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Isolated But Not Lonely: The feminist way to handle the coronavirus

Updated: Jan 7, 2021

By: Ofra Gazit, Dror Israel’s Educators’ Kibbutz in Rehovot. Published in:

Ofra Gazit, member of Dror Israel’s Educators’ Kibbutz in Rehovot, writes here about the

Leading the community during the pandemic

Social Justice Community in Rehovot, which quickly organized at the onset of the crisis to lend a helping hand in the city, out of a commitment to nobody having to be truly alone. She explains why this program is a feminist model.

Feminism is social justice. Maybe that sounds like a simplistic position to hold, but I’ll soon explain what I mean and why this has the potential for deep change.

Leading the community during normal times

For five and half years, I have been a member of Rehovot’s Social Justice Community and one of its leaders. The Social Justice Community was born spontaneously out of the social protests of 2011, and is made up of women and men of all ages, sectors, and political opinions in Rehovot.

When the protest tent here (the fourth largest in the country) was taken down almost nine years ago, a group of a few dozen different and diverse women and men came together who felt that their work was not done, that social justice cannot be achieved over one summer in a tent, and that something foundational had changed in how they understood reality, socio-economic policy and politics.

So how do you achieve social justice? And why is it simplistic to say that social justice is feminist? Here I want to give a current example which is connected – of course – to the coronavirus pandemic.

Thursday night, three days before I was put on unpaid leave, I met with my good friend Shiri, one of the founders of the Social Justice Community (who doesn’t even know that she’s a feminist), together with two more partners of ours. We talked about how to be responsible for and care for people in isolation with limited human contact.

We tried to stop for a moment and analyze reality. We identified that in a very short time, independent people became people in high-risk groups, afraid to leave their homes. We thought that the longer the social isolation period lasts, more and more people would become helpless, afraid and weakened.

And so we started the Isolated but Not Lonely project: a city-wide network of volunteers who would map needs and provide human, quick and community-based solutions on the most local level.

We wrote a raw proposal, shared it with our friends who lead communities in the city, and set to work with their support, blessings and partnership. The project quickly got going. Today, three and half weeks since we started, we are the largest volunteer project in the city with 29 neighborhood coordinators in every corner of the city.

The project has some 400 volunteers who have “adopted” their neighborhoods and are meeting local needs, including calling some people every few to ask how they’re doing and whether they need anything, taking out neighbors’ trash, going grocery shopping for others, and connecting others to city welfare services to receive food packages.

Throughout, we have been thinking hard to figure out how this project can create solidarity, rather than just being charity or satisfying the volunteers’ consciences. How can each person have a role in strengthening others and taking responsibility for the fabric of the community, whether they leave their home or not, and whether their financial condition has held up throughout the crisis or not?

If we put aside the fact that a large percentage of the project’s leadership are women (because being born with a vagina is certainly not enough to create feminist culture), we can dive into the really interesting topic: our relationship to the power structures in society and work to take them apart – or (radical) feminism.

Isolated but Not Lonely, like other community projects that we lead and take part in during normal times (such as the Israeli Assembly) is a civil, community-based and voluntary organization connecting different communities and groups. Each day, the project operates in a variety of ways, creating experience in real alternatives to hierarchical and selfish modes of decision-making.

The project strives to form the foundations of a culture of dialogue, consensus and joint responsibility as an alternative to the familiar patriarchal model of hierarchy and authority.

All people are welcome to take part, and the very fact of their participation shapes the structure, tools and methods – all of which are constantly changing – as a relevant response to our new and ever-changing reality.

We also have partners in the municipality’s departments, and our unique joint methods during these challenging times are felt there, and permeating and affecting our partners.

In 1979, feminist writer Audre Lorde wrote, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” The road to social justice involves undermining the patriarchal structure of society and creating alternatives – so social justice is feminism. And in my opinion, one of the most revolutionary ways to create it is in community-based, democratic and dialogical organizations.

More about Isolated But Not Lonely on the project’s website

Photo credits: Social Justice Community archives.

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