created at: 2013-05-02My previous role at CJP was with the Boston-Haifa Connection, working with counterparts in Boston’s sister city, Haifa, Israel, to benefit both communities. It was an opportunity to be involved in meaningful initiatives, meet amazing individuals and share experiences.

Recently, I was thinking about the pleasures and challenges of parenting in the United States, and I found myself wondering what parenting is like in Israel. To get some firsthand information, I spoke with Karni Chagal, mother of 5-month-old daughter Maya (in photo at right).

Karni lives in Haifa and is actively involved in the Boston-Haifa Connection young leaders’ group. She was born and raised in Haifa, served as a lieutenant in the intelligence corps, and holds law and economics degrees from Haifa University. She also earned an advanced law degree from Stanford University. After several years of practicing law in California, Karni returned to Israel and, with two partners, established a consulting firm that specializes in analyzing foreign regulation and conducting comparative studies. Karni is married to Ido, a physician and a major in the Israel Defense Forces.

What have been some of your greatest challenges as a new mother?

Without a doubt, combining my role as a mother—which is both more joyful and more demanding than I anticipated—and my workload at my firm. In the past, I could always rely on pulling an all-nighter when urgent or time-consuming matters arose, but now my nights are dedicated to Maya. Also, my work sometimes involves travel, and my husband is on duty at the hospital many nights, so managing all of it is challenging. Thank God for the wonderful grandparents!

What are Israeli maternity-leave rules like?

I think most Israeli women compare their maternity leave to the one common in European countries—where long, paid maternity leave is standard—and are therefore disappointed. In comparison to the U.S., I believe the situation in Israel is quite encouraging: the law provides for a three-month paid maternity leave (paid by social security), and women may elect to extend it to a total of six months. In that case, the latter three are without pay, but employers are obligated to save the women’s jobs.

Many women elect to take the six-month leave and are happy with the system. I think it’s actually overprotective, as it forces women to take the leave. I, for instance, was teaching at a law school once a week and wanted to continue doing so after my daughter was born. I was amazed to learn that it was illegal to do so (for as long as 14 weeks, which can be shortened to six weeks but only if the husband declares he will take the leave). I think this rule is discriminatory. I was outraged that I could not continue working, even though I really wanted to. I do understand the rationale behind the law, though, which prevents employers from putting pressure on new moms to go back to work.

What do you think about the work-life balance in Israel?

I’m not sure how things are in the U.S., but in Israel it’s almost always the mothers who are supposed to deal with this choice. Although women serve in the army and are active in all aspects of the job market, politics, etc., it is still almost always the mothers who have to make big career sacrifices while fathers return to their old routine at work very quickly.

The law firm where I previously worked had about 30-40 partners, a few of them women. Almost all of these women were single or did not have children, and I’m sure this wasn’t a coincidence. The women who did have kids became “working moms,” which means leaving the office around 4 p.m. and still being available on the computer to work from home. As a result, these women were removed from the partnership track. Even if this policy was not formal, it’s what happened.

Personally, I am experiencing it all the time. My husband works at the hospital, and even though he wants to be home with our daughter more so I can work more, he can’t because it is frowned upon at work. Society in Israel is still accustomed to the traditional roles, where the father pursues the career and the mother, though pursuing her career as well, is the one expected to take care of the day-to-day children’s “issues.” I have to admit that for me, it’s the first time in my life that I’m actually experiencing a difference being a woman and not a man. Until now, I never felt the differences affect me.