Today Henrietta Szold would have been 150 years old. Exactly 75 years ago today, her birthday was celebrated by Zionists throughout the U.S. There was a national radio address, parties hosted by local Hadassah chapters, and Shabbat sermons dedicated to her all over the country. To read more about this remarkable event, visit This Week in History.
Today is the 60th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel, and I'd like to mark it not (only) by eating falafel but with something less tangible but ultimately more nourishing: considering stories. Sixty years is only half way to 120 - the mythical age Jews wish upon one another - but this "half life" contains within it so many dreams and visions, loves and losses, hopes and fears, connections and fractures, struggles that remain unresolved.
I first heard the word "Refusenik" applied to Israelis who refuse to serve in the Israeli Defense Force. Then I heard it in relation to Jewish citizens of the former Soviet Union who were refused permission to emigrate. I learned the word in a third context -- "Muslim Refusenik" -- a few years ago, when I heard Irshad Manji speak at my college. Ms. Manji is a Canadian lesbian Muslim feminist.
Having just returned from Israel, I was reminded of how differently some women’s roles are perceived outside of the pluralistic framework that defines my pocket of the American Jewish community. Since I spend my usual 9-5 day surrounded by opinionated power-house feminists, I sometimes forget that most of the world does not know this as their reality, or acknowledge that a diversity of women's roles in religious life or otherwise even exists at all.
Lately, Evangelicals love Israel. And lately, Madonna digs Kabbalah and writes songs about Hasidic rebbes in Tzfat. And in the midst of this non-Jewish ‘Jew-centricity,’ there are Jewish parents out there nominally waspifying their children by giving them names like Mackenzie and Madison.
I’ve never been to Israel. There, I said it. When I was a bratty teen who turned my back on all things religious, it was a point of pride. A badge that said I was too cool for exploring my encumbering heritage. Now it’s a source of embarrassment.
How could I have worked in the Jewish community for three years and not have set foot in the Holy Land? How could I be a 37-year-old woman proud of my Jewish identity and not have experienced the place Jews call home?
I am a 23 year old Jewish female, born and raised in the U.S. Until this point in my life, I thought I had a fair amount of responsibility—I went off to college hundreds of miles away from home and moved into an equally far away home of my own after graduating to begin a career. Yet, in contrast to my fellow female Israeli counterparts in their 20s, the responsibility on my shoulders pales in comparison.