These Holy days

During this time of the year, Israel is festooned with flags. They line our streets and decorate our buildings. They bring with them a festive and happy energy, signaling a time of celebration and a time of commemoration. There is a pervasive feeling of joy and pride at the site of our cities clothed in their best blue and white.

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Image courtesy of Rafo

This year the national holidays, Yom Ha Shoa (Holocaust Memorial Day), Yom Ha Zikaron (Memorial Day for Soldiers and Victims of Terror) and Yom Ha’Atzmaut (Independence Day) will be felt more intensely, more acutely.

This past year has been one of the most difficult for Israel in recent history and has had a ripple effect, affecting diaspora communities across the globe. It seems that if Israel sneezes our diaspora communities catch a cold but in this case they also fall victim to the wrath and sometimes violent retribution of the anti-Israel activists.

Seventy years ago, as the death camps were liberated and the truth of the horrors of the Holocaust began to emerge, we swore a vow that NEVER AGAIN would we allow for the slaughter and persecution of the Jewish people. This Yom Hashoa, seventy years later, I cannot help but feel that we have failed our vow.  We have failed in our promise to the victims and survivors that we would create a better, more tolerant and peaceful world for their children.

The Holocaust was started with words and over the last year we have seen an increase in the venom and vitriol around the world that has resulted in numerous deaths. Once again Jews are dying on European soil and once again we are bringing our brothers and sisters home for burial. The lessons of the Shoah have not been learned and now more than ever it is important to learn, to teach and to truly mean it when we say NEVER AGAIN.  We cannot allow for heartbroken survivors to feel the fear and déjà vu that their grandchildren will experience the hatred they did. NEVER AGAIN means NEVER, EVER AGAIN!

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Visual courtesy of Spotlighting

June 2014 started with rock star visits and start-up acquisitions.  This all ended abruptly with the kidnapping of Eyal Yifrah z”l, Gilad Shaer z”l and Naphtali Frankel z”l and the news that they had been brutally murdered. For eighteen days, a nation prayed and hoped and news of their deaths plunged us into mourning. Oh, Eyal, Gilad and Naphtali how we still weep for you! This was coupled with incessant rocket attacks from Gaza which prompted Israel to launch Operation Protective Edge in response.

I have been dreading this Yom Hazikaron. The pain of what we have lost over the past years is too much to bear and there is no end to the tears. Tears for the victims of terror in Israel, Belgium and France. Tears for our most precious 67 brave warriors, who paid the ultimate price for our safety and freedom. Tears for the bereaved families, the parents who have lost their sons, cut down in their prime in defense of their country. Tears for the babies who will never meet their fathers. Tears for the lovers who will never hold each other again. Tears, endless tears.

There will never be enough words to express our gratitude for their service to all of us. May their memories forever be blessed.

In a year that has witnessed brutal kidnappings and terror attacks, a conflagration with our neighbours an election and a tension in our relationship with our greatest ally, Israel has stood tall. We have endured the unimaginable and we have witnessed the best of humanity. The brave mothers who carried a grieving nation on their shoulders. The ordinary citizens who cooked, donated, opened up homes, schlepped and sprung into action to help our soldiers and each other.  The citizens who comforted bereaved families and visited injured warriors and those who lined the streets to pay respects to our fallen at their funerals. These are everyday heroes and they make up the fabric of Israel. They are worth celebrating and this year, Yom Ha’atzmaut is in their honour.

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“…And so they stand, the light on their faces, and the Lord,

alone passes among them, with tears in His eyes He kisses 

their wounds, and He says in a trembling voice to the white

 angels: “These are my sons, these are my sons. 

The Parade of The Fallen / Hayim Hefe

A few weeks ago, the IDF home Front Command conducted a drill in Modiin. We knew it would happen and we expected the siren. What some of us did not expect were our reactions to the noise. I am not embarrassed to say I froze – could not breath and had tears in my eyes.  My friends had similar reactions – we forget the impact of PTSD on our lives.  For many in the South, theirs is a generation that doesn’t know of a life without sirens and shelters. They are the shelter generation. This Yom Ha’atzmaut we honour the courage of our citizens who live under threat and yet continue to build and contribute as their expression of Zionism.

