Religious woman running to lead Meretz in Jerusalem

Meretz’s list for the Jerusalem City Council in October‘s municipal election could be headed by a religious woman if attorney Riki Shapira Rosenberg wins an election that will be held Tuesday.

Shapira Rosenberg, 50, will face off against incumbent Laura Wharton, an American-born, Harvard educated adjunct lecturer in the Hebrew University political science department. Shapira Rosenberg said she did not plan to run for city council but she did not like it that Wharton was running unopposed.

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“I thought there would be multiple candidates running,” Shapira Rosenberg said. “When I saw no one was running, I drafted myself, because it was absurd that there was no competition. Meretz is not in a good place now. It was once a powerful force in the city, and it needs to be again.

Shapira Rosenberg has used her law degree to help women, promote equality and fight the establishment on key matters of religion and state. She worked for the Israel Religious Action Center, representing the Reform Movement’s legal arm in cases aiming to establish civil marriage and end the kosher monopoly of the Chief Rabbinate, against bus segregation. She represented the Orthodox feminist organization in cases trying to get segregated bus lines canceled.

For 10 years, she ran legal clinics helping women. More recently, she helped get government polices changed that could lead to gays being able to adopt and opened the tender for Knesset rabbi to women.

A seventh generation Jerusalemite, she lives in the capital’s Katamon neighborhood and attends Shira Hadasha, an Orthodox synagogue that tries to maximize women’s participation within frameworks of Jewish law. On Saturday, after attending services, she walked to the nearby First Station to participate in a rally calling to keep the cultural area open on Shabbat.

“I am not coming as a religious fig leaf to Meretz,” she said. “I am here because I identify with the party. There are many liberal religious people who can support Meretz. We have distanced ourselves from natural constituents. For Meretz to bring those people back and seek support from new sectors, we have to field someone new.”

Shapira Rosenberg said Meretz lost voters to the local pluralist parties Hitorerut and Yerushalmim, which is led by a religious woman, Jerusalem city councilwoman Fleur Hassan-Nahoum. 

“Putting a religious woman at the top of the list will help attract new sectors who can come if Meretz will only start reaching out to them,” she said.