I was seated at one of those grand, heavy, deep brown mahogany tables in a beautiful room with two walls of windows. To my left, sat my mother, visiting for a few days from Los Angeles. Then to my right, and all the way around the table sat 10 classmates and my professor. We were talking about my favorite topic: How do you do good?
A life-long discomfort with institutionalized Judaism is hard to shed once you reach the mid-life years. Sure, it’s great to keep an open mind, but there’s also the sense of not wanting to waste time on pursuits unlikely to enrich one’s life. Some of us narrow our options as we get older in a bargain to reduce the odds of having regrets.
I had never taken the time to learn much about my grandmother, Esther Rebeca Leibowich de Bortz’s past. While I knew that something in her history must have gone right—she became a renowned gynecologist in Argentina—large gaps existed between each of the detailed but disconnected anecdotes that she recounted to me over the years.
My grandmother—or Bobe as I call her—and I have never lived in the same country. She was born in Argentina and has lived there for her entire life, while I was born in Chile and have lived in Atlanta for most of mine. With each of her visits, I learn more about this woman I have always been taught to revere, but in truth never knew much about. Consequently, I welcomed the opportunity to take the course, “Jewish Women in Modern America,” at The Weber School in Atlanta, where I am a junior.
When I was younger, if you had asked me which of the many Jewish holidays is my favorite, I would never have said Passover. The restrictions that Passover requires made it hard for me to enjoy the message behind the Passover story. Plus, the drama that Passover created in my family, with my parents running around the house cleaning, only added to the stress. My grandmother changed this feeling for me.
We’re all familiar with the stereotype of the zaftig Jewish bubbe, stuffing her offspring with chicken soup and brisket, shouting, “Eat! Eat! You’re skin and bones.” We love to talk about these mythical kitchens of our childhoods—tables overflowing with kugels and babkas, tsimmus and kneidlach. But for many Jewish women, there was another, more painful, side to this abundance. Our bubbes didn’t just say, “Eat! Eat!” they also said “Why are you eating so much? You’re getting fat!” I don’t think this contradiction is unique to Judaism, but I do think there’s a distinctive cultural spin to this schizophrenic relationship to food. And considering the prevalence of eating disorders, if there are cultural roots, we need to weed them out.
Today we welcome our first post from Miriasha Borsykowsky, one of our Rising Voices Fellows. Be sure to check the JWA blog each Tuesday for a new post from one of our fellows—and check out the great educational resources provided by our partner organization, Prozdor.
I don’t think about it a lot, but I am descended from a line of strong, resourceful women. I’ve heard their stories all through growing up, and although I have endless respect for them, I have always had trouble relating.
I was born in 1996, lived in Vermont my whole life, speak only English at home, and have never had to worry about having enough to eat. My great- (and great-great) grandmothers lived in Binghamton, New York, spoke Yiddish, and had to really work to survive. I’m blessed to have two parents who are still living together, while the women I am descended from dealt with tragic losses of a father or a husband. While the struggles they went through are very different from what I struggle with, I still turn to their stories sometimes for guidance.
Today we welcome our first post from Hannah Elbaum, one of our Rising Voices Fellows. Be sure to check the JWA blog each Tuesday for a new post from one of our fellows—and check out the great educational resources provided by our partner organization, Prozdor.
My parents don’t talk about feminism.
It’s not a taboo topic, just not one we typically discuss around the dinner table- or ever, for that matter.
But, feminism is not lacking in my household. My parents equally share responsibilities of taking care of a house, three kids, and their respective jobs. Still, the words “equality of opportunity,” or “feminism” have rarely been said aloud under this roof.
For our first post from our new class of Rising Voices Fellows, we present an open letter from Avigayil Halpern to her younger sister, Ora. Be sure to check the JWA blog each Tuesday for a new post from one of our fellows—and check out the great educational support provided by our partner organization, Prozdor.
Because of our similar (to other people, at least) appearance and relative closeness in age, it’s often assumed that we’re very alike. Last year you related to me a frustrating incident, where at a prospective student event at my school many people approached you and asked, “Do you like Talmud? Are you a feminist?”
When you responded in the affirmative, the response you got was always “Oh, You’re just like Avigayil!”
Even as it’s the start of August and the middle of summer, it’s also about to be the start of the Hebrew month of Elul.
I’m particularly conscious of the timing because my Grandma died – ten years ago this month – on the last day of Av. Confusingly the last day of Av is the first day of Rosh Chodesh Elul; ie the day before the second day of Rosh Chodesh Elul, which is in fact the first day of Elul. That in turn is the first day we blow shofar, and thus the official start of the season of teshuva – of returning to our best selves. So, in honor of my grandma, and lest the holidays catch you unawares, a few things to think about in the forthcoming season of teshuva.
I knew when I went to get my first tattoo that the hardest part wouldn’t be the pain (although it did hurt quite a bit), it would be telling my mother. I had the idea when I was living in Israel, where I fell in love with Hebrew–it’s twists and turns and calligraphy were captivating to me. Chazak, strength, meant to me that I would always be strong, even in moments of weakness or distress.