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What’s a Woman Doing Here?

Five women — a skipper, a mathematics professor, a biomedical researcher, a house painter, and a mortgage broker — on being frum and female in male-dominated professions

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

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NOT HELD BACK The only time Avital felt held back as a woman was when she had to remain on maternity bed rest, on doctor’s orders.

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here have always been “female” professions: teaching, nursing, every type of therapy. But some women find their niche elsewhere. Five women — a boat skipper, a mathematics professor, a biomedical researcher, a house painter, and a mortgage broker — speak about being frum and female in a male-dominated profession, and how they navigated the challenges with grace and feminine wisdom. 

Profile One (below) │ Profile Two Profile ThreeProfile Four Profile Five

RIDING THE WAVES

Name: Avital Gold │Profession: Licensed Boat Skipper / Accountant │Location: Any harbor on the map 

What’s the connection between a humdrum accountant’s office and the vastness of the Mediterranean? Ask Avital Gold, and she’ll laugh. There is no comparison. But after discovering the joys of riding the waves, this experienced accountant is not about to stop her part-time job as a self-employed licensed boat skipper. “I find accounting pressurizing, so I’m trying to carve a new career out of my hobby,” says Avital. Avital Gold has run her private accounting firm for over two decades — a pretty solid career curve to suddenly veer sideways. “Yes,” she affirms with another laugh. “Call it a midlife crisis!”

Setting Sail

It began with an unexpected call. “A boating school in Hertzliya asked if I’d be interested in sailing,” Avital recalls. “I have no idea how they reached me! The first lessons were free.” Their offer came on the heels of a long, hard maternity leave, spent mostly on bed rest, and Avital jumped at the chance to breathe fresh sea air. She took the trial lessons and was hooked tighter than a fish on bait.

“Gazing at the horizon from behind the wheel, seeing sunrays break through the clouds… I close my eyes and allow the breeze to engulf me. I love it!” There’s something uplifting about being one with the ocean.

“I was at a shiur recently,” says Avital, “and the speaker mentioned hisbodedus. That concept resonated with me. You feel so close to Hashem out there.” There’s an emotional component, too. “The sound of the waves is extremely relaxing.”

As a skipper, Avital is responsible for sailing her vessel and often invites passengers, under her close supervision, to actively participate. Still, not everyone can spin a ship’s wheel. By law, one must have a license. Basic training took ten months, and Avital has been attending additional licensing courses ever since. These qualify her to work anywhere in the world.

“The responsibility is huge,” Avital explains. “Something as elementary as weather is never in one’s control, no matter how dedicated one is to the job. Wind conditions can let people down, which is greatly frustrating,” says Avital. She’s super conscious about safety, having studied first aid and firefighting in her training. “Anyone who can’t swim must wear a life vest. I encourage everyone else to do the same.” 

“I couldn’t go out to sea for quite a few months — I found that highly frustrating. I missed the ocean!”

To date, Avital has taken friends and family sailing, and has ventured out with various groups who heard of her through word of mouth. The possibility of working full time at sea is still some way down the coast, though a number of plans are in the pipeline. A women’s-only sailing course. A water-focused summer camp. “Also, I am looking into developing therapeutic sailing for kids. It is highly effective,” Avital says.

Avital speaks from experience. There’s no one she enjoys riding the waves with more than her own family. “My kids constantly ask me when we’re sailing again.”

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