(Photo: Baruch Greenberg/Wikimedia Commons)
BY BERALE CROMBIE
Get to Know… Michal Waldiger
Social activist, leader and current Member of Knesset
My father, Eliezer Yaakov, was born to a rabbinic family. His father was Rabbi Reuven Trop, who founded Yeshivat HaYishuv HeChadash, and his father, my great-grandfather, was Rabbi Naftali Trop, head of the Yeshivah of Radin. His mother, my grandmother, was a member of the noted Winograd family. My father lost his father at a young age and grew up in the home of his grandfather, Rabbi Ze’ev Yeshayahu Winograd, head of Yeshivat Etz Chayim, right by Machane Yehudah. Twelve years ago, I was fortunate to have my parents move to be near us in Givat Shmuel.
My mother, Rivka, is a teacher in every fiber of her being. I’m privileged to have two parents who are totally dedicated to their family and children, and today, thank G-d, their grandchildren and great-grandchildren too. My mother comes from a Chassidic background. Her father was an Alexander Chassid, and her mother was a Gerrer Chassid. They were grandparents who never stopped caring for us until their dying day.
Her other half
My husband, Uri, works at TAG (an organization helping the Jewish community navigate the complex digital landscape). He is the man at my side, without whom nothing would happen. Whatever the field, he knows it all. I’m so lucky. He was born in Germany to a father who survived the Holocaust and a native Israeli mother, with two older siblings, and when he was ten, the whole family made Aliyah. His grandfather, his father’s father, was the founder and leader of the Breslov community in Krakow and perished in the Holocaust.
We met at a young age at Bnei Akiva. A dear friend of mine, Dasi Shapira (née Kamil), who passed away just recently, indirectly played the matchmaker. We both attended Ulpanat Tel Aviv, and I went to her for a Shabbat. That weekend, I met Uri at the local Bnei Akiva, and the rest is history. We got married when we were 20, and today we have five children, a granddaughter, and a grandson, kein yirbu!
For the public good
Ever since I can remember, I’ve always been a doer. I did well in school, but other things kept me busy. When I was a girl, it was important to me to be on the student council, to fix, to facilitate, to do. I was chosen as Rabbanit Purim, and of course, naturally, a Bnei Akiva counselor. You could say that as a teenager, I spent most days at the local Bnei Akiva. When I grew up, in addition to working as an attorney, I did a lot of volunteering, especially with at-risk youth.
The civic side of things always mattered to me, and as an adult, I made an effort to be a part of associations and initiatives that help the weak and invisible people in society. Injustices gave me no peace. About fifteen years ago, a relative of mine – a totally normal kid – succumbed to drugs. Since then, I’ve gotten to know that painful and challenging world. I discovered a world that was psychologically, therapeutically, and medically deficient. After he became addicted, he also suffered from mental illness, and then I encountered a whole world of discrimination on the basis of illness, stigma, and prejudice, both in the community and society, and even among professionals. Most of all, I discovered a world full of pain and neglect, not only of families and victims, but also of the system. You expect the government to deal with these things, but then you discover that even the system suffers from a stigma.
The case we had in our family was incredibly painful. If they’d treated my cousin in time and taken care of him, if there hadn’t been a stigma and the boy had gotten treatment, if there had been enough therapists and services available, he could have grown up while dealing with his addiction and lived a good, meaningful life. Since it wasn’t treated as it should have been early on, he disappeared from our lives, and his illness grew worse and worse.
I decided that helping others with addiction and mental health struggles would be my mission in life.
After I was asked to run, I was elected to the Givat Shmuel city council. I held the city’s welfare portfolio, and I was chairwoman of the Committee on Drugs and Alcohol for five years. It was very meaningful work.
About five years ago, I was invited to serve as chairwoman of Bat Ami (an organization that places religious Israeli young women in sherut leumi, Israel’s national volunteer service). I happily agreed, and I did it for four years with a lot of love. The young men and women in sherut leumi are Israel’s civic vanguard. They contribute a lot to the country, and unfortunately they don’t get enough credit. There’s a lot to do with sherut leumi, and I hope to make progress in that important area too.
While I was at Bat Ami, I continued dealing with mental health. I mentored families, I took part in discussions, and I didn’t let up for a second. I also founded Emunatecha, an organization that mentors families with multiple illnesses, because those people don’t receive the treatment they should and they get thrown around from one place to another and from one ministry to another like a hot potato.
I think it’s an important place where we make decisions and determine the character of the State of Israel. It’s not easy work. It’s not just how many times you were in the plenum or the different committees, but all the work around the clock that comes with the job.
A public servant
Shabbat is an ingenious invention. I disconnect from everything and focus on goodness. When I pray every morning, every day, I turn to G-d; I remind myself not to become arrogant, and to remain true to my values. When I encounter complicated and difficult situations, it’s not simple or easy, but I deal with my frustration and disappointment by keeping the larger public in mind and remembering that at the end of the day, I’m just a shlichah (messenger).
As of now, I don’t regret choosing this path.
Who is Michal Waldiger?
I love people. I’m self aware; I know my strengths and weaknesses and I am learning to come to terms with them. My creed is: “The work is not up to you to finish, yet you are not free to shirk it” (Pirkei Avot 2:21). We must work as if everything depends upon us – but at the same time, we must know that nothing depends on us, that we are ultimately not in control.
● Originally published in Hebrew in Giluy Da’at, a weekly Israeli newspaper, October 22, 2021.