The Knesset held a special plenary session Tuesday to mark International Women's Day, which has become a semi-official festival in the Jewish state in recent years and receives widespread attention in the news media. The day is also marked by parades, events and publications sponsored by government offices, local government and numerous public institutions.
Besides the Tuesday plenary session, the Knesset Auditorium will also host a special event sponsored by Emunah, the Religious Women's Movement, and MK Zevulun Orlev (The Jewish Home) on Wednesday.
The importance of the day in Israeli culture has grown with the strengthening of the Israeli feminist movement since the 1970s. In recent decades, Israel ceased marking Mother's Day – which was devoted to a celebration of the traditional family role played by women, known in Hebrew tradition as “akeret habayit” – “the center of the home.” The day, which is marked on Shvat 30, the Hebrew birthday of Hadassa Zionist women's organization founder Henrietta Szold, was renamed “Family Day,” and has turned into a low-key event celebrated mostly in kindergartens. Mother's Day is celebrated in the United States.
'Down with oppression!'
The Knesset website notes that International Women's Day is “celebrated by the United Nations and many countries, including Israel.” Interestingly, few people in Israel are aware that International Women's Day was originally set as an official holiday by Vladimir Ilytch Lenin's Soviet Union. To this day, the countries that celebrate the day – besides Israel – are either communist or formerly communist: China, Armenia, Russia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Moldova, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.
Also unknown to most Israelis, and to most citizens of the West, the theme of women's liberation from family roles was not invented by American feminists such as Betty Freidan and Gloria Steinem. Rather, it was also an important feature of internal Soviet propaganda in the early decades of that revolutionary country's existence. Posters such as the one shown below – from International Women's Day, 1932 – urged Soviet women to free themselves from the shackles of home drudgery, and seek employment in factories. The text reads: "8th of March is the day of rebellion of the working women against kitchen slavery" and "Down with the oppression and narrow-mindedness of household work!".