Learn to Do Good, Seek Justice, Relieve the Oppressed
I’m at an interview for a summer internship at a Modern Orthodox organization. One of the interviewers looks at my resume, and says, “For an Orthodox girl in such a right-wing school, you’re remarkably involved in social justice, especially feminism and gay rights. How did you get into it?”
Well, I can easily remember when I realized I was a feminist. I was writing a history paper about Second Wave Feminism, so I read Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique as part of research. I never thought that reading the book that sparked the Second Wave would also spark my inner feminist. Everything in The Feminine Mystique resonated with me; I was shocked by the blatant sexism that society condoned and prevalence of discriminatory attitudes towards women. Friedan’s exposé was so powerful that it rallied me to action and made me want to battle for women’s rights. It was official: I became a feminist. It didn’t take long for me to start a blog to serve as my soapbox and advocate for women’s rights.
In contrast, I can’t remember a specific aha moment when I suddenly realized that I support LGBT+ equality. Although I was raised to be tolerant of every type of person and lifestyle, I was not always so supportive in reality; when Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” was released, I had a whole rant about how the music industry’s mission is to subvert Torah values and morality.
I’m not sure when I realized that the true Torah value is inclusion and acceptance of our LGBT+ brethren. Perhaps it was because my mom became close friends with a gay man who’s very active in gay social life. Maybe it was because of my increased involvement in feminism; after all, the National Organization for Women (NOW), the largest feminist organization in the US (of which I am a member), lists lesbian rights as one of its top priority issues. Or maybe it was just maturity. Whatever the reason and whenever it actually happened, I began to support gay rights, both within and without the Jewish community.
But I suppose that how I got into all the equal rights work that I do is irrelevant. All that matters is that it’s something I spend my spare time doing, and would like to dedicate the rest of my life to. Being an ally of the LGBT+ community is just part of my identity.
I’m a senior at a right-wing Orthodox girls’ high school, and I had to draft a copy of my bio for the yearbook. After procrastinating for a while, I finally sat down to write it. I was at a loss for words. The first thing I wanted to talk about was my passion for women’s rights and LGBT+ equality; however, I knew there was no way that they would be willing to publish the bio if it included that. Although I ended up writing a perfectly nice bio that does encapsulate me to a certain extent, it’s not perfect. It doesn’t talk about those causes that are central to who I am. I consider my support of equality for every individual a core part of my identity, and a bio that doesn’t talk about it cannot truly represent me.
For yearbook, we also had to choose a verse from a Jewish source to be printed alongside our senior picture and represent our personality. After an exhaustive search of Tanakh (the Jewish Bible) and Talmud, I opted for Isaiah 1:17: “Learn to do good, seek justice, relieve the oppressed.” Although I doubt that my school expects me to be referring to LGBT+ individuals and women as “the oppressed,” that’s how I mean it. I plan on living my life according to Isaiah’s dictum, and nobody can stop me.