The Change Started from Within

In the past Idit Segev from Alon Hagalil was a clerk in an insurance agency, and then a gift shop owner. After studying in the United States she returned to Israel with a new agenda: social action. Her project list includes feminine empowerment, renewed Judaism, a Gay Place in the Valley and a bicycle repair workshop for boarding school students. Now, after gaining recognition in the Jezreel Valley she dreams of the day when the regional council will establish a department of social action.

Racheli Avidov,
by Sharon Zur

For years, Idit Segev was a clerk in an insurance agency and owner of a shop selling gifts and decorative objects. Now, at 50, when looking back on her biography and particularly the present time, filled with social and community action in so many fields, those details seem to belong to another life. If one has to determine the beginning of the transformation in which the new Idit was born, Segev acknowledges the family trip to Boston in 2000 as the turning point. She was almost 40 then. "A month after we arrived, I bought an art magazine in which I saw a double spread that listed all the art schools in the region. I saw a degree in art administration, and although I didn't really have a clue what it was, I knew that was my destiny," she recalls.

  That sudden spark of inspiration led to studies that lasted two years, in which she was exposed to a huge number of social and art projects, conducted by caring entrepreneurs within the community."It excited me, made me curious and aroused in me a great craving. In the course of my studies a realization grew in me that I would not return to Israel just to open another business but to become part of the Third Sector."  

"The walls can take anything"

Segev returned to Israel with a huge question mark looming over her future path. She started attending open art lectures at the Oranim College. One of the lectures was given by the curator of the Ein Harod Museum of Art, Galia Bar Or, who had succeeded in turning this small northern museum into one of the most important and influential art institutions in Israel. One of the times Segev visited the museum, she noticed Bar Or preparing a new exhibit and asked her in a trembling voice: "I'd like to work at the museum." Bar Or told Segev that the museum didn't have a budget for that, but also threw her some bait that changed everything: "She told me that nothing much happens at the museum besides exhibits and said: " I will gladly accept anything you want to do here. The walls can take anything, and paintings are never insulted..." I felt like someone facing enormous doors, and one of them is unlocked for me, and yet I have no idea what to do."

  After spending several hours deep in thought, Segev decided to produce an event for women at the museum that would revolve around International Women's Day. "I spoke to my close friends and asked them to help me find interesting women speakers for a morning meeting on International Women's Day. I began to meet all sorts of women and became more and more enthusiastic. I realized that one single session would not be enough, and as the date approached I called all my friends, sisters-in-law and women I knew and told them they had to come. There were 35 women there that morning. We had a lovely meeting with interesting women speakers, and all the participants came out of it excited and exuberant," says Segev. "I didn't know then exactly what I was doing but later it dawned on me: this was an example of feminine empowerment, based upon personal stories. This subject is well known, studied and researched in every gender study program - when two women meet, they know everything about one another within five minutes and bring corroborating stories from other women. These stories are like cornerstones that hold up a whole building."  

Following that first successful meeting, Segev initiated regular monthly encounters based on three key foundations: art - usually involving a tour of an exhibit at the Ein Harod museum or at the gallery of the Memorial Center in Tivon, thus making the language of art more accessible for women; empowerment through personal stories; and increased exposure to original feminine material. "We watch women's movies and read texts, poetry and prose written by women." For Segev, this is a true feminist agenda: "I feel the world we live in is extremely chauvinistic. There's not enough exposure to women's material. I see it in the media, at professional conferences and workplaces. Women remain a minority, just a decorative adornment."  

Galia Bar Or, curator and manager of the Ein Harod Museum of Art, is very satisfied in retrospect when recalling that first meeting with Segev when it all began: "Idit Segev knows how to identify what everyone else sees; but she can see, beyond the flowery words, the spark that exists, the unique, humane and exciting things," she describes warmly. "She succeeds, with her direct and rich personality, in engaging circles upon circles of women and connecting them with action bubbling beneath the surface.  

