When my family wanted to go see Frozen, Disney’s newest animated feature, over Thanksgiving weekend, I went along only grudgingly. Judging from the trailers and the product placement I had seen around my local drugstores, all I could tell about Frozen was that it would involve a princess and a wisecracking snowman cavorting across a wintry landscape. Nothing too memorable or extraordinary, I figured.
Happily, I was wrong.
Lately social media has been flooded with articles and images regarding the many indiscretions of female pop icons. While this is not a new phenomenon, more and more articles and videos offer harsh criticism of every aspect of these women’s characters. Miley Cyrus, for example, has been known to appear in a variety of venues only half dressed. Amanda Bynes and Lindsay Lohan have become infamous for their rapidly changing hair colors and frequent arrests. Christina Aguilera, despite her immense success as a singer and position as a judge on The Voice, receives criticism for her fluctuating weight.
Usually, I’m a bit of a skeptic about the transformative power of women’s leadership. I don’t believe a woman in a position of power will necessarily create meaningful social change. I’m a little weary of celebrating “firsts” for women. I’m impatient and demanding and all the things feminists need to be if we’re going to change the world for more than an elite few.
And then there are moments when I feel the momentum rumbling beneath my feet and cynicism is nowhere to be found. Today I had one of those moments when I heard that Rabbi Cantor Angela Warnick Buchdahl has been chosen as the next Senior Rabbi at Central Synagogue, a prominent and powerful Reform congregation in New York City.
JWA has an enlightening poster series dedicated to 16 women tagged as Women of Valor. The exhibit introduces itself explaining, “Women of Valor recognizes and highlights the lives and accomplishments of sixteen trailblazing Jewish women, each of whom had the courage and conviction to overcome the social, cultural, and religious barriers she faced in creating a more just and equitable world.”
The exhibit has me thinking—about the concept of valor, about the traditional hymn, and about whom we might tag as contemporary Women of Valor.
The word itself, valor, can be defined as personal bravery—when I think of valor I think of someone who not only speaks, but also acts with a just intent, who is able to keep the needs of others in perspective to her own needs, and is dedicated to improving the world in both small and large ways. But, valor hasn’t always held this connotation in traditional Jewish Biblical literature. To understand how we define women of valor we must first take a look back at where the phrase originated.
As the Red Sox went along, up and up the ladder to win the World Series, I noticed some posts from my leftist friends living in Boston. They were commenting on the perceived chauvinism of sports fans, mostly drunk men on the Green Line, who had rubbed them the wrong way.
It got me to thinking about my firm feminism ideals and my Sox fandom—are the two things directly contradictory? Is there something about being a sports fan that makes me less of an activist for justice?
Editor's Note: Feminist-Fandom was originally published on Always a Squeaky Wheel on November 27th.
I cannot walk out of my house (or open my laptop) without being bombarded with suggestions for Hanukkah (this year, often Thanksgivukkah) merchandise. (Ironically, I am simultaneously presented with ads for “Catching Fire” themed goods, in contrast to the movie’s message.) The Hanukkah narrative has the power to be subversive; it is a story of a minority making themselves heard, of an oppressed group claiming their rights. When those of us who are privileged to be able to buy gifts (and menurkeys) focus on the commercial elements of the holiday at the expense of the holiday’s story, we create a bubble like the Capitol. Hanukkah should be a call to remind us that we should be the districts, not the Capitol; our power should be channeled into fighting injustice, not simply consuming what is provided to us.
Editors note: If you haven’t read The Hunger Games (or seen the movies), you’ll be safe from any major spoilers in this post from one of our Rising Voices Fellows. Be sure to check the JWA blog each Tuesday for a new post from our fellows—and check out the great educational resources provided by our partner organization, Prozdor.
Today we welcome our first post from Marissa Harrington-Verb, one of our Rising Voices Fellows. Be sure to check the JWA blog each Tuesday for a new post from one of our fellows—and check out the great educational resources provided by our partner organization, Prozdor.
My mother, Elisa Harrington-Verb, loves feminism. But more importantly, my mother loves motherhood. She is the most devoted and loving mother that my little brother Sawyer and I could have wished for. When we were young, she stayed home with us all day. She slept next to us at night, and she breastfed us until we decided for ourselves it was time to wean. I love her more than anything, and if you had tried to tell me back then that she was raising me wrong, I would have looked at you like you were crazy.
I had no idea that my mother’s relationship with us was something she had to defend.
In 2013 a miraculous thing happened. Thanksgiving and Haunkuah overlapped, and the whole world went crazy. The day was deemed Thanksgivukkah and quickly became a thing of legend. Songs popped up- some genuine, some parodies. Websites devoted to the day were designed. T-shirts in every shape and size celebrated the day. Even the Mayor of Boston proclaimed the day to be an official holiday.
And I bought a menorah shaped like a turkey—aka a menurkey .
Today we welcome our first post from Olivia Link, one of our Rising Voices Fellows. Be sure to check the JWA blog each Tuesday for a new post from one of our fellows—and check out the great educational resources provided by our partner organization, Prozdor.
