The Rising Voices Fellowship is open to female-identified teens with a passion for writing, a demonstrated concern for current and historic events, and a strong interest in Judaism—particularly as it relates to issues of gender and equality. Learn more or apply for 2016-2017!
In 2015-2016, the Rising Voices Fellowship is funded in part by a grant from the Hadassah Foundation.
I don’t think I’m a very brave person. I’m normally quite timid, and taking a stand is something that does not come naturally to me. I sometimes hesitate to say what I really think for fear of how others will react, and I often find it easy to fade into the background in large groups.
While my Jewish views are different from Helène’s, she and I have similar artistic views. Just like Helène, I think art can be utilized as a powerful weapon to fight various forms of oppression and injustice. I believe that art ought to be used more often in the everlasting fight for gender equality.
Each Shabbat my parents bless me with the words, “Be who you are and may you be blessed in all that you are.” These words have been embedded in my mind as my family’s traditional blessing, signifying the start of Shabbat. While other families bless their children saying, “May God make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah,” this alternative prayer has been our way of welcoming the Sabbath for as long as I can remember.
The variety of feminist voices gives me all the more reason to look for a variety of Jewish voices. Both Judaism and feminism give me the warm fuzzy feeling that comes with feeling like you truly belong somewhere. These two aspects of my life are so closely intertwined that sometimes I can’t even tell one from the other, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I never really understood the purpose of the dress code. Was it for religious reasons? Was it to protect our male classmates from possible distraction from their studies? Was it for both reasons? I found it extremely degrading that I felt pressured to be ashamed of my body.
Growing up as the oldest of three girls, I have always been taught that my position in the Jewish community is an important one. I was taught that when I grow up I’ll get the opportunity to be an active participant within my Jewish community.
I’ve grown up in the epitome of a noisy Jewish household. For me, a large part of the Jewish cultural experience consists of rapid-fire Shabbos dinner debates that leave you with a sore throat and a full stomach.
“Judaism and feminism? Aren’t those contradictory?” an elderly Jewish man remarked to me and fellow blogger Caroline as we left a Saturday morning minyan.
“You’d be surprised,” Caroline tactfully responded.
As he walked away, we turned and looked at each other incredulously. How many people believe that the two are uncombinable?
I was raised in a modern orthodox household. I went to a private Jewish preschool, then a private Jewish elementary school, and then a private Jewish middle school. But when I reached high school, my family and I made the decision to go to public school. It was a brand new social and educational experience, and almost all of the changes I went through were positive. However, I lost the daily Hebrew and Judaics I’d had my whole life, and I realized how you can get very distant very quickly from your Judaism.
Earlier this year, it was a Saturday afternoon and I was at my friend’s house when she asked me how my beliefs in feminism and Modern Orthodoxy were compatible. I tried to explain to her that in order for my feminism to be real, it had to be challenged.
At my conservative temple, Temple Emanuel, two out of our three rabbis are women. This is the biggest conservative temple in New England, and it is thrilling to me when thousands of people pour in for the High Holidays to watch women lead services. I know that some synagogues aren’t as accepting of women taking on leadership roles, and I find it inspiring that my temple is so encouraging and supportive.
In a religion that can seem inaccessible to those who aren’t cis men, it’s hard to be observant when you feel as if no one gives a crap about you. Over the course of my life, I have experienced exclusion by the wider Jewish community for various aspects of my identity and ideologies. Rather than turn away from Judaism, a religion and culture that is an intrinsic part of who I am, I made the active choice to reshape it into a Judaism that reflects my feminist and activist values. I chose to redefine my Judaism rather than give it up—that would have been too easy. Plus, now I get to freak people out with the sheer force of my GRRRL POWER.
My parents met at JTS. Both are committed feminists, and passionately observant Jews. As a young child, feminism and Judaism came easily to me; they were so natural that although I went through the motions of Judaism, and always believed in equality between the genders, I wasn’t particularly passionate about either one. I just knew them to be inherent truths in my life.
At sixteen years old, I’m entering that phase of my life in which I have to state my personal qualities fairly often, whether in a personal essay for school or in a conversation at a Yom Kippur break-fast. Depending on whom I am speaking to, my answer varies, but it almost always includes a few basic attributes: I am a reader, a writer, an athlete … and I’m a feminist Jew.
My experience with Rising Voices has, in many ways, mirrored my early writing experience as a little kid. Blogging was a foreign medium for me, and writing for JWA meant making my work available to a larger audience than ever before. I will admit that, at least at first, the fellowship was scarier than I had anticipated.
“When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.”
I have this quote written on a piece of paper taped to my ceiling above my bed; it is the first thing that I see when I wake up in the morning, and the last thing I see before I close my eyes at night. This quote means everything to me, because of both the message it conveys, and the story behind it.
Though I have always supported the general, frankly vague, idea of “women's rights,” I never thought that I of all people had to be an advocate for them. I didn't even really understand what rights women around me were being denied. Until high school, I truly thought that the only disparity that American women faced was that we could not participate in Major League Baseball.
For as long as I can remember, I have been inspired by my mother’s ability to craft words into beautiful stories and articulate articles. Throughout high school, my Mom would help me write all of my essays by giving me feedback and helping me through the editorial process. However, the biggest impact my mom made on my journey as a writer happened when I was in fourth grade.
When I first started writing, I thought people would want to read my writing just because I had written it. I was wrong. If I have learned anything about being an adolescent writer, it is this: first, you have to read a lot of books. The books don’t all have to be Crime and Punishment but Dostoevsky does a good job with storytelling and Raskolnikov is quite the character, so at least one of the books should be Crime and Punishment.
My first blog post was kind of like my first driving lesson: I was given the keys and told to go before I could ask, “which one’s the gas pedal?” (I’m not kidding. I had no idea.) When I first heard about the Jewish Women’s Archive and the Rising Voices Fellowship, I hadn’t thought much about what it means to identify as a feminist—I just knew that I loved writing, and I wanted to experiment with new forms of it. I’d never been taught how to blog before, and I was excited to learn.
When I wrote my first piece for Rising Voices, it was about an experience I had in Israel. It was about the moment I realized what kind of Jew I wanted to be, not compromising any cosmopolitan feminist part of myself for my religion. When I posted the piece on Facebook, someone told me that they totally understood what I meant and often felt the same way. It was among the highest compliments I’ve ever received.
Sometimes, I just wish that life came with a script. Whether catching up with a friend or chit-chatting with a relative, the thought of having well-written, tidy responses laid out for me is a tantalizing prospect. Never again would I have to worry about saying the wrong thing, tripping over words, or completely misusing language in a misguided attempt to sound smarter than I actually am. Alas, life is not scripted.
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Rising Voices." (Viewed on May 24, 2016) <http://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices>.