the Office of the Ombudsman (advocate for public complaint) was established. She holds an Honorary Doctorate from Hebrew Union College and an Honorary Doctorate of Law from Kon-Kuk University in Seoul. Aloni is one of the founders of the International Center for Peace in the Middle East and has published a book on civil rights.

Yael Arad (1967- ), Athlete

When she became the first Israeli Olympic medalist, Yael Arad conferred a whole new dimension on sports in Israel. Her victory was regarded as both national and personal, and put Israel on the map of international athletic achievements.

Arad began to study judo as a child even though sports in general and judo in particular was not considered a serious career. For lack of judo partners, she trained with the coach of the men's team in Europe and Japan. She achieved her first international title in middleweight competition in 1984.

At the Olympic games in Barcelona in 1992, Yael Arad became the first Israeli athlete to win an Olympic medal. Narrowly missing the gold, based on a judge's decision in the half middle-weight competition, she returned home with the silver medal and became a national hero. She continued to compete, aspiring to win the gold medal at the Atlanta Olympic games in 1996. At the games Arad chose to compete despite being ill, but her weaker performance cost her the chance for a medal.

Arad has worked to promote sports for women. In 1997, she was elected as one of the sports representatives to sit on the Israeli Olympic Committee.

Tamar Gozansky (1940- ), Knesset Member

As a recent Knesset member (Hadash Party), Tamar Guzansky's dedication and undying hard work paid off. She is best known for succeeding in passing 10 out of the 104 social laws in the last Knesset term. The laws include legislation protecting minimum wage, sick leave and the like. Although left in her politics and very active in the political arena for social change, many right-wing party members were sorry to see her leave the Knesset at the end of the current term.

Gozansky was born in Petah Tikvah and received her M.Sc. in Economics at the State University of Leningrad and is an economist by profession. She served in the 12th - 15th Knessets as a member of Hadash (Israeli Communist Party). Gozansky's committee work included: Labor and Welfare, Early Childhood, Advancement of the Status of Women, Foreign Workers, Special Committee for School Dropout Rates and Parliamentary Inquiry Committee on the Trading of Women.

Her public activities include member of the Political Bureau of the Israeli Communist Party and Deputy Chairperson of the Council of the Democratic Front for Peace & Equality. Her book publications include Economic Independence - How? (1969) and The Development of Capitalism in Palestine (1988) and she is a contributor to Ha'Aretz, Yediot Aharanot and Zu Hadereh newspapers.

Karen Leibowitz, Swimmer

Karen Leibowitz has won more gold medals than any other Israeli athlete, recently bringing home four golds and a new world record in the 100-meter freestyle from the 2002 World Championship Swim Meet for the Disabled held in Argentina. In 2001, Leibowitz, who is paralyzed from the waist down, was the star of the Sidney Olympics for the Disabled where she won three gold medals and set three world records.

Leibowitz had considered retiring after Sidney, but began training with Asaf Maimon at the Agudat Hapoel in Emeq Hefer - two grueling swim workouts a day plus weight workouts. Karen is currently devoting energy to equalizing the support for disabled athletes. Regular Olympic athletes have a budget of 11.5 million shekels from the Ministry of Science, Culture and Sports while disabled Olympic athletes only receive 240,000 shekels, despite their numbers and impressive achievements.

Professor Tamar Peretz-Yablonski (1952- ), Doctor

Professor Tamar Peretz-Yablonski is Israel's leading breast cancer oncologist. She completed her studies in medicine at Hadassah Medical School in 1980 and qualified as a specialist in the field of radiation and medical oncology in 1985. As attending physician at the Department of Oncology at Hadassah University Hospital, she took charge of the Oncology Outpatient Clinic in 1990. In 1994, she was appointed Head of the Sharett Institute of Oncology at the Hadassah Medical Center, a position she continues to hold to date. From 1987 to 1989, she worked at the internationally renowned Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

Prof. Peretz-Yablonski is a senior lecturer in Oncology at Hebrew University's Medical School and the author of numerous published articles in the field of oncology and radiotherapy.

Lt. Roni X., Fighter Pilot

Lt. Roni X. (last names of fighter pilots are withheld for security purposes) is Israel's first female fighter pilot, having received her wings in 2001, four years after the Supreme Court ruled that the Israeli Airforce had to accept qualified women candidates into its pilot training course. Not only is Roni the first female fighter pilot, she won the esteem of her commanders and colleagues for her excellence. She is currently assigned to an F-16 flight command and continues to dominate in the areas of professional excellence and air battle exercises.

Roni is a member of a Northern Israeli kibbutz and the granddaughter of a leader of the Warsaw Ghetto. To date, four other women have passed the Air Force pilot training course, one as a transit pilot and the other three as navigators.

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