“The idea is that you are supporting something physical and planted in the Land of Israel through proxy, and doing a mitzvah,” said Deb Houben, a sommelier and the assistant director of Wine on the Vine.
Houben’s personal connection to wine, which she says parallels the Land of Israel, is through its infinity and liveliness. “There’s always something new to taste. No wine, even within the same bottle, is experienced the same,” she said. “Wine is the eretz of my life, my connection to the land,” maintained Houben, who immigrated to Israel from the United States and has been working in the wine industry since 2007.
But as with all things “alive,” she added, there is always work to be done. Houben argued that within the global wine industry, and even in Israel, many women have knowledge of the field, but few actually make wine. She estimates that out of the 300 or so winemakers in Israel, fewer than a dozen are women.
So to highlight women’s role in the wine industry, the evening featured a panel of four female Zionist leaders who are making social change in Israel, connecting their ability to do so with the land. As they spoke about their work, guests sipped wines from the MAIA and Tulip wineries.
Tatiana Hasson, director of outreach and engagement for TIIF, led the panel and maintained that Israel and feminism “mean reaching potential.” She said that “in Israel, anything I want to accomplish I am able to, and everyone around me pushes me to do just that.”
One of the panelists, Karen Brunwasser, is a Jerusalem civic activist and one of the founders of the Jerusalem Season of Culture, an award-winning independent arts organization created to strengthen the city as a more vibrant, pluralistic, and creative urban center.
According to Brunwasser, she didn’t start thinking about how being a woman in Israel affected her life until she became a mother. However, she acknowledged that it is difficult to maintain her public and social career while also being a mother. “It effects my career and the way I want to effect change,” she said. “It’s a dilemma I haven’t figured out how to reconcile.”
According to Brunwasser, while the feminist revolution has taken women part of the way, “to go the rest of the way, it is necessary to prepare women for the dramatic change that will come in their lives,” especially when they begin to have children. While some women are not leaning in because it comes at a heavy personal cost, if that is their choice, then that’s great, she told the guests.
Another panelist, attorney Yael Rockman, serves as executive director of Kolech, an Orthodox feminist movement in Israel. She actively defends the rights of Jewish woman who have been denied a get (religious divorce) by recalcitrant husbands or have endured sexual harassment, especially by rabbis. She has found tribulations within Israeli society, which she says is largely male-normative, with much of the culture based on the army and the conception of the male worker.
Rockman maintained that women in the religious sphere go “back and forth with some gains and some losses,” and although they cannot participate politically in Israel’s religious parties, she maintained that women are “starting to take a strong role in changing haredi society.”
Still, she sees no contradiction in the blending of feminism and Zionism, “only challenges” that she said can be reconciled, especially in Israel, which is such a complex society. Through her advocacy for women’s involvement in Judaism, Rockman learned that “if I want to get something, I need to do it myself” and “if you feel strongly about something, you can create a change.”
A third panelist, Lauren Fried, is passionate about using food as a mechanism for social impact, particularly in relation to community-building, vocational development, and interfaith dialogue. She currently works in partnership with the Tel Aviv education department to develop a culinary training program for youth at risk, which can be replicated in other vulnerable communities across the country.
Similar to the wine industry, Fried found that male chefs dominate the food industry. She spoke of feeling excited when she thought she found an Israeli female chef named Sharon, only to learn that in Israel, Sharon is also a man’s name. “I have yet to find my favorite female chef,” she said.
The final panelist, Lital Roth, is director of customer relations for Tulip Winery. “I have the privilege to combine my two great loves — wine and people,” she said. “Guiding groups, and welcoming both new and regular guests to the winery, along with working with Kfar Tikva residents and excellent wines, is what gets me out of bed every morning with a smile.”
She added that “being a Zionist and feminist means making the choice to be an activist — a person who cares about things and acts on what you care about.”
Roth decided to question the patriarchal industry when she was once told that, in order to be a better wine marketer, she had to wear makeup to work. Another person once told her: “You can work in marketing, but wine-making is very physical, and you won’t be able to do it as a woman.”
However, she has found that women’s roles in winemaking are starting to change. And, she added, with a nod to scientific evidence, “women have a better palate.”