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Israeli Professor Shows the World: ‘This Is What a Feminist Looks Like’

(This photo that launched a million "likes" on Imgur, May 11, 2015)

The photo that launched a million “likes” on Imgur, May 11, 2015

The most famous feminist in Israel this week is Dr. Sydney Engelberg, a professor at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who shot to internet stardom after his photograph comforting a fussy baby while continuing to teach went viral.

In Israel, where students begin their university degrees at a later age than the rest of the world due to army service and the near-mandatory gap year of travel following, many students are married with children.

The photograph was first posted on Imgur three days ago (May 11, 2015), and has since been shared over a million times on that site alone. A re-post on the personal Facebook page of Engelberg's daughter has garnered 50,000 likes.

In Imgur's comments, user Cbarbz remarks:

I can't even begin to imagine how much that probably meant to her [the student mother] – knowing that someone valued her education and supported her that much.

EveryonesHiro adds:

Good for him for understanding how hard it is for her to be a student and a mother and that she's trying to better herself for her son.

The rapid spread of the story and the overwhelming positivity of the comments, rare for any article with “Israel” in its name, indicate that people are both connecting with it as a tale of human kindness and hungering for real life examples of feminism and support of the daily labor of women's lives. This image provides a rare taste of both within the construct of an institutional setting, revealing a glimpse into a world in which women's lives and responsibilities are organically supported by the community at large; an embodiment of the proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.”

As a grandfather of five and a professor of social psychology for 45 years, Dr. Engelberg told Yahoo! Parenting:

The reason is that education for me is not simply conveying content, but teaching values. How better than by role modeling?

As to how often babies attend his lecturers, he says:

It is certainly not uncommon, but I wouldn’t say it is the norm. It does seem to be much more acceptable in Israel, which is a very family oriented society and culture.

Jonathan Kaplan, vice provost of Hebrew University's Rothberg International School, explains that the university's policies are a reflection of Israeli values:

Israel is a very familial society, and it is not at all strange for young mothers to bring children to classes. Babies are often brought to weddings or formal occasions, and during school holidays it is not uncommon to see children running through the halls of office buildings or university departments.

On the Facebook page New Wave Feminists, women are discussing whether it is more woman-friendly to allow babies in class or if it is too distracting to the class as a whole. Kelly Smith writes:

I was pregnant in high school. [Had] to give a final speech in class. Climbing onto the stool in front of the room was a challenge. There was some whispering, I was embarrassed. The teacher simply offered to deliver if needed. Everyone laughed and calmed down. Best encouragement ever… No need to make a big deal, just be supportive and move on.

On the same thread, Judy Caldor Linderman concurs:

I had an English Prof that told me to let my 14 month old wander around the room. A great guy. That was almost 30 years ago when i was working on my second BS. Guess it paid off since that kid just finished his masters degree.

Prof. Rivka Carmi, M.D., President of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Photo credit: Dani Machlis

Prof. Rivka Carmi, M.D., President of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Photo credit: Dani Machlis

Hebrew University's child-friendly policies are not the only ones that deserve recognition. Prof. Rivka Carmi, M.D. is the first women to lead an Israeli university and the first to chair Israel's Committee of University Presidents. Upon taking the helm, President Carmi proclaimed one of her top missions was promoting gender equality in the university system, stating:

The whole system is really tailor-made for men. Women have different needs, different lifestyles, and different roles that are not being at all taken care of in the system.

Under President Carmi's leadership, Ben-Gurion University became the first Israeli university to open nursing rooms on campus for breastfeeding mothers, establish an on-site daycare facility (one of only three universities to do so), as well as take significant steps to make the Ivory Tower friendlier to women and families, including providing funds and establishing policies for women researchers to advance in the academy with an understanding of their family needs.

The Facebook page of the Israeli Student Union proves that Israeli professors are more child-friendly than most in the classroom, posting photographs from around the country of the babes of academe.

Among them are this baby being comforted in class by a yellow rubber duck (professor unidentified).

(Source: Israeli Student Union, Facebook)

Source: Israeli Student Union page, Facebook

This infant being cared for by her mother's professor in what appears to be a heavily female class. The photo is aptly labeled by one commenter, “Male multi-tasking.”

(Source: Israeli Student Union, Facebook)

Source: Israeli Student Union page, Facebook

And this photo shared by Hadass Arussi, where she explains:

מכללת בית ברל, המרצה שלי אורית גילור, לקחה את הבת שלי ל'גרעפס’ לאחר הנקה!
Beit Berl College, my instructor Orit Gilor took my daughter to burp her after nursing!
(Source: Hadass Arussi on Israeli Student Union page, Facebook)

Source: Hadass Arussi on Israeli Student Union page, Facebook

  • L. Finch

    I’m so happy you covered this story, Maya. Great work!

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