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.
It feels so unimaginative to write that Gloria Steinem is my hero. But, Gloria Steinem is my hero. She’s the woman I most admire, and the only consistent guest at my fantasy dinner party. Reading her new memoir, My Life on the Road, is probably the closest I’ll ever get to actually having dinner with Gloria.
Is it sexist to call a woman a girl? Yes it is. At the risk of having the world’s shortest blog post though, I’ll elaborate. The Washington Post published a piece this week about the new CBS drama, “Supergirl,” titled: “Is the term ‘Supergirl’ offensive? The story behind the ‘girl vs. woman’ speech in the pilot.”
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.
Film star Jennifer Lawrence took to the blogosphere last week to ask one simple question: “Why do I make less than my male co-stars?” The internet didn’t break like it did when Ellen posted that selfie from last year’s Academy Awards on Twitter, or like when Rebecca Black’s “Friday” hit YouTube, but Lawrence’s post in Lena Dunham’s newsletter, Lenny, has received a great deal of attention on the web.
“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.
Lucy Kramer Cohen (1907-2007) was an advocate for Native Americans, and spent much of her career, along with her husband Felix, fighting for their rights. Felix was hired by President Franklin Roosevelt to draft what became the Indian Reorganization Act. Lucy was knowledgeable about Native American cultures and about economics, and she and Felix discussed how to reform the legal and economic opportunities for Native Americans.
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.
While seeking stories of transformation this holiday season, most of the tales that have caught my attention involved women who exchanged quiet domestic lives for active involvement in the public sphere. Ray Frank did the opposite: she swapped her life as a trailblazing Jewish leader for one away from the spotlight.
In Maud Nathan’s second life as an activist, she became president of the New York Consumers’ League, vice president of the Woman’s Municipal League of New York, and chair of the industrial committee of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs. Her husband, once her companion at parties and fundraisers, began marching beside her at suffrage parades.
When actors make it big later in life, they usually have a long history of smaller roles and near misses to back up their rise to fame. There’s no such thing as an overnight success, and so on. Estelle Getty’s journey to her star-making role in The Golden Girls was really just that—an overnight transformation—though it may not have felt that way for Getty.
This Rosh Hashanah, I’m thinking about change. We look at transformation as something that happens overnight, but if the women I learn about every day at JWA are any indication, change happens in surprising ways and at unexpected times. It can be sudden or slow, a product of one determined action or years of effort.
In Katrina’s Jewish Voices, JWA’s collection of video interviews with New Orleans women in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Julie Wise Oreck discussed the extraordinary collaboration of the Jewish community to rebuild the city. In 10 years, she predicted then, “we’ll look back and say we could have done it better.
As we approach yet another election year, American voters may be drawing nearer to an enormous landmark: electing a woman president. With Hillary Rodham Clinton polling as the top Democratic contender, it’s never felt more possible.
Susan Hess first came to New Orleans as a young bride in 1965, three days before Hurricane Betsy, and she remembered the one good thing about that storm was that it cemented her identity as a New Orleans insider in a way that would have taken decades otherwise.
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Blog." (Viewed on February 11, 2016) <http://jwa.org/blog>.