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Widows in Israel (2:56) Excerpt from film "Pickles, Inc." August 2005
Women who have been widowed in Northern Israel must overcome societal expectations to enter the workforce.

Country: Israel
Related Lesson Plan:
  • Women Wanting to Work

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    Guiding Questions
    1. How are these widows challenging tradition?

    2. What does the narrator mean in saying, "The widows became unlikely revolutionaries overnight"?

    3. Is what the widows are doing 'wrong'? Explain your position.

    Background Essay
    "If a woman's husband dies, does it mean that she has to die too?" Arab women who have been widowed in Northern Israel must challenge societal expectations in order to enter the workforce. Through the creation of a small female-run business, Fatma Nator and her partners have become unlikely revolutionaries.

    Arab women living in Israel face many challenges living under the patriarchal values and social customs of traditional Islam. Though theologians argue that the Qur'an does not establish the superiority of men over women, patriarchal customs often predominate in many Arab societies. There can be a lot of social disapproval towards Arab women who want to enter the workplace. A woman's primary responsibility is usually interpreted as fulfilling her role as a wife and mother, whereas a man's role is to work and be able to financially support his wife and family. In many families, even the simple decision to allow a married woman to leave her house must be approved by her husband. Adding to this struggle is the fact that Muslim women often retain their household duties even if they do enter the workforce. Many Arab women find it difficult to balance their home responsibilities with a desire to find work outside the home, and may only be able to find the time for part-time employment.

    On top of social and familial obstacles, the tension between Jews and Arabs in Israel has intensified the adversity faced by Arab women. Mobility is severely restricted due to this ongoing conflict. Security concerns persuade many women to stay home. However, high rates of poverty and unemployment have forced Arab men living in Israel to make attitudinal changes. In the last three years, the number of working Arab women has increased. Many uneducated Arab women are turning to self-employment. Educated Arab female professionals are taking jobs even if it requires going out of town.

    The Wide Angle film PICKLES, INC. offers a portrait of a small-scale, all female business in Israel. Eight women, all widows, established a pickling plant using skills they all learned from their mothers. Keeping this costly venture solvent and coping with social opposition to a female-led business proved to be an extremely tough task. Being willing to break taboos, these widows became the most unlikely revolutionaries.

    Fatma Nator lives in northern Israel in the Galilee, in the Arab town of Tamra. Her husband's death six years ago left her coping with grief --- and much more.

    When someone is widowed, people watch her. Where she goes. What she does. They follow her. They want to control her. In our environment, it's really difficult.

    In this tight knit community, widows are expected to stay home and raise their families. The monthly social security allowance Israel provides is barely enough to live on.

    My late husband's family -- and my brothers -- would rather I stay at home, and not go to work. They wanted me to live just on social security, but I'm not listening to them?

    Sometimes I sit from six to nine at night near the stove and I just have nothing to do. If a woman's husband dies, does it mean that she has to die too? She should look after herself.

    Many came to me and asked me to marry them. They spoke with my father. But if I marry, my new husband wouldn't want me to bring my daughter with me. And then I'd have to leave her with the wives of my brothers and they'd treat her like their servant. And that's why I refused.

    This group of widows met at an entrepreneurship training program offered for women in Tamra by the Center for Jewish-Arab Economic Development, a private agency.

    None of them had ever worked outside the home and most had never finished grade school. But in February 2003, with several other widows, they made a bold move. The women decided to start up a business based on what they know and do best. But many of the challenges they would face were beyond their experience.

    Good morning!
    And good morning to you too!
    Good morning!
    Good morning!

    Bottling and selling pickled vegetables was Nator's idea. Like the other women of Tamra, she learned the secret recipe from her mother. The pickles, known as 'makabis' in Arabic and 'chamutzim' in Hebrew, are the ketchup and mustard of the middle east, and a daily staple in Israeli kitchens.

    But it's not every day that women in the Galilee become shareholders in a factory.

    The widows became unlikely revolutionaries almost overnight.

    Related Links
    Pickles, Inc. on PBS.org

    CIA World Factbook: Israel

    WomenWatch: Information and Resources on Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women

    Johns Hopkins University Center for Communication Programs: Arab Women Speak Out [PDF]

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