After being abandoned by her husband at age 24, with three children, and left as an outcast in the Ultra-Orthodox community, Fainy Sukenik began the religious divorce process, renowned in Israel for its complexity and problematic approach to women. Simultaneously, she began participating in WIZO's Women's Leadership Program in 2013-2014 and established "Ba'asher Telchi," a non-profit organization that has already provided support for religious Jewish women in the process of divorce, including pro-bono legal advice, moral support, loans and scholarships, education and more.Now, ten years after the moment of crisis that inspired her struggle, Fainy and her activism are being recognized on a major scale – she was chosen to light at torch at Israel's official 2016 Independence Day ceremony on Mount Herzl, considered a great honor in Israel.
The idea behind "Ba'asher Telchi," was born due to the difficulties of Fainy's own divorce. "During my long, complex and torturous divorce process, I had many breaking-points. There were exhausting debates, lies, gossip, ignorance and aggressiveness. I had expected something else: an embrace, understanding, tolerance and sensitivity. Put more simply, I was looking for support."
"I discovered that there's no address for a women in my position, nobody to turn to, no door to knock on and no number to call for advice." Today, the group also battles to raise awareness and sensitivity to women's issues in the Ultra-Orthodox community and lobbies the Israeli government for more supportive regulation.
While having earned several academic degrees and garnered extensive professional educational experience, Fainy's 2014 experience in the WIZO Women's Leadership Program was invaluable to her success. The next year, Fainy joined WIZO's Greenhouse Program for Social Initiatives.
The Greenhouse for Social Initiatives is a program for women entrepreneurs from all walks of Israeli life. The goal of the program is to found and develop social-activism initiatives and provide the women in the program with the tools needed to have an influence on the societal agenda in Israel. The program combines workshops and applied learning and training in the field of social entrepreneurship. In addition, participants receive personal mentorship. Meetings and workshops deal with, among many other subjects, models for social projects and businesses, potential collaborations, fundraising, marketing, branding, social media strategy, creative thinking and building a business plan.
This initiative represents WIZO's vision and belief in supporting social and financial activism among women. WIZO, as Israel's leading women's organization,is eager to promote new female talents and leaders in the field, who will hopefully develop their own socially-conscious projects and companies advancing the status of women and children in Israel.
"I came to the WIZO greenhouse program with a dream, recalls Fainy."I told the acceptance committee, 'I want to create an aid organization for women like me from my community, with all of the difficulty implied in that. I know it won't be easy but it's high time that somebody does this.' The committee believed in me and I was accepted. The program constantly inspired me and supported me during difficult moments, both organizational and personal. I found true friends who were ready to help me establish my organization. WIZO understood that it wasn't enough to speak about discrimination against Ultra-Orthodox women, that the time had come to help these women – but in an appropriate way. WIZO listened, were ready to learn and did all it could to help me. I don't know what my organization would look like if not for WIZO's support. I hope that WIZO and I will share many more years of cooperation and social change, both in the secular and religious communities - at the end of the day we're all sisters."
On International Women's Day 2016, Fainy accepted WIZO Chairperson Prof. Rivka Lazovsky's invitation to attend a meeting of the WIZO executive committee, having just received recognition from the Israeli Knesset's Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality, under the leadership of MK Aida Touma-Suleiman, for their individual achievements in advancing the status of women in Israel. Prof. Rivka Lazovsky, Chairperson of World WIZO, commented on Fainy and her work, "Fainy's story is a perfect example of WIZO's work, which directly affects Israeli society, through its hundreds of projects across the country, as well as indirectly, thanks to women leaders who develop social initiatives with WIZO's help. It's for these moments that WIZO chaverot work so hard, in Israel and abroad. We are ourselves empowered when we empower others. Honoring and recognizing Fainy by including her in the Independence Day ceremony publicly announces something that WIZO has known for years: strengthening Israeli women will make the entire State of Israel stronger as well!"
"I thank God for for helping me create change with my own two hands," exclaims Fainy, humbly relishing her Independence Day honor. "Today I am trying to show everyone that things can be different."