At sixteen years old, I’m entering that phase of my life in which I have to state my personal qualities fairly often, whether in a personal essay for school or in a conversation at a Yom Kippur break-fast. Depending on whom I am speaking to, my answer varies, but it almost always includes a few basic attributes: I am a reader, a writer, an athlete … and I’m a feminist Jew.
While seeking stories of transformation this holiday season, most of the tales that have caught my attention involved women who exchanged quiet domestic lives for active involvement in the public sphere. Ray Frank did the opposite: she swapped her life as a trailblazing Jewish leader for one away from the spotlight.
In Maud Nathan’s second life as an activist, she became president of the New York Consumers’ League, vice president of the Woman’s Municipal League of New York, and chair of the industrial committee of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs. Her husband, once her companion at parties and fundraisers, began marching beside her at suffrage parades.
When actors make it big later in life, they usually have a long history of smaller roles and near misses to back up their rise to fame. There’s no such thing as an overnight success, and so on. Estelle Getty’s journey to her star-making role in The Golden Girls was really just that—an overnight transformation—though it may not have felt that way for Getty.
This Rosh Hashanah, I’m thinking about change. We look at transformation as something that happens overnight, but if the women I learn about every day at JWA are any indication, change happens in surprising ways and at unexpected times. It can be sudden or slow, a product of one determined action or years of effort.
In Katrina’s Jewish Voices, JWA’s collection of video interviews with New Orleans women in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Julie Wise Oreck discussed the extraordinary collaboration of the Jewish community to rebuild the city. In 10 years, she predicted then, “we’ll look back and say we could have done it better.
As we approach yet another election year, American voters may be drawing nearer to an enormous landmark: electing a woman president. With Hillary Rodham Clinton polling as the top Democratic contender, it’s never felt more possible.
Susan Hess first came to New Orleans as a young bride in 1965, three days before Hurricane Betsy, and she remembered the one good thing about that storm was that it cemented her identity as a New Orleans insider in a way that would have taken decades otherwise.
For the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, JWA created an exhibit to highlight the stories of evacuees and survivors of the storm, based on interviews we had recorded shortly after Katrina. I listened to stories of heartbreaking losses, narrow escapes, and rare moments of unexpected humor.
When my grandmother graduated High School in the late 1940s, the American dream for women was to get married and raise children. Wartime propaganda told individuals to reject the communist behavior of their Russian counterparts and contribute to society by creating nuclear families. While women were expected to fill roles once occupied by men who went to war, these were seen as temporary positions, not long-term careers. Women often worked as secretaries or store clerks, jobs that paid little and offered few opportunities for advancement. “You just kind of lived life and it happened. You didn’t make big plans,” Alice says. Alice did, despite those expectations, make big plans. In her high school yearbook, she wrote about her aspirations to become a journalist.
When most of us think of Hurricane Katrina, the Jewish community of New Orleans is not the first thing to come to mind. We’re more likely to think of the devastation of the Ninth Ward, of the homes marked with the number of bodies found inside, of the desperate conditions in the Superdome.
Sarah Barasch-Hagans is a rabbinical student and activist who has been deeply involved in the fight for justice for Black Americans in Ferguson, Missouri. Her new venture, Fargesn Media, seeks to give a voice to the people of Ferguson and empower them to tell their own story. Sarah spoke to JWA about Jewish activism, her experiences in Ferguson since last August, and where we as a community should go from here.
This year, photographer and Catskills native Marisa Scheinfeld mounted her first museum exhibit, “Echoes of the Borscht Belt.” We spoke to Marisa about her haunting photographs, what drew her to the ruins of the famed Jewish play land, and why the Catskills are so important to Jewish American culture. Don’t miss Part I of JWA’s interview with Marisa!
This year, photographer and Catskills native Marisa Scheinfeld mounted her first museum exhibit, “Echoes of the Borscht Belt.” We spoke to Marisa about her haunting photographs, what drew her to the ruins of the famed Jewish play land, and why the Catskills are so important to Jewish American culture.
I am first generation American, as were most children and, for that matter, many of the teachers, in our public school. Not coincidentally, the word perseverance appeared often on our vocabulary lists. We used it in sentences, like “If you don’t have perseverance, you will not amount to much”—but I already knew that before I started kindergarten. Perseverance was my Aunt Jennie’s word of the day, every day.
My grandmother, my mother, and I walked into a store. Sounds like the beginning of a joke, right? Actually, the three of us were on a mission to find a tallit for me. My bat mitzvah was approaching, and, since neither my mom nor my grandmother had a tallit of her own, they both wanted to accompany me.
For me—and, I imagine, a lot of other trans women out there—the recent flurry of media attention around the appearance of Caitlyn Jenner in Vanity Fair has given rise to a whole complicated array of feelings, not the least of which may be longing for a time when everybody will finally stop talking about Caitlyn Jenner.
My experience with Rising Voices has, in many ways, mirrored my early writing experience as a little kid. Blogging was a foreign medium for me, and writing for JWA meant making my work available to a larger audience than ever before. I will admit that, at least at first, the fellowship was scarier than I had anticipated.
“When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.”
I have this quote written on a piece of paper taped to my ceiling above my bed; it is the first thing that I see when I wake up in the morning, and the last thing I see before I close my eyes at night. This quote means everything to me, because of both the message it conveys, and the story behind it.
Though I have always supported the general, frankly vague, idea of “women's rights,” I never thought that I of all people had to be an advocate for them. I didn't even really understand what rights women around me were being denied. Until high school, I truly thought that the only disparity that American women faced was that we could not participate in Major League Baseball.
A Flipped Father’s Day: Ask Not What You Can Buy For Your Father, Ask What Your Father Can Buy For You
I’ve reached the age where if there’s something I want, I’ll buy it. I’ll see a soccer jersey on TV and order it online. I’ll buy a book and read in on my Kindle without thinking twice. I don’t need to go through the charade of asking and waiting, and will at the same time happily accept all of the trinkets and art projects that wind their way home through my kids’ backpacks.
For as long as I can remember, I have been inspired by my mother’s ability to craft words into beautiful stories and articulate articles. Throughout high school, my Mom would help me write all of my essays by giving me feedback and helping me through the editorial process. However, the biggest impact my mom made on my journey as a writer happened when I was in fourth grade.
In a society where we’re constantly told what we should love and what we should hate about ourselves, we can forget that our bodies belong to us. There is little space for women to create their own narratives, express their own fears, and admire their own features. Artist Miriam Ross gives women the opportunity to do exactly this in her project, The Body Journey.
When I first started writing, I thought people would want to read my writing just because I had written it. I was wrong. If I have learned anything about being an adolescent writer, it is this: first, you have to read a lot of books. The books don’t all have to be Crime and Punishment but Dostoevsky does a good job with storytelling and Raskolnikov is quite the character, so at least one of the books should be Crime and Punishment.
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Blog." (Viewed on October 4, 2015) <http://jwa.org/blog>.