Chag Ha’atzmaut Sameach our dear Israel! Nobody deserves a big party with all the fireworks and celebration as much as you do. These days have no religious significance but the love, unity and solidarity they inspire is holy.Fly your flag high! Am Yisrael chai!

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Roro sits down with the Disgruntled Millenial. Hear the interview here:

http://imjewishyo.podbean.com/e/rolenemarks/

We spoke about the Apartheid comparison, the Middle East, Israel’s media battlefield and everything in between!

Brett Segal: Music and Video Producer. Podcaster. Disgruntled Millennial. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCcxyXR9b7pHSyrpfH3s7hDw

Dear United Nations – from an Israeli woman

Dear United Nations

We know you are obsessed with Israel.  You cannot leave us alone. You pass resolution after resolution deriding us and singling us out for opprobrium. You are drunk with lust against us and there are so many who are voiceless and nameless who are wondering why you don’t seem to care about their issues. It is just the petite Jewish State that gets you all worked up, so much so that on the 20th 0f March 2015 you decided that Israel is the number one violator of women’s rights, namely those of Palestinian women.

Sigh. Oh, Useless Nations, do you not have anything better to do? Your “when in doubt, just blame Israel” approach is getting a bit tired and long in the tooth now.

Israel is a vibrant democracy where women are very much a part of the fabric that has and continues to build the country every day. We are pioneers, having built a country with very little natural resources. We are trailblazers in business, politics, volunteer organisations, the arts and sciences and so much more.  We are religious and secular and everything in between – hey, if you want to spend Shabbat in downward dog contemplating your navel that is okay too! We are warriors and defenders of our country on land, sea, air and airwaves and we are homemakers, entrepreneurs and creative genii.  We are changing the political landscape and we represent over 80 different ethnicities. We can vote, drive, own property and business. We can make decisions that govern our bodies and our communities and if we want to, raise a little hell.

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Lady Warriors of the IDF

We are free to be who we are, free to choose and free to fight for our rights. In communities where religious doctrines are sometimes prohibitive towards gender rights for women, we are slowly making changes.

The same cannot be said for many of the other women in our neighbourhood. Women in other parts of the Middle East are not as free as their Israeli sisters and this is not our fault. Blame the despotic, theocratic regimes that are in place. In this part of the world, girls are married off before they reach puberty or are killed because they have ‘dishonoured” their families. In this part of the world, women do not have the right to own property, vote, get an education or even drive. Gender Apartheid is rife and the unprecedented rise of Daesh (ISIS) with their deathly brand of medieval barbarism is sending women’s rights back to the stone-age.

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Golda Meir z”l, first female Prime Minister of Israel

There are so many women’s rights abuse transgressions around the world and particularly in the Middle East and the United Nations is silent.  The Palestinian women in Yarmouk refugee camp who are devastated at the starvation of their children, the Yazidi women being raped and slaughtered, the Christian women being persecuted, the Syrian women who have been subject to civil war are in need of your outrage and help.

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Ada Yonath, Nobel Prize Winner

Stop pointing your finger at Israel and use your considerable platform to give a voice to our suffering sisters.  Help those women who you accuse us of discriminating against. They are far more deserving of your attention than we are.

Kind regards

This concerned Israeli woman.

Is this what we fought for?

On the 21st of March, South Africans commemorated Human Rights day. In the post-Apartheid era, this day has been set aside to reflect on South Africa’s painful and racist past. It is a day of remembrance for the many that fought valiantly, some even paying the ultimate price so that all South Africans could live free and equal and no longer discriminated against.

But racism is raising its ugly head once again in the Rainbow Nation.

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Cartoon courtesy of RAFO

Over the past year, anti-Semitism has risen to alarming levels around the world and South Africa seems to have caught this dangerous virus. While anti-Semitism doesn’t manifest its nastiness in the same format as we have seen in Europe which is classified as more “traditional” but it is no less nefarious. At least in Europe, governments are expressing outrage and vowing to crack down on protagonists. In South Africa the silence is deafening.

