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.
This week I learned about a blog that had taken up the mantle of “fat-shaming week.” For a week, this blog posted shaming and demeaning content about fat women. The stated reason behind fat-shaming week is that the fat-acceptance movement is attempting to change beauty standards, and that shouldn’t be allowed to happen. They believe that shame will get people to lose weight, and that will ultimately make people healthier and benefit society. Here are some titles of posts they published:
- 5 Reasons Fat Girls Don’t Deserve Love
- Always Take Photos of Fat Women
- 5 Ways to Bully Fat Sluts on a Date
I’ll let that sink in for a minute.
This week marks the anniversary of Gertrude Berg’s television debut as housewife Molly Goldberg. This week also marks the fourth episode of ABC’s new show, The Goldbergs. Interestingly enough: same name, different show—and very different times.
Because there are few things in the world I like more than TV, I decided to sit down this week and honor Gertrude Berg by diving right into The Goldbergs.
It turns out that “Jewish Funny” has become evidence-based. Results from the recent Pew Study “Portrait of Jewish Americans,” four in 10 of the 5.3 million religious and cultural Jews surveyed consider a sense of humor essential to Jewish identity. Having a sense of humor is part of our communications and value system. It’s as if we have a framework for which we see the world that lets us find and enjoy the irony of life’s complications. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the words “irony” and “oy” both have an “o” and a “y”.
Last week we took a look at some of the aid programs that are being shut down due to the government standoff. As the shutdown stretches into its second week, families who rely on assistance are becoming more endangered—and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.
When media coverage focuses on our lack of a panda-cam in the National Zoo, I begin to question our priorities. It is, of course, upsetting that our National Parks, monuments and museums are closed; yet I wonder if these fluffier “human interest” stories detract from what our national conversation should really entail? Jokes from late night talk show hosts and the zeitgeist of the internet seem to hang on sardonic jabs at the government—which makes the shutdown appear to be a game.
In fact, the effects of the shutdown on food insecure families in America are life threatening. The more I learn, the angrier I get. Just yesterday a friend of mine from Louisiana shared on her Facebook account that the school lunch program at the elementary school she teaches in was in danger of being discontinued. A large percentage of her students rely on this program for their one stable meal of the day. At the risk of putting it too simply, that just doesn’t seem right.
Being a woman in science isn’t an easy accomplishment. It’s a hard field to break into, and it’s a hard field to shine in. I reached out to a few of my friends who make their living through science, and they all agreed—this subject is tricky on so many levels. It’s hard to navigate, and the politics that get in the way end up being both external and internal. The article in the New York Times wasn’t a groundbreaking discovery—no one is shocked to hear that girls have it tough in the world of science. But it’s good to keep the conversation going—and to remind ourselves that we have shoulders like Gertrude Elion’s to stand on.
The government shut down is on everyone’s mind—as it should be. Day two and we are all holding our collective breath. As of right now, I’m safe from the effects, but my family isn’t. My sister—a federal employee—is home, without pay, busy cleaning her basement when she should be out there making the world a better place.
My sister isn’t the only woman feeling the burn. Slate took a look at the ways the government shut down is impacting women in an article entitled Seven Ways the Government Shutdown Will Hit Women Hardest. Programs like the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) are included on the list of "non-essential" government services shut down during the stand off.
After 48 jam-packed hours with the board, I feel good about my role with the JWA. But it is not just the board that keeps my enthusiasm afloat—it is the JWA mission. Our users, readers, and community echo the passion our board and staff feels.
This morning I woke up, back in Boston, to my normal routine—which includes checking my email before I even get out of bed. Still on a high from my JWA infused weekend, I discovered that a friend sent me an article my way entitled “American Jews Losing Their Religion.”
A Pew Research study hit the web this morning stating “one-in-five Jews (22%) now describe themselves as having no religion.”
Photographers like Arbus, Goldin, and Leibovitz have brought their own unique worldviews–perspectives that were certainly informed by their religious background and gender identities–to their works. Their groundbreaking art has paved the way for contemporary young Jewish women aspiring to capture the moment through the camera. Their legacy will always stay in the hearts and minds of people around the globe, their photos stirring the hearts of simple people and arts aficionados alike.
Last week at a planning meeting for the Girls Night Out event, I was asked to respond to the question: “Why do you want a mikveh?”
Many in the room shared answers about their personal immersions, family experiences, or just generally liking the idea of the place. When it came my turn, I looked at the woman next to me and said, “I want a mikveh because it is a radical feminist act to have one. It’s more political than you know.”
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Blog." (Viewed on February 26, 2015) <http://jwa.org/blog>.