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.
Somewhere towards the end of my freshman year of high school, I became the class feminist. You know, the girl who always has to speak up about slut-shaming and rape culture and “where are the women in this narrative?”
I had begun to read feminist blogs, and the critical gender lens they used on everything from history, to clothing, to everything in between rapidly became part of my worldview. Right as I was hitting my stride as “that angry feminist,” I studied in the Dr. Beth Samuels High School Program at Drisha in New York. In addition to being a feminist, I was (and remain) a lover of Talmud. Spending the summer with other girls who took Judaism and Jewish text study seriously was a formative experience for me.
The erudite feminist women who taught us became my role models. (It was not unusual for us “Drishettes” to enthusiastically exclaim to one another that “I want to be insert-name-of-teacher-here when I grow up!” after a particularly great class.)
Towards the beginning of my sophomore year of high school, I was sitting in my school’s library when I caught sight of a book whose spine read Deborah, Golda, and Me. Being the nerd that I am, I am fascinated by the biblical prophetess Deborah—she is one of a very few women leaders in the Bible who are clearly respected for their power and autonomy, and rabbinic treatment of her character is a fascinating test case for differing attitudes towards women in Jewish law and literature. The book’s title was enough to get me out of my armchair to take a look. I had never before heard of the book’s author, Letty Cottin Pogrebin.
When my family wanted to go see Frozen, Disney’s newest animated feature, over Thanksgiving weekend, I went along only grudgingly. Judging from the trailers and the product placement I had seen around my local drugstores, all I could tell about Frozen was that it would involve a princess and a wisecracking snowman cavorting across a wintry landscape. Nothing too memorable or extraordinary, I figured.
Today we welcome our first post from Marissa Harrington-Verb, 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 mother, Elisa Harrington-Verb, loves feminism. But more importantly, my mother loves motherhood. She is the most devoted and loving mother that my little brother Sawyer and I could have wished for. When we were young, she stayed home with us all day. She slept next to us at night, and she breastfed us until we decided for ourselves it was time to wean. I love her more than anything, and if you had tried to tell me back then that she was raising me wrong, I would have looked at you like you were crazy.
I had no idea that my mother’s relationship with us was something she had to defend.
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!”
The Jewish Women’s Archive and Prozdor are thrilled to announce our inaugural Rising Voices Fellowship class. The fellowship, which is open to female-identified teens in grades 11 and 12, was awarded to 6 young women with a demonstrated passion for writing, a concern for current events, and a strong interest in Judaism—particularly as it relates to issues of gender and equality.
Abby Mohr lives a stone's throw away from Boston, but her take on education is global. Barely even in her teenage years, and she cares deeply about making sure girls all over the world can get an education. “I really like school,” she says. “Boys get to go to school all over the world, and girls should too.” Most teenagers probably do not realize just how lucky they are to be educated, but Abby is not one of them.
I remember how excited I was to discover Rosabeth Moss Kanter in the early 1980’s. She was one of the few females writing about leadership and organizational change management. I hungrily devoured The Change Masters as a relatively new nonprofit CEO navigating roiling changes in the healthcare and political landscape while learning to lead a complex organization toward continued growth.