Muted Voices: Immigrant Women’s Experiences of Medical Encounters during Mass Immigration to Israel in the 1950s


Volume 14, 2009 : Women in Israeli Judaism

English abstract

Muted Voices: 
Immigrant Women’s Experiences of Medical Encounters during Mass Immigration to Israel in the 1950s

Sachlav Stoler-Liss 
Communication Department and Gender Studies Program 
Ben-Gurion University, Israel

Shifra Shvarts 
Moshe Prywes Center for Medical Education, Faculty of Health Sciences, Ben Gurion University 
Gertner Institute for Epidemiology and Health Policy, Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, Israel

The unmediated voice of the women is hardly ever heard in the social science literature on mass migration, leaving the discussion in the hands of politicians, media publicists, and ethnic activists. This article seeks to rectify this deficiency by analyzing women’s perspectives on the health-related issues during mass immigration of the early years of the State. The study is based on 25 in-depth interviews with women who immigrated to Israel from The Middle East and Europe during the 1950s. Along with the embodied narrative that the immigrants adopted in the course of their absorption, we also present categories that reflected the immigrants’ own perceptions of their bodies, identities, and the process of health-related change they underwent. In conclusion we analyze women’s encounters with the Israeli medical system using the gendered perspective.

Hebrew abstract

קולות מושתקים: 
היבטים מגדריים של התנסות עולות במפגשים רפואיים במהלך העליה הגדולה לישראל בשנות החמישים

שחלב סטולר-ליס ושפרה שורץ

קולן של נשים מהגרות כמעט ואינו נשמע בספרות המחקרית העוסקת בהגירה המונית. והדיון בעניינן נותר על פי רוב בידיהם של פוליטיקאים, אנשי תקשורת ופעילים עדתיים. המאמר הנוכחי מבקש לענות על החוסר הזה בספרות המחקרית- העדרם של קולות המהגרים בכלל והמהגרות בפרט- על ידי ניתוח תפיסות הנשים בנושאי קליטה ובריאות במהלך ההגירה ההמונית לישראל בשנים 1949-1956. המחקר מבוסס על 25 ראיונות עומק עם נשים שהגרו לישראל במהלך שנות החמישים. יחד עם הנרטיב ההגמוני שהפנימו העולות במהלך קליטתן, עלו בראיונות תפיסות העולות את גופן, זהותם ותהליכי קליטת העליה שעברו. תפיסות אילו מערערות על התפיסות ההגמוניות, ומאירות באור חדש את תהליכי ההפנמה (embodiment) במהלך הקליטה.

About the authors

Sachlav Stoler-Liss 

Sachlav Stoler-Liss was born in Israel and studied at Tel Aviv University and Ben Gurion University. Her Ph.D. thesis at Ben Gurion University is titled: “Health Promotion and Health Education in Multi – Cultural Societies: The Case of Israeli Mass Immigration (1949-1956)”. Her MA thesis, at the sociology department of Tel Aviv University, focused on child rearing within the Zionist context. Her main areas of interest are communication, gender, social history of medicine, and social and cultural history of pre-state and early state Israel. She currently teaches at the Communication Department and the Gender Studies Program at Ben-Gurion University.

Shifra Shvarts 

Prof. Shifra Shvarts is a medical historian of the Israeli health care system. She was born in Israel and received her Ph.D. at Ben Gurion University in Beer Sheva. Her research interests include development of Israel HMO's, Israeli health insurance law, and the history of public health In Israel. Her current research focuses on the ringworm saga in Israel during the 1950s. Two of her books on the history of Israeli health care system are The Workers' Health Fund in Eretz Israel, 2002, and Health & Zionism, 2008 - both published by The University of Rochester, NY and Boydell & Brewer Press.


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