Defining Judaism and Feminism in my own Terms

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This month our Rising Voices Fellows are examining how their Jewish and feminist identities intersect. Be sure to check the JWA blog each Tuesday for a new post from our fellows—and check out the great educational resources provided by our partner organization, Prozdor.

I studied at Solomon Schechter Day School for nine years, and for nine years people told me what it meant to be Jewish. We prayed for 45 minutes every morning from the same standard siddur. We were taught about the Bible and God through one lens. We belonged to the Conservative branch of Judaism and followed the movement’s rules. After switching to public school for high school, I was forced for the first time to define Judaism for myself.

At Prozdor, the Hebrew school that I started attending after graduating from Schechter, I met teens with a wide variety of Jewish backgrounds. Some had never been to Israel, some had grown up in interfaith homes, and others were far more observant than I had ever been. But I was still struggling to figure out where I fit in. I wondered how people who met me for the first time would describe my Judaism, when I wasn’t even sure myself.

Then I took a trip to Israel with Prozdor during my freshman year of high school. It was only December, not too long after graduating Jewish Day School. I had already been to Israel countless times with my parents and brother, but this trip was different. Our first Shabbat fell on Christmas Eve, and I walked through the streets of the Old City with a group of teens. I felt pulled to the city and sights around me. As I stood at the Western Wall, I realized that I was in Jerusalem not because my parents required it or someone told me to go, but because I wanted to be there. I realized that I didn’t need someone else to define what it meant to be Jewish or to give me a label. This was my chance to use all of my personal experiences to figure out my beliefs, rather than rely on others’ interpretations.

I’m presented with this same chance to define myself when people ask, “Are you a feminist?” or “How do you define feminism?” I’ve always considered myself a feminist, but I never gave its definition much thought. After joining the Rising Voices fellowship and being given this amazing opportunity to meet a group of great young women, I realized that there isn’t one definition for a feminist, or one definition for a “good” Jew. The same way that I don’t want people to tell me how to be Jewish, I also don’t want to be told how to be a feminist.

To me, a feminist is someone who believes in equality for women. Some imagine that feminists must follow a set of rules or submit themselves to specific expectations. A feminist can be a man. A feminist doesn’t need to lead a demonstration in protest or yell at the top of her voice. A feminist doesn’t hate men. A feminist wants equal opportunities for everyone. My effort and willingness to define Judaism for myself has given me confidence to try to figure out feminism for myself too. But then again, I am only seventeen years old. My definitions could change. I still don’t know whom I am completely, so please, while I’m figuring it out, don’t give me a label.

Rising Voices

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