If we were looking at who the main culprits are, we would have to look no further than BDS South Africa. Not content with spewing their ridiculous calls for boycotts, divestment and sanctions, over the last year this band of hoodlums have gone as far to chant “shoot the Jew” at a concert given by an Israeli artist, embark on a campaign of thuggery against the popular chain Woolworths over the miniscule amount of produce they import from Israel and intimidate and threaten students on university campuses, especially during their annual hate festival, Israel Apartheid Week. Who can forget the infamous pigs-head incident and twits who tweet nasty?

Several weeks ago, the Belligerent, Destructive and Stupid, demonstrated outside the venue where the South African Zionist Federation were hosting their conference. Screaming invective such as “You think this is Israel, we will kill you” and “You Jews do not belong in South Africa”, BDS and their supporters proved once again that their motivation is not concern for Palestinian Human Rights but rather a hatred and intolerance for Jews. Palestinian human rights activist, Basseim Eid, who was part of a delegation to combat the crazy on campus was verbally and physically assaulted and had to be escorted to safety by security.

Woolworths again felt the wrath of the BDS supporters a few weeks ago when 21 youths between the ages of 16-18 descended on a branch in Pretoria armed with bricks and sharp objects. Chanting “Israel is the devil” they proceeded to loot and damage the store. “I was terrified, these kids were up in arms and ready for war” said one eye-witness. They left behind their evidence –  BDS pamphlets – perhaps spending more time studying and less time looting would make for smarter criminal tactics!

It seems that university campuses around the world are the prime hotbed of anti-Israeli activity and students at the University of Cape Town were shocked to the core to see pamphlets of Hitler and swastikas pasted to column s around school. While the intention was not specifically aimed at Jews but rather in protest against a statue of Cecil John Rodes, a British colonialist, the trauma and distress it caused the Jewish students cannot be ignored. This is an especially sensitive issue as hot off the heels of the visit by arch terrorist, Leila Khaled, whose claim to fame is airline hijacking, the Durban University of Technology called for the expulsion of Jewish students who do not support the Palestinian cause. Thank goodness that the Vice Chancellor issued an outright condemnation.

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Pamphlets pasted on University of Cape Town Campus

The most recent cause for alarm was the verbal and physical assault of three kippa wearing teenage boys who went to watch a movie at popular Johannesburg mall, “The Zone”. They were accosted by three males who called them “f**ing Jews” and “Your f**ing people are killing our innocent children” and punched one of the teens.  Security footage has been obtained and charges have been filed. The community has responded with a call for everyone to show solidarity and stand up against racism by appealing that as many as possible come to The Zone wearing a kippa or a hat and going to see a movie. The event was held this past Saturday to tremendous response. Now that’s what I call a yarmy army!

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The Yarmy Army wants your support! Image courtesy of Spotlighting

South Africa is of great strategic importance. Often dismissed because relations between Jerusalem and Pretoria are strained, South Africa was the host country of the UN Conference against Racism which birthed BDS and their merry band of morons. South Africa is also the birthplace and final resting place of Apartheid which forms the central charge that Israel’s detractors level against the Jewish state to question her right to exist. Whatever happens in South Africa is seen as the benchmark by which we measure racism. Dismiss this at our peril!

I grew up in South Africa and although I no longer live there, choosing instead to make Israel my home, my love and connection for the Jewish community remain strong and deep. This is a community, who has a strong Jewish and Zionist identity and is cohesive and strong have contributed well above their weight to the country. With a noble and proud history of activism, both against the repugnant Apartheid system and in love of our beloved State of Israel, South African Jewry can stand tall and strong.  It is very distressing to see what is happening and I cannot help but cry for the beloved country. Being so far away makes me feel so helpless but at the same time I look at the tremendous courage and defiance shown by the community and their supporters and feel a huge sense of pride. You rock your strong, proudly South African and Zionist selves!

Why are so many glomming on to anti-Semitic rhetoric or following BDS like blind sheep? Is it a latent hatred or are they feeling so disheartened and let down by economic conditions that the world’s most convenient stereotype of blame, the Jews, are the target of their rage? Many of the protesters bussed in to these rallies have no idea why they are there but there is a fair contingent who are drunk and delirious with hatred.

