Must sexism and anti-Semitism be "either - or?"

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As I embark on my final days of high school, I am working feverishly hard (well, let’s face it – senioritis makes me say I’m going to do so) on my senior project. My project, a collection of interviews with New York Jewish women on the intersection of Judaism and feminism (how appropriate!), is an exploration of how personal identity can be shaped by external forces/movements.

I started out the project by interviewing my grandmother who is eighty-seven. When asked if she experienced anti-Semitism, she answered “all the time.” When asked if she experienced sexism, she answered, “never.” My next interview was with Sophia who is sixteen.  When asked the same question, she gave the inverse answer, experiencing sexism all the time, but never anti-Semitism.

As I went on to interview more women, I noticed a rather perplexing generational trend: no one felt like they could experience both anti-Semitism and sexism at the same time. It was as if these two forms of discrimination were mutually exclusive rather than intersectional. Even more confusing, the stories these women told me clearly demonstrated that they have experienced both forms of discrimination – even simultaneously – yet they could only put one label on the experience.

Chronologically, this separation of oppressions makes sense – anti-Semitism was fatal in the ‘30’s when for the privileged, sexism was a matter of quality of life. Now, wars are no longer focused on Judaism and exposure to sexism has become the hot button issue of the new millennium. Unfortunately, oppression does not follow clean lines of finishing one form and then starting in on another. Oppression is intersectional; it stems off of its various forms. Because the problem can include both anti-Semitism and sexism, the solution has to include Judaism and feminism. The question becomes: how can we get Jewish women to recognize discrimination? How long will it take before we learn that it is okay to put multiple labels on oppression in order to address it and fight it?

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