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In Jerusalem, 'Fem-Forward' Group Fosters Connection Between Israeli, Arab Women in High Tech Field

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JERUSALEM, Israel – An Israeli initiative to help women achieve their potential in a high tech world is also promoting Israeli-Arab relations.  

It's called Fem-Forward, a unique organization helping women climb the high tech career ladder.

Now the Fem-Forward program is helping make connections between Israeli and Arab women.  

Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum is one of the organizers. She told CBN News, "We started off trying to solve a very simple problem, but complicated, in that women in the tech innovation ecostystem, in high tech companies, women and men start at the same level, but somehow, men advance and women stay in the lower management level. So, we wanted to close that gap."

The organization provides training to women in junior positions and mentors them to "reach for the stars," according to Hassan-Nahoum. They found it to be successful over several years.   

She described to us how she got a boost from U.S. officials. "Then our friends at the American Embassy here in Jerusalem said to us, 'Well, why don't you take this to the Middle East?' Our first destination was Morocco, where we opened this amazing program with Moroccan women, israeli women – both Jewish and Arab women from Israel. And so far, it's been incredible, an incredible experience."

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Wafaa Bouchtita from Morocco is a sales manager for an outsourcing company connected to Microsoft Canada.

"There's this program that I saw one day on Facebook, and it said that it helped women, other women, into progressing in their professional careers. And it was like, this is the time for me," Bouchtita said.

She credited the various courses offered and the value of her mentor.

"Recently, I got promoted again," she explained. "It was out of the blue. My mentor helped me with the entire process: how to write my cv, how to go through the intervew, how to negotiate my salary, and how to put skills forward so that I can differentiate myself from other candidates."

 Bouchtita came to Jerusalem recently to complete her course, and found the experience amazing. 

"At first, I thought, there's gonna be a culture shock because we're so different," she related. "But we actually were able to pinpoint a lot of similarities, and how we live, and how beautiful, like, the differences are. To get to know different people – their perspective – I am sure that I'm going to make friends who are going to last forever."

Israeli Adi Shaz, an engineer at Samsung Israel, says she gained many tools.   

"It was amazing and exciting to meet a woman that I never get to meet in another opportunity, They’re so sweet. We're so much similar to each other. It's weird because the things that are similar is a lot more than the difference between us," Shaz recounted.   

Aida Kandil started a business called My Tindy, which exports handicrafts from Morocco to customers all over the world, including Israel.

She especially enjoyed bonding with the other women.

"I don't see people with nationalities. I see them as individuals," she said. "So, to me, it was great to work with people."

Kandil added, "I would say everyone was very passionate about this program,and everyone had, like, (a) goal. It felt good, you know, to be around professionals and be able to talk about our careers, our development."

During a gala at the Jewish Moroccan Heritage Center, Stephanie Hallett from the U.S. Embassy praised the program's spirit of cooperation and progress.  

"It embodies the Abraham Accords themselves, whose purpose is based on a very simple premise that diplomacy and communication can promote greater stability, prosperity, and hope," she noted, and urged, "So, let's commit tonight as we are committed publicly – to support peace, prosperity, and women's empowerment, especially embracing the values that unite us all." 

Co-founder Rachel Rosensweig expressed her enthusiasm at being involved.

"For me, just looking around the room and seeing what are now – I hope – my sisters from Morocco and Israel, has been really, really, really, really special and actually been mind-blowing to know, that because of Fem-Forward, we’re all together," she shared.

Hassan-Nahoum sees helping women build confidence as the most important benefit, and she says they've received requests from Africa and the U.S. to add to their work in the Middle East, where they plan to do the program in Bahrain this fall.  

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About The Author

Julie Stahl

Julie Stahl is a correspondent for CBN News in the Middle East. A Hebrew speaker, she has been covering news in Israel fulltime for more than 20 years. Julie’s life as a journalist has been intertwined with CBN – first as a graduate student in Journalism; then as a journalist with Middle East Television (METV) when it was owned by CBN from 1989-91; and now with the Middle East Bureau of CBN News in Jerusalem since 2009. As a correspondent for CBN News, Julie has covered Israel’s wars with Gaza, rocket attacks on Israeli communities, stories on the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria and