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Will Rivka Ravitz Break the Glass Ceiling of Ultra-Orthodox Politics in Israel?

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18.07.2021

Rivka Ravitz visits Qasr al-Yahud in the West Bank in 2018 as she manages then-Israeli President Reuven Rivlin’s program to restore the Land of the Monasteries—a project approved by the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, Egypt, and the pope. Courtesy of Rivka Ravitz

Rivka Ravitz visits Qasr al-Yahud in the West Bank in 2018 as she manages then-Israeli President Reuven Rivlin’s program to restore the Land of the Monasteries—a project approved by the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, Egypt, and the pope. Courtesy of Rivka Ravitz

One evening in 2001, on a dusty hilltop in the West Bank Orthodox settlement of Beitar Illit, Rivka Ravitz was bathing her children. She was a 25-year-old mother of four at the time—and the chief of staff for Likud party Knesset member Reuven Rivlin.

Her phone rang—Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was on the line.

During a visit with Rivlin (left) at the White House in Washington on June 28, U.S. President Joe Biden kneels before Ravitz in admiration after learning she is the mother of 12. Haim Zach/Israeli Government Press Office via the Associated Press

“Where is Ruvi [Rivlin]?” Sharon asked.

“Ruvi is in the middle of something,” she said, holding a child steady with one hand, propping the phone on her shoulder with the other.

“Ah, Rivkeleh! How are you? Tell him that I need him.”

Sharon, it turned out, would eventually reach out to his longtime friend to inform him of his decision to disengage from Gaza—a move that would cause Rivlin to step down from his position as Israel’s communications minister at the time and later cast a vote against his friend’s decision.

“I saw leaders up close, their fears, their fights,” she reflected years later. “It was hard to watch it upfront.”

For the last 20 years, this was Ravitz’s life: serving as chief of staff to a leading politician, and then president of Israel, observing some of Israel’s most historic moments in recent decades, emerging as a prominent back-room player in Israeli politics—all while raising 12 children at home.

I met Ravitz, now 45, in June at the Loews Regency New York Hotel, where she was rushing around, waving at Israeli secret service agents, her phone glued to her hand. She was in the United States to accompany Rivlin on his final official trip as his term as president came to a close. At the White House on June 28, President Joe Biden kneeled in front of her, allegedly after hearing that she was a mother of 12.

Ravitz accompanies Rivlin and Britain’s Prince William (left) at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem in June 2018. Mark Neyman/Israeli Government Press Office

Over the years, Ravitz has wielded power behind the scenes—but now, she is stepping into the limelight.

Her shoulder-length dark brown wig, or sheitel, common among married Orthodox women as a head covering, and uniform of long, dark skirts are unusual for such a high-powered position—and her home life is far from typical, too.

Ravitz is a member of Israel’s rapidly growing Haredi community, which makes up around 12 percent of Israel’s population and doubles itself every 16 years, growing at double the rate of the rest of the country. Haredi children make up a quarter of students in Israel’s elementary schools today. And while Israeli Orthodox women tend to work at an even higher rate than their secular Israeli counterparts—a trend that is changing the community—Ravitz was a trailblazer, having entered politics at a time when no........

© Foreign Policy


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