I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: despite devoting my life to women’s history, I’m not the biggest fan of Women’s History Month. While I love the public attention that turns to women’s stories in March, I hate the assumption that the stories of half the population deserve this attention just 1/12 of the year.
New York Times columnist Roger Cohen sat down with JWA's Executive Director Judith Rosenbaum to discuss his latest book, The Girl from Human Street, a memoir of his mother. In their conversation, Cohen shares an intimate portrait of his mother, her debilitating depression, and what her story teaches us about Jewish history.
On Sunday February 8, New York City's B’nai Jeshurun will host Meet Me at Sinai, an all-day event to celebrate and discuss the 25th anniversary of the publication of Dr. Judith Plaskow’s Standing Again at Sinai, a book that shook the foundations of Jewish expression with its candid discussion of Jewish feminist theology. The event will include more than thirty Jewish leaders speaking on Judaism and gender, as well as film, music, text study, movement, and prayer.
I’ve already expressed my feelings on the whole “year of the Jewish woman” thing, but that’s not to say we shouldn’t celebrate the many great moments for Jewish women in 2014. Here, in no particular order, are a few of our favorites at JWA.
First of all, let me make clear that I sincerely hope this isn’t “The Year of the Jewish Woman,” as the headline of the Jewish Daily Forward’s “Forward 50” list proclaims. One year isn’t enough for me; I’m aiming for a world in which Jewish women—and all people—get the opportunities and recognition they deserve every year. But I’m pleased that the Forward managed to reach parity + 1 this year, after more than 20 years of lists in which women were not represented in proportion to their percentage in the population.
I’m a scholar of women’s history, so you’d think March—the official Women’s History Month—would be the highlight of my year. You’d be wrong. As I (and many others) have written about before, it’s insufficient to devote one month a year to the story of more than half the population, and problematic to ghettoize women’s history as if it isn’t integral to our understanding of all history.
But you’d also be right. Because a governmentally proclaimed Women’s History Month presents the opportunity—one that I gleefully embrace—to engage people in the work of making women’s history. By “work” I don’t just mean study. Sure, it’s great for teachers to use March as a time to focus on women’s stories in their classrooms. But women’s history also suggests a model for radically shifting our understanding of history from an academic subject to a worldview, and even a social justice imperative.
Usually, I’m a bit of a skeptic about the transformative power of women’s leadership. I don’t believe a woman in a position of power will necessarily create meaningful social change. I’m a little weary of celebrating “firsts” for women. I’m impatient and demanding and all the things feminists need to be if we’re going to change the world for more than an elite few.
And then there are moments when I feel the momentum rumbling beneath my feet and cynicism is nowhere to be found. Today I had one of those moments when I heard that Rabbi Cantor Angela Warnick Buchdahl has been chosen as the next Senior Rabbi at Central Synagogue, a prominent and powerful Reform congregation in New York City.
As I prepare to leave my position as JWA’s Director of Public History after more than 12 years here, my mind keeps returning me back to the summer day in 2000 when I first stepped into the offices of the Jewish Women’s Archive. At the time, I was a disgruntled graduate student, disillusioned with life in the Ivory Tower and the academic study of women’s history. (Was a library really the best place to learn about women’s activism, I wondered?).
Last week, Rabbi Scott Perlo wrote a provocative article in the Washington Post in which he addressed the continuing discomfort that many Jews—even liberal, gender-equity-supporting ones—feel about female rabbis. He suggests that this puzzling phenomenon may be due to the central place nostalgia holds in many people’s feelings about Judaism. It comes as no surprise that this nostalgic vision does not include female rabbis.
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Jewish Women's Archive. " Judith Rosenbaum ." (Viewed on March 28, 2015) <http://jwa.org/blog/author/judith-rosenbaum>.