The work of the historian is to not only tell a story, but to tell it in a way that makes it real, vivid, alive, and human for the receiver. I learned this on Monday when I had the privilege of attending the Matrix Awards and hearing Doris Kearns-Goodwin’s acceptance speech. This wisdom instantly struck a chord because it describes exactly why I write and what I want to do with my writing. I want to tell a story that makes someone want to act because when statistics or historical jargon is turned into characters, the process of humanization begins and we start to act.
Here is my revelation from Monday: It is the work of the Jewish feminist to tell a real, vivid, alive, and human story. Why? The lives of Jewish women, while documented in Talmudic footnotes and filed away birth certificates, are not recorded in a way that allows them to be remembered. Judaism is all about storytelling. The Torah – the oldest foundation of Judaism off of which everything else is based – is a book of stories that are beautifully written, intricately woven together, and undoubtedly sexist in a way relevant to the times. We tell stories to remember. What is so enlightened about religion is that it does not matter if what we remember actually happened. What matters is how we remember it and how we share it and let it spread in the creation of tradition, ritual, and community.
I decided to start writing about Jewish feminism when I read The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. Unlike blogs, novels are usually not explicitly feminist works, but they can carry an even stronger message if the story is told in a way that makes the reader remember it. Dina, daughter of Jacob, was known primarily as a footnote in the Torah until Diamant took on the task of resurrecting (excuse the Christian reference) this forgotten Jewish woman through telling her story. The irony is that on the pages of fiction, people become real. I could easily toss out a statistic about the number of women footnoted in the Torah or say that Dina was one sister in a family of twelve brothers, but numbers cannot take the place of people. If Jewish women continue to be statistics, they will lose their humanity. The realization of humanity is feminism’s most precious goal.
Read a story (or write one) about a Jewish woman. This could be your grandmother, a forgotten daughter of the Torah, or a teenager who struggles with Jewish identity. That is – after all – what JWA and all these other blogs are all about. We tell the stories of Jewish women, hoping that their common humanity will be recognized.