Pittsburgh native is one of Hadassah’s ‘18 American Zionist Women You Should Know’
RecognitionIsrael advocacy

Pittsburgh native is one of Hadassah’s ‘18 American Zionist Women You Should Know’

Gila Zarbiv uses her platform to educate the world, spreading the message of what happened on Oct. 7.

Gila Zarbiv (Photo courtesy of Gila Zarbiv)
Gila Zarbiv (Photo courtesy of Gila Zarbiv)

After traveling to Israel when she was 8, Gila Zarbiv knew it was where she belonged.

Zarbiv, 39, grew up in Pittsburgh with her parents, Judi and Manny Kanal, and her five siblings. She graduated from Hillel Academy in 2004 and attended Congregation Poale Zedeck.

Throughout high school, Zarbiv was involved in her Jewish community and was a member of the Israel club at Hillel. She partook in many different projects, advocating for Israel alongside women from the Israel Defense Forces, leading various programs for her classmates.

Following her high school graduation, Zarbiv returned to Israel and lived there for a year. This further solidified her commitment and she made aliyah in 2007.

“There was no question that I wasn’t going to live in Israel,” Zarbiv said. “I remember feeling like this is where I belong.”

She has since made her mark in the Jewish state and was recently named one of “18 American Zionist Women You Should Know” by Hadassah for playing “a critical role since Hamas’ attacks and atrocities on October 7, advocating for Israel, building understanding and speaking out against hate and falsehoods aimed at Israel and Jews,” according to Hadassah officials.

Zarbiv works in neonatal and maternal health and has a master’s degree in women’s health from Hebrew University. She is a certified nurse midwife at Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem in Jerusalem and is working on her doctorate in medicine in global health systems management at Ben Gurion University of the Negev.

She sits on the Israel Midwives Association’s Executive Board and serves as its international liaison. She also chairs the International Relations Committee and is the Israeli representative for the International Confederacy Body of Midwifery.

Gila Zarbiv suiting up for work. (Photo courtesy of Gila Zarbiv)
For Zarbiv, midwifery is not just a profession — it is her calling and an integral part of who she is.

“Midwifery is a really exceptional field,” Zarbiv said. “It’s one of the only fields that focuses on women’s health throughout all the holistic perspectives of women’s health, meaning it sees the woman as a person, and it deals with physiology and not just pathology.”

A recent study by The Lancet showed that if every woman had access to a midwife, 4.3 million lives could be saved by 2035.

Zarbiv said that since Oct. 7, it’s been clear that gender-based violence is largely ignored when it happens to Jewish women, especially among international committees.

“World health organizations like the WHO, UN Women and the International Confederation of Midwives took too long to condemn the terror, rape and violence against humanity that happened on Oct. 7,” Zarbiv said. “The ICM, an organization that stands for the safety and protection of women across the globe, has yet to recognize the GBV (gender-based violence) that took place in Israel or issue any formal statement other than to call for a cease-fire.”

The Israel Midwives Association founded a program in Israel for women who have lost their husbands in war, battle and terror. This program gives each woman two midwives to assist throughout her pregnancy and postpartum.

The program is called Letsidech, or “By Your Side.”

Zarbiv uses her platform to educate the world about Israel and the challenges of her profession. She has spoken with midwives in Switzerland and Germany, among other places, to spread the message of what happened on Oct. 7.

She is currently in Canada, where she is a vocal advocate for Israel.

“We need to stand — and we need to speak — and we need to make sure this never happens again,” Zarbiv said.

She said that being honored by Hadassah is not about her: It is about the midwives and women who are working 24/7 while Israel fights for its existence.

“This recognition is not about any one person,” Zarbiv said. “This award is on behalf of all the close to 2,000 midwives in the country who are working tirelessly around the clock, through war, terror and pain, to save the lives of women, their unborn — and born — babies, and be there for their families.”

The honor is also about the soldiers who are fighting for peace, and about the women who need a voice.

“This recognition is on behalf of the thousands of chayalim who are fighting, bleeding and dying so we can have the freedom to live in peace, serenity and stability in the region,” Zarbiv said. “And most importantly, this recognition is to bring attention to the 120 innocent civilian hostages being held in Gaza, having been ripped from their homes, families and country. As the world stands silent, it is our job to keep screaming and make sure that the world never forgets.”

Living in Israel, Zarbiv said, is about having “your priorities straight, to appreciate every moment, to understand what is important and what isn’t, what is noise and what isn’t, what matters, what’s nothing and what’s something.”

While times like this make us wonder what we can do to combat hatred and injustice, she said, the answer is simple.

“We cannot be afraid, we cannot be silenced and we cannot stop,” Zarbiv said. “We must continue to scream, stand and fight. If we do not fight for ourselves, no one will fight for us. It is up to us.” PJC

Emily Golden can be reached at emilygolden03@gmail.com.

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