What is it about being Texan and Jewish that fills me with such pride? I think it’s the unexpectedness of it. I enthusiastically say, “Howdy y’all!” to friends and receive strange stares and sudden cases of the giggles. When I tell people where I’m from they reply, “You don’t sound Texan…or look Texan.” In the same way, people are often told they don’t “look” or “sound” Jewish. What does this even mean? Why are people still bogged down by stereotypes of cowboys and yentas and all other characters associated with Texas and Judaism? Why do I need to prove my Texan-ness or Jewish-ness with how I speak or act or look?
Tonight at Kol Nidre services, I will chant the prayer that absolves me from all oaths taken the previous year. The thing is — just yesterday I took an oath, alongside 119 women on a very hot day in the shadow of the US Capitol building, an oath that I (with the organization I represent, the National Council of Jewish Women) plan to keep. In part, we promised to:
"create a House United for fair immigration reform, a House United through my family, my community and my place of work, a House United for justice and equality for all and especially for the women and children who make up three-quarters of all immigrants but whose needs are woefully ignored by our failed system."
And we put our bodies on the line to reinforce our commitment to this promise.
The first time someone called me a “feminist” I was in the 3rd grade.
I had raised my hand for the billionth time to voice my concern that we weren’t talking enough about women and girls in our history lessons. I was specifically upset that Cornelia Jackson, daughter of famed Newton, MA abolitionist William Jackson, was barely discussed in our class, despite having her diary (or a fictionalized account of it—my memory is hazy on the details) at our disposal. My teacher, trying to humor me, said she would look into it. My classmate (let’s call him Brian for his protection) at the adjacent desk rolled his eyes and said, “Oh my god, can you please stop being such a feminist?”
I looked at Brian for a moment and then said… “No.”
It seems fitting that in the midst of our own Jewish time of reflection, we encounter a day of reflection for all Americans. Twelve years ago today, our nation was struck by an unparalleled tragedy. As an organization that is dedicated to the sometimes painful art of remembering, we pause to reflect.
When we think back on that harrowing day, our sadness at the loss of life is buoyed by the memory of people coming together, reaching out with acts large and small. Our challenge is to preserve the legacy of that day as one not framed by terror and tragedy, but one that regularly reminds us that even in the worst of times, we each have something to offer and we each can make a difference by acting on our best natures.
In the initial brainstorming stages of the Rising Voices Fellowship I sat down with quite a few teenagers, and I learned quite a few things. I heard a lot of helpful (and surprising) statements about how feminism is perceived by high schoolers. I discovered that while the Internet is an undeniable force in young peoples lives, it’s not the be-all and end-all of community building. I was impressed over and over again by the thoughtful way that these young women saw themselves in relationship to a long history of Jewish women. I promise you (and not just because I’m invested in the fellowship) that when we launch Rising Voices you will be glued to your screen reading the blog posts of 11th and 12th graders.
I also learned that I might be old—or at least I experienced high school in a different time.
Judaism does not shy away from the pain of these longings on Rosh Hashanah—in fact, it confronts them head on. This year more than ever I am struck by the stories we read about Sarah and Hannah during these two days. During the holiday we read of Sarah’s yearning for a child and her surprise at conceiving even after her cycle had stopped. And of Hannah’s burning desire for a child that, after many years, finally came to be. What connects these stories of barren women yearning for children and the name of Rosh Hashanah as Hayom Harat Olam (the Day of the World’s Conception)?
JWA and Prozdor have launched the pilot year of our Rising Voices Fellowship. To learn more, follow this link. Applications are due by 10pm on September 16.
JWA has joined forces with Prozdor, a pluralistic Hebrew high school program, to launch the pilot year of a fellowship designed for female-identified teens in grades 11 and 12 who are looking to raise their voices. The fellowship will be awarded to 3 to 5 teens who show a passion for writing, a potential for blogging, a demonstrated concern for current events, a commitment to improving their writing skills, and a strong interest in Judaism—particularly as it relates to issues of gender and equality.
The Rising Voices Fellowship will open our blog to a new cohort of writers, as each fellow will craft one blog post a month. And, knowing that it isn’t always the easiest thing to be a writer, the fellowship will provide a community and support. Together we will learn and allow our voices to be heard. Together we will explore our voices, hone our skills, and share our experiences.
In honor of the 50th anniversary of the March tomorrow, I would like to share 5 things I have learned about the March on Washington that you may not already know—one for each decade. I hope you’ll take this opportunity to check your assumptions and look more closely at this monumental, game-changing event.
And, I’ll admit it, voting isn’t usually on my mind—especially during August. But Women’s Equality Day, which celebrates women’s right to vote, has me thinking about voting.
I’m a pretty civic-minded person—fast to roll my eyes at people who tell me they don’t see the point in voting. While I’m not usually thinking about voting, it wouldn’t be entirely accurate to say that I take voting for granted. In fact, I can’t imagine not being able to vote. Voting, expressing my views and taking a stand, is so central to my belief system that it’s hard to imagine not being able to vote.
This past year, I took a group of seven teens on a tour of the American South. The trip was inspired by my desire to infuse young people with a sense of history and context as it relates to Judaism in the South and Jews in the Civil Rights Movement.
We began in Atlanta, then drove to Alabama, stopping in Birmingham, Montgomery, Selma, and many places in between. We met with people who had lived through segregation and fought against it. We saw the Rosa Parks Museum, experienced history, and talked about what it means to be an American Jew from the Northeast.