Why isn’t this profile of Emily Schaefer, the American-Israeli human-rights lawyer who works in the West Bank and accompanied Desmond Tutu to Bil’in, appearing in the U.S. press? Only in Haaretz. Though I’d sure be curious, apropos of Beinart’s mild apostasy, to know what her religious/Zionist identity is today…
she was born in Boston, the only child of Jewish parents, second-generation immigrants from Europe. Her mother worked for an insurance company, her father is a radiologist. Her parents divorced when she was four. "I grew up with my mother," she says. "Mom is a strong person. I learned from her that women can do whatever they want. She came to our class to convince the girls that they didn’t have to be either teachers or dancers. She told us we could aspire to anything, and that stayed with me. She wasn’t radical, but critical. I learned from her that you needn’t accept what you’re told as self-evident, that one can resist the authorities."
Schaefer attended public school, but always felt at home when she took part in activities of the Reform movement. "My parents sent me there when I was five. I went once a week after school, and later twice a week. In the movement we had lessons about Judaism and about Israel, in a very lighthearted way. Once we made a map of Israel out of ice cream and marked the cities with colorful M&M candies. It was Zionism-lite. At that time I also went to synagogue."
In high school she got more involved in the Reform youth movement North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY ), and during her last summer in school she was appointed group president. "I planned activities for 200 members and also organized prayers," says Schaefer. "I think that at the time I was searching for an identity, for a sense of belonging, and the movement gave me that." The Reform movement altered the course of her life. "After it didn’t work out for me to go on a summer vacation to France, I decided to go with some friends from the movement to Israel," she says. "I was 15 and I convinced my parents that it was worth it for them to spend the money. I told them: ‘I feel like there’s a magnet pulling me to Israel.’ I don’t know where I came up with that."