The Rising Voices Fellowship is a collaborative program created by the Jewish Women’s Archive (JWA) and Prozdor of Hebrew College. The 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.
“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.
Ancient Egypt, Nazi Germany, and High School Classrooms: Is There Such a Thing as an Innocent Bystander?
There is little more frustrating than being punished for something that you did not do. The extra homework assignments because a few classmates were talking, no sandals to work because one girl stubbed her toe, no more school-wide pancake breakfasts because one group of students did not clean up their lunch, the trampoline is off-limits because one person couldn’t follow the rules. So many instances when one person, or one small group of people, ruined it for everybody.
Boxes of slide reels still cover my repurposed kitchen table. To help with storage, a nearby closet offers enough space for a whopping twelve boxes for a total of sixteen, all compiled by my paternal Grandfather. I’m no mathematician but I can easily calculate that, with sixteen boxes of eighty slides, there must be over twelve hundred squares of film.
Recently I have become aware of Meninist Twitter, an account with thousands of followers. An account whose purposes, as far as I can tell, are to argue that true gender equality means fighting for men's rights, to claim that women have an agenda that involves disadvantaging men, and, of course, to ridicule feminism.
Anger is powerful. Anger is useful. If you insult me at the bowling alley, I am bound to bowl a strike right after. I tend to utilize anger in three areas: passive aggressive, the rare occasions where I engage in competitions, and talking about feminist issues. Not to sound like an angry feminist, but there is a lot to be angry about on that front.
Jewish women are having a moment. At the end of 2014, Flavorwire published an article entitled “2014 Was—Secretly—The Year of the Jewish Woman.” It profiled Jewish women who made news in culture in the past year: Abbi Glazer and Ilana Jacobson of the Comedy Central show Broad City, Jill Soloway, the writer of the groundbreaking show Transparent, and Jenny Slate, the comedian who starred in the romantic comedy Obvious Child, among others.
I have an immense amount of respect for more traditional Jewish communities, Ashkenazi and Sephardi alike. Judaism cannot and should not be only one thing; and our culture’s ability to be both united and extraordinarily multi-faceted is part of what makes it so beautiful.
We’ve all seen—and heard of—the impossible standards to which women are held: be skinny, beautiful, athletic, and put together, but also be “natural” and be “yourself.” Don’t change yourself for a man, but don’t scare him off by being too honest or “real” from the get-go either. Be smart and informed, but don’t let your intelligence outshine his, or else his masculinity might be threatened. Be a perfect mother and wife, but make sure you’re also highly accomplished at work.
So, when prompted with the question, “Which piece of culture would you like history to forget?” I truly couldn’t think of anything. To willingly want to erase a historical cultural record really shows no regard for history at all. The culture we create is a reflection of our values during that period. Books, movies, TV, music, are the most compelling historical records we have of the mood of a society, and this includes the ugly parts.
Sometimes, my shame overwhelms me mid-phrase, and I am only able to get half-way through the final word: “What a bi…” before I chastise myself thoroughly. “Stop it. You are a feminist now, Eliza. You are supposed to be better than this.”
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Rising Voices." (Viewed on May 3, 2016) <http://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices>.