"The emphasis is always on women who never gave up, who realized their dream and contributed to those around them. Every eventful day produced by Idit at the museum is a work of art in and of itself. It's such a great privilege for me that she found a channel to operate in at the museum and that she is part of my life."  

Empowerment on Wheels

Ever since that initial session, Segev's monthly encounters gained acclaim in the valley and beyond. They are attended by 50 to 60 women on average, and sometimes the number even reaches 100. Discussion issues are diverse and Segev believes in them completely: "We've had meetings on infertility, refugees, the melting pot, Ethiopian women, feminine heroism, and entrapped women in distress. The basic principles are always upheld: each time we host women who share a moving, empowering life story, there is also exposure to an appropriate exhibit and an encounter with original cultural material produced by women."

  The women's encounters have formed a network of connections and links. One of the participants in the meetings brought Segev to the Nigun Halev congregation in Moshav Nahalal, the first of its kind in Israel, established by people from Oranim College. The congregation advocates renewing Jewish tradition without belonging to a particular religious movement or affiliation. The members hold ceremonies and events in the spirit of a new Judaism; they engage in social justice and organize study meetings revolving around Jewish holidays. For six years Segev managed the congregation. The members say that Idit Segev, the social activist, did wonders for the congregation, which thrived and reflected her own beliefs and values: "This congregation is one of the most moving and important phenomena in the valley and the entire country. Nowadays, this model is being reproduced throughout the country and more and more such communities are being formed that deal with Judaism from a feminist, egalitarian and open perspective, with no link to the orthodox religious establishment - there are even two women rabbis in the Nigun Halev congregation," notes Segev.

With Nigun Halev, she initiated a unique social project: the "Kol Galgal" workshop - the "Bicycle from Hand to Hand" event that began as a one-time happening uniting congregation members and teenagers from the Nahalal Agricultural School was designed to collect, repair and restore bicycles for children in Afula. The event was an overwhelming success - dozens of bikes were repaired, cleaned, painted and then donated to the Parent-Child Center in Afula.

  Segev and the congregation knew they could not stop this music. They applied to the agricultural school requesting the use of one of the rundown, ramshackle buildings. For over a year they toiled, renovating and making it usable and for the past few years it has served as a bicycle workshop where people meet, work, contribute and also ride bikes with teenagers from the boarding school. "The idea of empowering teens through bikes, team work, meeting and talking to them as adults may sound easy, but it derived from an infinite number of late night meetings and a commitment to be there, doing social action."   Then Segev also initiated community fund raisers and special annual events dedicated to Hebrew poetry, each focusing on a different poet. This past Shavuot, at the Milk and Honey Festival, one could see her very impressive organizational strength and initiative. "While other shows in the valley suffered from poor attendance or were canceled, our event, a production based on Nigun Halev members' dedicated local talents and on the life story of Hebrew poet Abraham Shlonsky, enjoyed an audience of over 500," she says proudly.

She has a dream

  Another women's encounter organized by Segev connected her with Corinne Shavit who established the Gay Place in the Jezreel Valley, a brand new kind of local organization for gay youths. The bond formed between Segev and Shavit was instantaneous and Segev was one of the first to join the project. "Corinne told me her story and I decided to join her project and support it from a place of social entrepreneurship and programming," explains Segev.  

Recently, Segev also created a beautiful website that displays all the social projects in which she plays a part, for women's contents and a challenging appeal for more action, entitled "What's your project?" At a time when all social action is usually accompanied by a well-oiled public relations campaign and clear commercial objectives, Segev brings a new agenda free of cynicism: "I claim that we have to provide support, encouragement and aid for personal and social initiatives, since true change is generated in these grass root organizations - they grow from the field, from the bottom up; out of the need itself, out of distress and a lack, created and driven by people who decide to stand up and do something rather than just stand by and watch. That is the absolute essence of community-building."  

Segev is very familiar with the gap between the will to act and the ability to do so: "There is a huge gap between will and knowing how to do it," she explains, "and this is precisely where I come in." But despite the abundance of activities, professionalism, dedication and proven ability, Segev is aware now that it's hard to make a living from social action; and beyond that, she even lacks a tangible building that will house these projects and run ahead with them.  

