Israel marks low-key, PC version of Mothers' Day

The day on which Israelis used to honor moms has been turned into one that honors 'the new family.'

Gil Ronen,

Mother with baby (illustrative)
Mother with baby (illustrative)
Nati Shohat / Flash 90

Israel marked Family Day on Tuesday, the 30th day of the Hebrew month of Shvat, as it has annually since the 1990s. The day is a low-key occasion that does not have a clear theme, and is often marked by discussions about modern changes in family structure, alternative "new families" and so on. In addition, children at kindergartens and elementary schools are often encouraged to speak about their families and directed to make presents for their fathers, mothers and siblings.

This was not always the case, however. For decades, starting from 1951, Israelis marked the 30th day of Shvat as Mothers' Day.

The initiative for marking Mothers' Day, which is not a Jewish holiday but had been celebrated in the United States and Germany before it reached Israel, came from Ha'aretz Shelanu, a popular children's weekly in the 1950s. The date was chosen because it was the one on which educator and Zionist pioneer Henrietta Szold died in 1945.

Szold – who was childless – was a maternal figure for many of the orphans that came to the Land of Israel in the decades before Israel's founding. She was a founder of the Hadassah women's organization and headed the official Aliyat Hanoar ("Aliya of Youths") Zionist organization, which brought Jewish youths to the Land of Israel from various countries. She was popularly known as "the Mother of Aliyat Hanoar."

For some four decades after it was first marked, Mothers' Day served as a day on which family members express their appreciation for the selfless sacrifice and love that mothers gave. For husbands, it was a day on which one bought a gift for one's wife. Children drew pictures, wrote poems and made other presents for their beloved mommies.

In addition to changing Mothers' Day, a new holiday was into the Israeli calendar: International Women's Day, which is marked on March 8.

While the vast majority of Israeli women do not know it, International Women's Day was originally a communist holiday – initially known as International Working Women's Day – which became an official Soviet holiday immediately after the 1917 Bolshevik revolution. The day reflected the Marxist notion that women should be directed away from their homes and into "public industry." Early Soviet propaganda disseminated on International Women's Day called on women to leave the drudgery of housework and join other women in working outside the home, in factories and on collective farms. 

On the days prior to Israel's version of Women's Day – which is about a month away – and on the day itself, many news and talk show programs highlight key feminist issues such as sexual harassment, rape, violence against women and the disparities in average earnings of men and women ("wage gap").




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