The fathers of modern democratic South Africa, Sisulu, Thambo and Mandela would be heartbroken to see how a community that they had much love and affinity for being subjected to such nastiness. I cannot help but think that they would ask the question “is this what we fought so hard for? “

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Nelson Rolihlala Mandela – father of modern democratic South Africa

Growing up Apartheid

This blog post is currently posted in the Times of Israel: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/growing-up-apartheid/

To whom much is given, much is expected.  I have been extremely privileged both in my career and as an Olah to not only have the benefits afforded new Olim but also the opportunities to understand the country from a perspective that not many get to see through leadership programs and experiences. It is in this light that I feel it imperative to speak up about what it was like to grow up in the Apartheid era. The word Apartheid is very emotive and provocative. It is being used by the anti-Israel camp to call into question Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign state and this is supported by the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) campaign and its annual hate fest that takes place in March across university campuses around the world known as Israel Apartheid Week. By painting Israel as a pariah state in the same colours as Apartheid South Africa it seems logical that the Jewish state should receive the same treatment, right? 428131_10200223406282416_1658920060_n Wrong. Israel is not a perfect country and I would challenge anyone to find a country that is.  Racism certainly rears its ugly head in Israel just as it does in every country in the world but it certainly is NOT an Apartheid state. The singling out of the Jewish state at the expense of other countries that do have discriminatory laws not only insults the profound suffering of South Africa’s victims of Apartheid but also exposes the true nature of those who subscribe to this rationale – anti-Semitism.

The Apartheid years were deeply painful for South Africans. For many of us they are hard to talk about.  Many of us feel ashamed that we benefitted at the expense of our fellow citizens who were discriminated against and treated like they were second class. Many of us feel ashamed because we did not do enough to fight the system. I feel a responsibility to speak out about what it was like to live in Apartheid South Africa, not only to give voice to those who suffered and whose experience has been hijacked as part of a racist campaign against another nation but also for Israel, the country that has given me a lot of opportunity and is the target of such derision. I have always been a curious, politically aware person and was no different as a child. I started to ask uncomfortable questions about what I was observing around me, much to the concern of my teachers and parents. Asking too much could get you or them into real trouble! I had an idyllic childhood, living in the very liberal suburb of Yeoville in Johannesburg, in the hub of Jewish life. I also lived opposite a park and this provided me with endless opportunities for fun and observation. The same could not be said for my peers of the same age who were not white. 947342_10200223407282441_1755704238_n Children were taken to play in the park by their “nannies” (black domestic workers) who kept a careful eye on their charges. I remember asking my mother why nannies sat on the grass all the time. Didn’t they like the benches? My mother tried to explain to my childish curiosity that nannies were not allowed to sit on the benches. Or go to the same ablution facilities. I could not comprehend this. Why? What had they done that was so wrong? When I was about eight years old I made friends with Minnie. Minnie’s mother was a domestic worker and she went to school in the rural areas of the country. She was not afforded the level of education I was, being subjected to the “Bantu education laws” which ensured that South Africa’s black citizens received an inferior education. Fully equipped classrooms with text books, individual desks, electricity and extra mural sports and activities were not afforded to my peers who were not white. During the school vacations, Minnie came to stay with her mother, in her tiny room at the top of an apartment building which was where domestic workers stayed.

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I remember being warned by Enoch the doorman that being friends with Minnie could get me into serious trouble.  It wasn’t enough that Minnie couldn’t swim in the public swimming pool or come to ballet class or get the same education I did, the friendship between two little girls, barely in double digits was considered a liability. This was South Africa under Apartheid. There was no freedom of the press , no freedom of movement. It was regime where multi-racial friendships were viewed as suspicious and where grown men and women were robbed of their dignity and discriminated against. It was a regime where men and women caught without their “pass” (identity) documents or out after their curfew were rounded up by heavily armoured police vehicles. There was no freedom of association and the laws of Apartheid not only robbed non-white citizens of their civil liberties but governed every aspect of life from sexual relations to education, to ablution facilities. There was no aspect of life for a non-white citizen that was not governed by the racist Apartheid laws. Democracy was a concept only enjoyed by the minority as only white people could vote.

