Leora Jackson is a graduate student in Toronto who likes reading, writing, baking, and radical embroidery (though her talent is slim). Depending on the season and the time of day, you can find her studying for school, enjoying the sunshine, sipping a hot cup of coffee, or whiling the hours away watching the latest soapy television drama.
Last week, I had the great privilege of attending the conference “Women’s Liberation and Jewish Identity: Uncovering a legacy of innovation, activism, and social change.” (JWA was a conference sponsor, and you can check out Judith Rosenbaum’s response to the conference here!) As a research intern for Professor Joyce Antler, the conference convenor, this past summer, I spent hours reading short essays, activist statements, and poetry by many of the conference’s speakers, who were primarily Jewish women involved in feminist activism in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Seeing their words come to life as they spoke to an audience of peers, academics, and a few young feminists was enlightening, particularly as it provided me with a chance to rethink my own relationship to Jewish feminism as it relates to Jewish ritual practice.
I spend a lot of time thinking about Jewish identity: what it means to be Jewish, what kinds of obligations I have because I identify as a Jew (if any), and what kinds of factors moderate or mediate the ways in which Jewishness and Judaism can be understood. Because of this, I really enjoyed watching Vlada Bilyak’s documentary about Jewish identity for young people from the former Soviet Union.
Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women, has been getting some great press and publicity at JWA lately – and on the Canadian and Toronto news scenes. I took the streetcar to West Queen West this past Sunday to check out the exhibit on its opening weekend. Curators Sarah Lightman and Michael Kaminer were both present, and a small but steady flow of visitors wandered through four rooms in an upstairs gallery at the Gladstone Hotel to see the installations featuring the work of new and established Jewish women artists.
Two threads on my Facebook news feed have gotten me thinking about the impact of advertising in the last couple of days. The first is this video, a really beautiful trailer for a Seattle-based group that educates about gender and sexuality. The trailer features a diverse group of young people talking about what we should be teaching when we teach gender and sexuality in schools. It challenges assumptions, makes connections between issues of identity and daily life, and charges viewers with the responsibility to take action.
Last week in the Forward, Jay Michaelson writes about the need to rethink egalitarianism. Egalitarian synagogues, he says, tend to be egalitarian in only one way: everyone is equally bored. (“Egalitarian” in American Jewish life has historically referred to prayer services where men and women can both participate fully and take on leadership roles.) He talks about friends who attend Orthodox prayer services because they find more meaning in the service, and about how attempts at inclusiveness and egalitarianism often translate into long responsive readings in English where nobody really believes a word.
After a long hiatus filled with applications for scholarships and preparation for standardized tests, I have recently returned to my primary duty as a graduate student: graduating – that is, fulfilling the requirements necessary to graduate. In this case, that means writing my MA thesis, which is an examination of memoirs and personal essays by Iranian Jewish women who are living in the United States. It’s an interesting project, if occasionally overwhelming, and it reminds me every day that my own experience of Jewish life is not consistent with the lives of Jews everywhere.
At twelve (or sometimes thirteen), a Jewish girl becomes a Bat Mitzvah. Bat Mitzvah means daughter of the commandments, which, for a religious girl, means taking on the obligations and traditions of the Jewish religion. The Bat Mitzvah celebration and ceremony is a relatively new invention, as compared to an equivalent ritual for boys, but it is important and beautiful nonetheless. After my Bat Mitzvah, I was eager to participate at my synagogue as much as I could.
On the first day of Rosh Hashana last week, I listened to a congregant at my synagogue chant Haftorah, the additional reading from Jewish scriptures that follows the reading of the Torah on Shabbat and holidays. This particular Haftorah continues to hold great relevance and importance for Jews today, and particularly for Jewish women. It tells the story of Hannah and her desire to bear a child. In the story, we learn that Hannah and Peninah are both the wives of a man named Elkanah. Peninah goads Hannah because Hannah, like many of the Jewish matriarchs, is barren.
I just came home from a trip to my local suburban mall with two friends from elementary school. The mall is looking good – the walls are an upscale beige accented with stained wood, and new stores like Coach and BCBG emphasize that those who shop here must have ample money to spend. The mall is clearly marked as Jewish, too, with shoppers wearing long skirts, kippas, or less modest clothing adorned with Jewish symbols and summer camp logos.
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Jewish Women's Archive. " Leora Jackson ." (Viewed on September 30, 2014) <http://jwa.org/blog/author/leora-jackson>.