Israel’s Women Firefighters – More than up to the Challenge
By: Rachel Kontorovich/JNF Wire Staff
Maya Aloni, an Israeli firefighter, battled a fire last year in the Menashe Forest while using a JNF firetruck.
In a nation of 8 million people, Israel’s 2,500 professional firefighters are respected for their bravery and toughness. They respond to routine and imminent emergencies, rocket and terror attacks, and serve as the land’s guardians and protectors for many events and venues throughout the country. One of the most heavily male-dominated professions in Israel and around the world, it can be daunting for a woman to consider pursuing this profession and, once admitted into its ranks, there are challenges to be recognized as an equal.
As Jewish National Fund-USA celebrates Women’s Month, we salute Israel’s 14 female firefighters who protect the land and people of Israel.
“I am the only woman firefighter in the entire North district,” says Maya Aloni, while serving on a mission in the Gilboa Forest. “I entered the profession when I was 35 years old, with four small children at home. In the beginning, my male colleagues didn’t know how to treat me. But when they realized I was fully capable they treated me like an equal.
“There are not enough female firefighters,” she continued. “I go to schools and speak about the profession and about fire safety and I see that I’m a role model. Even if I’m just speaking about how to be safe with fire, I’m a woman representing the profession, and it adds another dimension.”
One of Jewish National Fund’s missions has been to purchase fire trucks for Israel, build fire stations, and provide the resources to supply adequate life-saving equipment and gear. Maya recalls a moment last November when Jewish National Fund’s assistance provided a crucial element in extinguishing the fires that tore through Carmel, Zichron Ya’akov, and Haifa.
“I was in Menashe Forest with a fire truck donated by JNF,” she recalled. “It was especially built to work in forests--it’s very narrow and built for rough terrain. Because of this truck we were able to reach the fire. We really appreciate everything Jewish National Fund does. It really helps us.”
She added: “I hope more women will join the profession. Young girls and women should understand that it’s not all about the physical skills. You have to have excellent interpersonal skills. During your time on shift you live at the fire station. You have to know how to get along, and excel at emotional and interpersonal skills; skills usually regarded as coming more naturally for women, and they are a huge asset in the profession.”
Nina Lidigastor, an Israeli firefighter in Ashkalon.
Nina Lidigastor, who has been a firefighter for the past six and a half years, echoed Maya’s sentiments. Nina encourages young women to consider the fire service, and to not be discouraged by the very small number of women currently in the field.
“I recently completed a course to become a team leader,” she said, “so now I’m the leader of a team in my district. The profession is over 98 percent male and there are just 14 women firefighters in total in Israel and over 2,000 men. We’re less than one percent.”
Still, she says, she wouldn’t trade her job for the world. “I’m very glad and excited to be a firefighter. It’s challenging, interesting, and most importantly, it’s all about lifesaving. My family and my three children are very proud of me, and I’m very satisfied in what I have accomplished and every day that I serve.”
Statistics aside, Nina remains positive. “I think women can do the exact same job as men. That said, I don’t look for an easy way out. I challenge myself. My performance is equally on par with my male partners. Being a firefighter is more than a job, it’s a way of life.”
“It’s not easy, but it’s worth it,” she said. “We’re saving lives, preserving the land, protecting the country. There's no greater satisfaction than receiving a ‘thank you’ from a person whose life or house you save. I have a daughter and I always encourage her to do anything that she wants. And I know that as a firefighter I’m a living example of these words.”
Nina works in Ashkelon where there are fire trucks and equipment provided by Jewish National Fund. Asked about JNF, she commented enthusiastically: “JNF always searches for ways to improve our profession and our lives. It makes all of the firefighters feel that we are important, that people from the United States care and think about us.”