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Then one day Minnie stopped coming to the park during vacations. I will never know the reasons why, perhaps her mother found a new job.  I joined a Zionist youth movement and we were taught to ask questions. Our social consciousness was raised.  We started to speak out against the system. On the 17th of March 1992 a national referendum was held, calling for an end to Apartheid. South Africans voted in their numbers to finally end this hateful, racist regime. Many of the Israel detractors fail to understand that the South African solution is not one size fits all. South Africans wanted to join together while Palestinians and Israelis each have their own national aspirations. To try and enforce the South African solution on us is patronizing and belittling to both sides. The 27th of April 1994 was a profoundly emotional day. South Africans from all walks of life stood in endless lines to cast their votes. This was my first time voting and I stood in line with Johanna, our domestic worker, who couldn’t believe that finally she could vote. We both cried. I remember visuals of the elderly in rural areas, brought to polling stations in wheelbarrows, so excited they were to finally see the birth of a democratic South Africa. The post-Apartheid road has been a long and arduous one, fraught with complexities. South Africans tried to bring healing with the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation commission where both sides could express pain or remorse. Perhaps there will come a day when Palestinians and Israelis can have their own truth and reconciliation process. It is painful but to hear each other’s experiences and acknowledge mutual pain may bring much needed healing. Israel is a vibrant and flawed democracy but is most certainly NOT an Apartheid state. Our detractors have stolen this from the victims of Apartheid – it is time we honour them by taking it back.

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I call myself Zionist

This article currently appears in the WIZO Review:

file:///C:/Users/rolene/Downloads/WIZO_REVIEW_336.pdf

Maligned and misunderstood, emotive and provocative, the word Zionism is guaranteed to elicit very strong reactions when mentioned.

In the years since its inception and the forming of the first World Zionist Congress in Basle, Switzerland in 1897, Zionism has been reinvented, reinterpreted and robust discussion has taken place over the merits and relevance of Zionism in today’s fast changing world.

The dream of a State of Israel for the Jewish people has been realized and many have debated whether or not Zionism is still relevant in our daily lives.

The most basic definition of Zionism is the yearning of the Jewish people to return to their ancient ancestral homeland, Israel. In the years that have passed since the birth of the State of Israel it would seem that Zionism is the only national liberation movement of a people that is derided and questioned.

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Legendary civil rights leader and supporter of Zionism, Rev Dr Martin Luther King

In 1975, the United Nations passed a resolution equating Zionism with racism. Even though this resolution was revoked in 1991, the damage was done. The seed was planted and the foundation was laid to portray Israel as a pariah state, equal to that of Apartheid South Africa. It became legitimate in public discourse to call Israel an Apartheid state and this really gained momentum in 2001 with the UN Conference on Racism held in Durban, South Africa.

It was here that the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) really exploded in to the international consciousness. BDS activists knew that the irony and symbolism of launching at such a conference in South Africa, the home of Apartheid would give their movement the impetus they desired. Israel and the Jewish world were rudely awakened by the sophisticated organization of this campaign that included some of the worst invective since pre-war Germany and saw the birth of the international hate fest known as Israel Apartheid Week that takes place on university campuses around the world during March every year. The new anti-Semitism is wrapped up in the cloak of anti-Zionism and the central charge is Israel is an Apartheid state which must be dismantled at all costs.

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Billboards in Johannesburg, South Africa contain quotes from Nelson Mandela on Zionism

In 2014, Israel launched Operation Protective Edge in response to the barrage of rockets launched at her citizens from Gaza. Instead of empathizing with Israel’s citizens who were running to their shelters several times a day, Israel’s detractors used this as an opportunity to release some of the worst venom that sometimes culminated in violent acts against Jewish communities in their countries, giving rise to a tsunami of anti-Semitic hatred. From France to Germany, USA to South Africa, Jewish communities became targets in synagogues, schools, restaurants and across various social media platforms.

For the first time since 1945, the cry of “Jews to the gas” or ‘Jews, Hitler should have finished the job” became the rally call of the haters. Their methods are quite transparent. They wrap their “concern” for Palestinian human rights in condemnation of Israel and her Diaspora communities but it is apparent that if they cared about these rights their anger would be directed at Hamas.