Here we go again: Thanksgiving, the 2013 edition. Families gather across the nation to pile turkey on their plates and to be stuffed with stuffing. I’m sure my family is one of many who take part in a Thanksgiving ritual where everybody goes around the table sharing why they are thankful. But when I get that 15-second spotlight to announce my thanks, I feel as though I never get to say what I truly, deeply appreciate in my life. Nobody at the table mentions the fact that our country has progressed immensely technologically and scientifically (heck, only a decade ago there was no such thing as an iPad). Nobody mentions that beyond technology, ideological shifts within our country have made monumental movement forward. Once upon a time in an America foreign to me, being gay was a legitimate crime and women were actually unable to cast their votes into the ballot box (yup, boxes!). So, to say I am thankful for change would be an understatement.
Today we welcome our first post from Eden Marcus, one of our Rising Voices Fellows. Be sure to check the JWA blog each Tuesday for a new post from one of our fellows—and check out the great educational resources provided by our partner organization, Prozdor.
It’s become a tradition that my USY (United Synagogue Youth) chapter board participates in a minyan during our Monday night meetings—the quick break next door in the sanctuary helps us feel part of the temple community. But lately I find these field trips troubling. When people see a group of seven girls walk in, the first thing I hear is, “Where are all the boys?” Or, perhaps even more troubling, “Wait, you don’t have any male leaders?”
Today we welcome our first post from Miriasha Borsykowsky, one of our Rising Voices Fellows. Be sure to check the JWA blog each Tuesday for a new post from one of our fellows—and check out the great educational resources provided by our partner organization, Prozdor.
I don’t think about it a lot, but I am descended from a line of strong, resourceful women. I’ve heard their stories all through growing up, and although I have endless respect for them, I have always had trouble relating.
I was born in 1996, lived in Vermont my whole life, speak only English at home, and have never had to worry about having enough to eat. My great- (and great-great) grandmothers lived in Binghamton, New York, spoke Yiddish, and had to really work to survive. I’m blessed to have two parents who are still living together, while the women I am descended from dealt with tragic losses of a father or a husband. While the struggles they went through are very different from what I struggle with, I still turn to their stories sometimes for guidance.
Today we welcome our first post from Hannah Elbaum, one of our Rising Voices Fellows. Be sure to check the JWA blog each Tuesday for a new post from one of our fellows—and check out the great educational resources provided by our partner organization, Prozdor.
My parents don’t talk about feminism.
It’s not a taboo topic, just not one we typically discuss around the dinner table- or ever, for that matter.
But, feminism is not lacking in my household. My parents equally share responsibilities of taking care of a house, three kids, and their respective jobs. Still, the words “equality of opportunity,” or “feminism” have rarely been said aloud under this roof.
Last week, JWA led the first online learning program of the year, “Hanukkah: Ignite and Inspire.” We spoke to almost 20 educators from across the country, covering topics from incorporating lessons of Jewish heroines to the challenges of creating a refreshing and relevant Hanukkah curriculum. I was most excited to talk about Judith, a Jewish, Biblical era woman whose story is not included in the Jewish scriptural canon.
This piece was originally published on November 5, 2013 on Mother Thoughts as a response to the JWA Last Name blog series.
To be perfectly honest, I can't stand when someone asks for my full name on the telephone. Not only do I have an unusual first name (with an atypical spelling), I also have an unusual and hyphenated last name, and I end up saying something like this: "Okay, my first name is Adena, A-D-E-N-A, and my last name is Cohen-Bearak, C-O-H-E-N, hyphen, then B as in boy, E-A-R-A-K. Got it?"
Dr. Feynman fought an uphill battle—she had the smarts and the ability, but she was living in a world that wasn’t able to support or encourage a woman in science. Realizing the realities of the academic culture, she relegated her ambitions to being an assistant to a male physicist. Luckily for all of us—and for the field of theoretical physics—the support of her brother helped her set her goals at being a “high-medium physicist.”
For our first post from our new class of Rising Voices Fellows, we present an open letter from Avigayil Halpern to her younger sister, Ora. Be sure to check the JWA blog each Tuesday for a new post from one of our fellows—and check out the great educational support provided by our partner organization, Prozdor.
Because of our similar (to other people, at least) appearance and relative closeness in age, it’s often assumed that we’re very alike. Last year you related to me a frustrating incident, where at a prospective student event at my school many people approached you and asked, “Do you like Talmud? Are you a feminist?”
When you responded in the affirmative, the response you got was always “Oh, You’re just like Avigayil!”
"You're changing your name? I'm surprised."
"Why are you surprised?"
"I don't know. You just seem like the kind of person who wouldn't."
I had this conversation with my friend Ben a few months before my wedding, after I mentioned that I was planning on taking my husband's last name. Presumably, what Ben meant when he said "the kind of person who wouldn't" was educated, career-oriented, politically progressive- someone for whom getting married was a pleasant parallel track to other goals instead of an ambition in and of itself. Apparently, it's difficult to believe that a woman with a career, who strongly believes in women's equality, would take her husband's name.
