Early signs of women's aspirations for gender equality in Eretz Israel were apparent as far back as the First Aliyah, as some chose to take part in public affairs, agricultural work or non-conventional professions. Although the pages of history have not granted them their proper place – they operated in a world of preconceptions and discrimination against women, their fight for self-realization and equal opportunity cleared a path and inspired others.
The State of Israel embraced equality as a core principle early on and just three years after the establishment of the State, the Knesset passed the Women's Equal Right Law of 1951, guaranteeing equal treatment of women and men.
Women have yet to be fully included in society's most influential bodies, but the efforts of these pioneering women set a quiet social revolution in motion, furthering gender equality and changing our society.
Singer Bracha Zefira was born in Jerusalem in 1910 to parents who immigrated from Yemen. After being orphaned at a young age, she was raised by a number of families in Jerusalem before moving to the Shfeyah Youth Village boarding school. While at Shfeyah she was discovered to be a gifted musician with a rich repertoire of songs originating in several Jewish ethnic groups. After completing her studies she began appearing as a singer with the Eretz Israel Theater and the Kumkum Theater, where she was encouraged to continue her theater and music studies.
In 1929 Bracha Zefira traveled to Berlin to study theater, where she met pianist and conductor Nahum Nardi, who played Western piano accompaniments to her Middle Eastern songs. Their performances in Europe and Eretz Israel met with unparalleled success. She was the first super star among Israel's female singers of Yemenite descent, captivating listeners with her rich voice and unique timbre. Her renditions of Bialik poems, set to Middle Eastern melodies, and of the traditional Yemenite, Sephardic and Persian songs she knew brought about a turning point in Israeli music and constituted a breakthrough for Middle Eastern singers and Middle Eastern music.
Zefira worked with many of the composers in Eretz Israel and her voice, repertoire and personality inspired symphonies and chamber music by Israel's greatest composers, Israel Prize recipients.
In 1966 Zefira was awarded the Engel Prize for her contribution to introducing Middle Eastern melody into Israeli music and in 1978 she published a book of her songs entitled "Many Voices: the Nobility of Obliged Belonging" (Masada Publishing). Bracha Zefira passed away in 1990.
Batia Makov, nee Apel, was born in 1841 in the town of Brisk in Czarist Russia. She married Avraham and moved to the neighboring Polish town of Terespol, where she bore 10 children. Avraham studied Torah while Batia supported the family. She dealt in trade and managed a large estate that she leased from a Russian nobleman. In 1890, when she was nearly 50, Batia Makov learned of the "Munucha VeNachala" organization which had been founded in Warsaw and planned to establish a town in Eretz Israel. She embraced the Zionist ideal wholeheartedly, sold her businesses in Russia and purchased a 240-hectare parcel of land in the newly founded town of Rehovot. She left her husband, who strongly opposed the idea, and immigrated to Eretz Israel with five of her young children.
In the winter of 1890, Batia Makov was the only woman to participate in the first meeting of Rehovot land owners. As a woman, she was not entitled to be elected as a committee member, however she played ail role in managing the town and even signed the document that established its existence. Committee members described her as "a woman of valor, in every sense of the word" and she was selected to host Theodor Herzl in her home when he came to visit Rehovot in 1898.
Despite hardships and the hard-pressed economic situation, Batia Makov managed her businesses successfully and fearlessly. The Batia Makov Vineyard was among the best in town and she built the community's first bread oven in her courtyard, serving all residents. Batia Makov led the young people of the town in their fight against the patronage of Baron Rothschild, which entailed yielding to the authority of his representatives, and even built a winery in Rehovot to avoid having to send local grapes to the Baron's winery. Batia Makov was at the forefront of the unique strong women of the First Aliyah. She passed away in Rehovot in 1912.
Dr. Gila Flam
Dr. Ronit Seter
Mr. Israel Makov