Women’s Empowerment is a Jewish Value: Reflecting on Women’s History Month

For Lela Sadikaro, Women's History Month is a chance to empower Jewish women across Europe.

By Lela Sadikario - Director, Junction | March 31, 2022

Women's empowerment is at the heart of Lela Sadikario's work, fostering young Jewish leaders across Europe.

March is the time when we celebrate both International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month. For Lela Sadikario — the director of Junction, a JDC initiative that seeks to empower young Jews to take part in the pan-European Jewish community — our Jewish values must intersect with a commitment to uplifting women across the world. 

I was born Jewish, with limited access to knowledge about the wider Jewish world beyond my immediate reality. My Jewish life revolved around the small community in Skopje, North Macedonia, and the programs it offered. I cherish that experience as my most precious one; though it may  not have given me the chance to gain all the knowledge and skills I’ve now cultivated, it taught me about the importance of community life and some of the most essential Jewish values — kindness, truth, peace, and respect.  

Later in life, I was given the chance  to get an education, and this allowed me to connect more deeply to Judaism and Jewish learning. Today, working at JDC gives me the opportunity to put community service into action each and every day. 

I now live in Milan, and I celebrate daily the fact that my children are able to live, learn, and be part of an organized Jewish life. And I tell them the stories of the Jewish world beyond them, and teach them the responsibility we have for one another in the global Jewish community. 

International Women’s Day is known as a “global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present, and future.” Since March 8, 1911, it has been a worldwide tradition to commemorate the actions, struggles, and achievements of the global women’s rights movement.  

Lela Sadikario

Because International Women’s Day —  and Women’s History Month more broadly — are often so close to the holiday of Purim, it’s no surprise that, as a Jewish woman, I connect it to the Purim story, a story of the resilience and determination of two phenomenal women who are worth celebrating. Vashti, King Ahasuerus’ first wife, and Queen Esther, his second wife. 

Vashti  refuses to strut her stuff during a party and gets dethroned. She stands up for herself and refuses to be treated just as a body on display, even though her decision means an end to her reign as Queen, as King Ahasuerus and his advisers fear her defiance and independence might lead other women throughout Persia to stand up to their husbands. 

Next comes Queen Esther, who gets picked from a beauty pageant to be the next queen. She hides her Jewish identity at first, revealing it only when she knows that her entire community is about to be killed — and only she can stop it. Both women could have taken the easy road, but they did not. These women have inspired me and countless others, and each has their own story. Each one committed her own acts of bravery and courage, making the right decisions at the right time — to save others, to change rules, to march for equal and civil rights. 

This is the very essence of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month:  celebrating women who do what needs to be done, even when it’s not easy. We must harness the lessons of Purim’s heroines as we celebrate how far we have come, and however far we still must go. 

Growing up in socialist Skopje, March 8th was recognized as a holiday to celebrate mothers. My mother never accepted this. She always celebrated the women around her, and the women from the past, finding ways to act in the present. She taught me that each one of us has the potential to be a hero for someone else. All it takes is a moment in time, the right moment, and one unwavering leap of courage and determination to do what is right and just,  not only for the sake of oneself, but for the sake of others who may see your example and use it as motivation to act courageously, too.  

And as I write this, I’m also thinking of all the heroic women and men in Ukraine today who are showing similar courage and bravery.

But we do not need to be brave only when horrific events occur. We all can be an inspiration to countless others in our lifetime — in bad and good times. 

Today at JDC, serving the next generation through Junction,I work persistently to provide opportunities for young women “to learn, grow, and thrive.”

Our mission is to foster spaces for young Jewish women and men to dream big, to aspire to something greater, and to elevate themselves above their everyday lives.  

Through various programs, Junction builds capacities to transform and adapt to rapidly changing circumstances — this is essential for fostering Jewish life that is meaningful for individuals living in modern society. The ability for individuals to organize themselves in communities that reflect their image and their preferences is also important to stay relevant and endure.  

And we teach the women in our network to take the first step: Say no when you need to, sit down where you want to, and speak up when it is right – but treat everyone with kindness and courage. 

There are many women who come to Junction with ideas to foster positive change for their communities. I recall one project with the aim to give tools for women across Europe to become lay Jewish leaders. And that’s just one example of how Junction lifts up women.

All across Jewish Europe, you see women in the professional world, but few serving on executive boards and as presidents of their communities. Junction supports the idea that women should be empowered and given the opportunity to lead and take decisions for the communities of today and tomorrow. 

 JDC knows that women are powerful agents of  “social, economic, and political change” and that when women’s lives improve, and they have access to opportunities, education, and support, then entire communities transform. Thanks to JDC, I know that we will continue to lift women’s lives all across Europe — and beyond. 

Lela Sadikario serves as the director of Junction, a JDC initiative that seeks to empower young Jews to take part in the pan-European Jewish community. While attending Szarvas, the JDC – Ronald S. Lauder international Jewish summer camp in Hungary, Sadikario was inspired to become a Jewish leader. Over the past decade, she has pioneered numerous programs that have empowered the next generation of Jewish communal leaders. A native of Skopje, North Macedonia, Lela now lives with her husband and two sons in Milan, Italy.

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