"You know what my dream is?" she asks, a moment before she goes off to a gala event at the Gay Place in the Valley which she helped to establish, "I dream that Jezreel Valley Regional Council will create a department called the Social Action Department. I want to head it. I dream this department will address any and all social projects initiated by valley citizens, that it will have budgets like the ones allocated to culture and welfare and will be able to honor and support any social project that originates in the field," Segev voices her fantasies. "I know that any community a person belongs to enriches his world and gives him so much. In my view, part of the New Zionism is not only politics but exerting influence from the field; but the field can't survive without support. A Gay Place in the Valley shouldn't have to beg for support; the Nigun Halev congregation still can't find a permanent building and there are other examples too. The valley enjoys voluntary work at a volume and scope that are worth a fortune of money, and someone should show these amazing volunteers the appreciation they deserve."  

The Jezreel Valley Regional Council responded: "The council has many departments engaged in various types of social action, and invests a great deal of resources in social and community issues. We invite anyone with social projects to apply to the appropriate department."
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כתובת מייל:
לשליחת טלגרמה
‏אני קוראת את הכתבה בהשתאות, כל פעם משתגעת ממך מחדש. אני זוכרת את יום השישי ההוא שהייתי בדרכי לעפולה החמה והמיוזעת, עם רשימת סידורים משעממת....כששוצשן צלצלה לנייד שלי, והכריחה אותי(בדרכה המיוחדת) לחזור על עקבותי, ולהכנס ישר למפגש במשכן, קטן, אינטימי , נשים בלבד, בשתי שורות ארוכות וצרות של כסאות , עם שביל צר ביניהם - בספריה של המשכן. שם הכל התחיל בשבילי,מתוך השקט והצניעות התנפלה על כולנו ההפתעה המדהימה הזו שקוראים לה עדית שגב, ומפגשי "הפריחה" שלה. שטפון של התרגשויות ממפגשי ספור, שמחה ועצב ומחשבות רבות ארגו את השטיח הנפלא הזה שממשיך להיארג ולהתגלגל, ולהפתיע בכל פעם מחדש, וכולנו טובלות בו בהנאה מושלמת- נפגשות, טועמות, מקשיבות בעיניים גדולות. לא שבעות. הייתי חוזרת שוב לקסמו של כל מפגש, לדיבור, לשיר, לסרט, להרהורים, לצחוק, לסחף הרגשות. מ ק ס י ם , ממלא, עם טעם של עוד, עם מקור של כוח ואהבה. עדיתי ת ב ו ר כ י , את אחת ויחידה . כמה מלא הטנא שלך, וכמה יפה שאת מחלקת ממנו בנדיבות - את כשרונותיך, את הלבטים, את השמחות, והנחת וההתרגשות מהחיים סביבך. כל כך פשוט להרים אבן קטנה, להביט בה ולהבין שזה לא מובן מאליו , לראות שהיא שייכת לעוד המון קטנות סביבה שבונות את הבית והמרחב, ולבנות איתה המון מגדלים, לראות שזה אפשרי ולא לפחד מהקשיים. להתחיל מלמטה, לא פעם ולא פעמיים - שהרי בית זה גם שורש וגם שמיים. נשיקות ונתראה מחר.ציפי ‏ציפי בנציון ‏@ 26 Jun 2012 21:58
‏ממש מעלפת!! גם את וגם הכתבה! שמחה לראות שאת הופכת לסלב בזמן שאני נעדרת.. נשיקות וגעגועים מסין הרחוקה! ‏גל (בתך הבכורה) ‏@ 21 Jun 2012 16:50
‏יקרה שלי, איזה כיף לקום בבוקר ולשתות כוס קפה עם הכתבה היפה הזו עלייך... שמחתי לגלות כמה דברים חשובים שלא ידעתי עלייך. הכתבה יפה ואת יפה ואני אוהבת אותך! ‏עידן רוטנברג ‏@ 21 Jun 2012 07:01