As we continue to develop our series on names, please let us know if you are interested in sharing your story.
Being based in Boston, the Red Sox are a pretty big deal. I’m not a sports fan, but I get the allegiance. (And, I get that that the Red Sox Nation is an important part of our city’s identity—feel free to ask me about the fireworks that kept me up late last night following the Red Sox World Series win.) Which is why I found a statement I heard at a wedding last weekend particularly illuminating.
The bride, a New Yorker and Yankees fan, was marrying a Boston Red Sox fan. During the toasts her sister shared, “it is easier for someone in our family to change their last name than to change their sports team.” Marriage and the decision to change, not change, hyphenate, combine, invent, or otherwise alter one’s last name is a controversial one.
Ken and I talked about our names for a long time before we got married. He always said he wanted everyone in our new family to have the same last name—particularly when we had kids. And I would say, "Okay, you are always welcome to be a Garcia." I said that as a joke, but I really meant it.
I've worked long and hard to create Mimi Garcia. I often joke, "It's a good brand and I've worked hard to make it. I don't want to change it."
Esther Broner, or E.M. as she was known, was a Jewish feminist, prolific author, professor, and pioneer of the feminist movement. Known for re-imagining traditional Jewish customs and rituals, she co-wrote The Women’s Haggadah, which encouraged women to devise their own version of traditional rituals.
The Jewish Women’s Archive and Prozdor are thrilled to announce our inaugural Rising Voices Fellowship class. The fellowship, which is open to female-identified teens in grades 11 and 12, was awarded to 6 young women with a demonstrated passion for writing, a concern for current events, and a strong interest in Judaism—particularly as it relates to issues of gender and equality.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month employs some tactics that I find problematic—but the cause is important for all of us.
The conversation is one that needs to be had.
We need to move past the shock-tactics of declaring our love of ta-tas and move into a conversation about how we can offer screening and care to those who don’t have access to it. We need to have conversations that don’t exclude men, but instead discuss the real importance of awareness for everyone. We need to make breast cancer awareness about saving lives, not putting sexualized versions of female anatomy on pedestals.
A few months after I started working at the Jewish Women’s Archive, I was taking the last bus home from a raucous karaoke night on the other side of town. Being from the Midwest originally (read: overly friendly), it was only natural that I strike up a conversation with the bus driver. As our conversation roamed from the weather to current labor issues in the MBTA, I shared a story with him about Rose Schneiderman, a Jewish woman labor activist who had I had been researching for a work-related project. The conversation was so lively I missed my stop and had to walk four extra blocks home.
When I think about that night, I remember the pride that I felt about sharing part of Jewish history with this guy, and how grateful I was that my Jewish identity was giving me a lens through which to connect with others (even non-Jews!) and understand complicated issues in my community.
As a female-bodied person who wears clothing typically reserved for men and occasionally uses male pronouns, I know the world of bluriness. I walk through it everyday, and I see the way it is threatening to people. I have compassion for Sarah, because I see her in the face of all those who struggle with excellent intentions to locate my gender in their understanding of the world. I know the ways in which it pushes me outside of community, and I see the ways in which sharing my whole self with people allows them to bring me in. It is an experience of deep pain and of greater joy. Of pure laughter and the laughter that comes in response to the sheer absurdity of any given moment in my life. To be sure, it is not only genderqueer or trans* identified people who live in the bluriness or on the edge. People with disabilities, those of lower economic classes, single parents, interfaith members of our community — they also live in the blurriness, on the edge of at least one boundary or another.
And so I read this week’s Torah portion as a caution. As a call to notice, to investigate, to counter moments when a blurred line is making us uncomfortable or when we are too narrowly prescribing a person’s identity.
As a feminist, a Jew, and a sometimes-writer, I should have had Letty Cottin Pogrebin on my top 10 list of awesome people I’d love to have dinner with someday. I can’t believe that I didn’t know about this incredible writer-activist until this summer, when I began working at the New Center for Arts and Culture. As soon as I heard that Letty co-founded Ms. magazine, her New Center program quickly became my most highly anticipated of our fall season. And I realized that I needed to know more about her than what my quick online search produced.
While I knew her New Center discussion with Robin Young would focus on her latest book, How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who’s Sick, I decided to start with her seminal work, Deborah, Golda, and Me: Being Female and Jewish in America. Published in the early 1990s, I couldn’t help but read her book with a bit of curiosity: how far (or not) have things come for us as women and Jews in America, over 20 years later? And, how can we further adopt Letty’s ideas and practices? For too long, I’ve been frustrated that many in my generation see feminism as a dirty word, and that we don’t recognize the struggles of women before us that have allowed us advantages we take for granted. Reading about Letty’s life and work has been a catalyst for how I think about my own feminism and Jewish identity.
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Blog." (Viewed on July 30, 2014) <http://jwa.org/blog>.