It all sounds bleak and very threatening so how do we deal with threats to our identity in an increasingly hostile world?

It is my belief that if we do not stand for something, we will fall for anything. In the modern social media savvy world we too have access to all the platforms that our detractors do. We too are protected by constitutions and laws in various countries. We too, have a voice.

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WIZO protests the invitation of terrorist hijacker, Leila Khaled to South Africa by BDS

And it is a voice that deserves to be heard. We need to be heard. At every opportunity and on every platform we can. We as WIZO women, who proudly carry the word Zionism in our name are duty bound to take up this call and educate those in our Federations and communities. We need to know what the facts are, we need to be armed with the truth and we need to have courage in the face of all this to stand up for ourselves.

The best way to answer those who call for our destruction, question our legitimacy as a nation or brand us as racists is to be proud of who we are and be strong in our identity. Telling the Jewish people that they have no right to organize themselves politically and call it Zionism is racism. Telling the Jewish people that they have no right to an identity or to sit at the table with the rest of the family of nations is racism.

We are living in a time when people are fearful and this is understandable. Organisations like WIZO can help prepare and strengthen our communities. We are called to duty and to arms – armed with the truth.

This is why it is important to be armed with facts.  We cannot abdicate responsibility anymore by saying it is the work of the government or politicians. We are all responsible for each other.

As WIZO women we have the privilege of leading the charge. Not only are we grooming future leaders but we are educating our global community. Wearing our identity proudly and unapologetically in our name, we WIZO Wonder Women continue to live up to our tenet we care, we share and we dare.

Let us heed the call to arms. Let facts, truth and pride be our weapons of choice.

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Je Suis Juif. I am a Jew. 

A WIZO Woman’s right to choose

This blog currently appears in the Time of Israel:

http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/a-wizo-womans-right-to-choose/

For over 90 years, the Women’s Zionist Organisation (WIZO) has been a pioneering movement. At a time when women were not allowed to be part of the organized Zionist movement a group of feisty ladies decided that if we could not join them, we would start one of our own. And so WIZO was born. Since its inception, WIZO has been all about empowering women. We have empowered women to be suffragettes because women deserved the right to vote. Don’t we also deserve the right of choice? We hold consultative status at the United Nations on UNICEF and ECOSOC, no small feat for a Zionist organization, we hold leadership positions in major Jewish organisations and we have empowered women from minority communities, many of them victims of domestic violence to be leaders. We have created leaders, entrepreneurs and trailblazers of women’s rights.  This is in addition to the tremendous work we do to improve the lives of women and children in Israel.

WIZO is all about empowerment, including the right to make informed choices, including on issues of sexuality.

It would appear that there are some that have gotten their knickers in a knot over the screening of the movie “50 Shades of Grey” as part of a WIZO fundraiser. As WIZO women we defend your choice to see the movie. Or not.

This is a worldwide event and is happening at the request of our WIZO Aviv’s who have recognized that the movie, predicted to break box office records, will attract our target membership who are more than happy to show their support for our work while enjoying a highly anticipated chick flick. It is hardly a trip to the local strip joint or purveyor of porn. Tickets to these global fundraisers are sold out and have attracted women from all sectors of society.

If the sexual proclivities of Christian Grey are not your thing, you have a choice not to see the movie. To try and tarnish the reputation of a premier woman’s movement who does outstanding work by going to the press to create controversy is mean spirited. I assume that those casting disparity have read the books. They will also know that any sex that takes place between the characters is consensual and by a fictitious character who makes her own choices and does not propagate or endorse violence against women. The women who choose to see the movie know exactly what it is about.

As WIZO women we respect the rights of our sisters to make choices that suit their individual needs, be they religious, political, intellectual or even sexual. It is a sad day when the same respect is not afforded to us.

I agree with Laurienne Baitz, World WIZO AVIV representative. At a time when women are being persecuted in countries where they cannot show their faces, vote, own property or even drive a car, is a fundraiser based around a sexy movie really the issue we should be talking about?

Let us respect a WIZO Woman’s right to choose.

Rolene Marks

Deputy Chairperson: Organisation and Tourism Division

World WIZO