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Orly Nathan: Pursuing Marcia Freedman’s ideas for women’s rights

In the event titled, “She Knows: Using the Brandeis Feminist Collection Archives to Explore the History of Israeli Feminism,” Orly Nathan, the Elaine Reuben ’63-HBI Jewish Feminism Collections Scholar in Residence discussed her current work. Nathan is the chief information specialist of “She Knows (Yoda’at)” at the Samuel Neaman Institute at the Technion. 

“She Knows” is the Arabic Gender Knowledge Center, which is a knowledge center in Israel about women and gender. The center hopes to contribute to the advancement of social equality in Israel by making gender-conscious thought a norm while collecting information, doing research or engaging in the community. 

Nathan is involved in creating databases for research at the Samuel Neaman Institute. Specifically, she aids in providing information on research projects relating to women in academia or STEM. At the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute, Nathan is working on an archival research case study. 

Nathan is specifically interested in Marcia Freedman, a former member of Israeli Parliament and one of the founders of the feminist movement in Israel in the 1970s who passed away on Sep. 21, 2021. She is best known for her ideas on reproductive rights, violence against women and LGBT rights, among others. Nathan plans to trace the terms expressed by Freedman in the Marcia Freedman papers that are commonly used in research relating to feminism and gender research. Brandeis specifically contains the American Jewish and Israeli Feminism Archives Collaborative, which contain the Marcia Freedman papers. 

The Marcia Freedman papers are split between the Haifa Feminist Institute and Brandeis. This is due to the fact that Freedman decided to leave her private collections at these two locations. At Brandeis, the collection contains 2.75 linear feet of materials that have to do with Freedman’s life and work. The materials are from the years 1968 to 2016, with the majority of the materials coming from Freedman’s years in Israel in the 1970s and the late 1990s. At HFI, the collection contains documents and letters that Marcia wrote or received from others while she was a member of the Israeli parliament from 1974 to 1977. These letters contain ideas regarding feminism in the world and in Israel. Nathan hopes to publicize Freeman’s ideas so that they may bring about change in Israel. 

At Brandeis, Nathan has found many of Freedman’s notes pertaining to violence against women from the Women’s International Zionist Organization and the Citizen Counseling Service. Freedman put ads in newspapers for women to write about the violence they experienced from their husbands and many women responded. Many of the women felt helpless and shameful as the police did not believe them. Freedman was one of the first individuals to introduce the idea of a domestic violence shelter. In addition, she started a protest at the conference of gynecologists in 1976 as she supported women being able to having free abortions. Prior to 1977, abortion was illegal. In 1978, it became legal but had to be determined by a termination committee. Currently Israeli women are allowed to have an abortion if determined by a termination committee. In 1977, Freedman created the Women’s Party which ran in the election for the Israeli Parliament. Overall, Nathan is working towards making Freedman’s ideas come to fruition, towards being able to live in a world where women are able to have an abortion without it being anyone’s business except their own. 

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