Throughout Israel70, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia is hosting a yearlong speaker series called Israeli Change Makers, social innovators from Israel who will share their insights on topics at the heart of contemporary cultural conversations. Join us at Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel on Wednesday, January 17th at 7:00 p.m. to hear the first in our Israeli Change Makers series, Amal Elsana Alh’jooj.

Nobel Peace Prize nominee and one of Israel’s most highly regarded civic activists, Amal Elsana Alh’jooj was born the fifth in a line of five girls — a potential catastrophe for their family’s standing within their traditional Bedouin community. Amal’s mother even worried that her husband would divorce her. But Amal’s father became an unexpected champion for his daughters in their highly patriarchal society. When Amal was 14 years old, and the village council decreed that girls couldn’t continue onward in school, her father registered his opposition. Amal grew up taking more and more initiative in her own life, until her mother fretted that no one would ever marry such a “crazy” girl.

“I didn’t choose to be an activist,” Amal says. Confined by gender inequalities and encouraged by her father’s support, she says she felt that “I had to act, as a woman, to change my own status in my own community.”

She began by teaching her mother how to read and write in Arabic and Hebrew. Soon, “all the women from my tribe came to my class; at 17, I found myself a community organizer and I set up the first Bedouin organization in Israel.” From there, Amal went on to earn a bachelor’s from Ben-Gurion University — where she was one of just two Bedouin students — and eventually, a master’s and a Ph.D. from McGill University.

Amal also established a non-profit dedicated to social change and Arab-Jewish partnership called the Arab-Jewish Center for Equality, Empowerment and Cooperation-the Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Development (AJEEC-NISPED). “We believe the cooperation between the Arab minority and the Jewish majority in Israel is not a choice, it’s a must,” Amal says of AJEEC-NISPED, which works to promote the sustainable development of prosperous and equal communities in Israel. Now, she serves as Executive Director of McGill’s International Community Action Network, an organization that advances the rights of at-risk populations in Israel, Palestine and Jordan.

In all her endeavors, cooperation is at the heart of Amal’s activism. “When we believe in ourselves and we believe in people, we can do it together,” she says, adding, “We have to choose to be part of the social change.

RSVP here to join us to hear Amal Elsana Alh’jooj discuss her amazing personal journey and her work regarding the status of the Arab minority and of women in Israel.