This past year, I took a group of seven teens on a tour of the American South. The trip was inspired by my desire to infuse young people with a sense of history and context as it relates to Judaism in the South and Jews in the Civil Rights Movement.
We began in Atlanta, then drove to Alabama, stopping in Birmingham, Montgomery, Selma, and many places in between. We met with people who had lived through segregation and fought against it. We saw the Rosa Parks Museum, experienced history, and talked about what it means to be an American Jew from the Northeast.
Somehow summer has flown by—it’s August 19, which pretty much came out of nowhere. If you're anything like me, summer started with grand plans and lofty ambitions. The pages in the calendar stretched on and on, and great adventures were planned for sometime later this summer. And, somehow… summer is coming to a screeching, halting stop.
When I was 15 years old, I was about to go on vacation with my grandparents and I needed a book. I picked up a collection of three of your plays (The Heidi Chronicles, Uncommon Women and Others, & Isn't It Romantic) that I’d been assigned to read for my ninth grade English class, but never gotten around to studying. I didn’t know anything about you or the plays before opening the book, but I was soon transported to a world of women who didn’t necessarily know exactly what they wanted out of their educations, careers, and relationships, but did know they wanted a great deal. Suffice to say, it greatly appealed to me.
I’ve been listening to Eydie sing today, particularly a standout performance of a song from the 1966 musical Mame. I dare you to listen to her sing “If He Walked Into My Life” here and not feel the expressive pull, the regret, the heartache as she hits every dramatic emotional nuance of this difficult song. Not only is she technically right on the money, she nails it with aplomb and finish. Listen to it, and I guarantee you’ll feel what Steve Lawrence felt about her: “I fell in love with her the moment I saw her and even more the first time I heard her sing. While my personal loss is unimaginable, the world has lost one of the greatest pop vocalists of all time.”
I will never forget that our really serious, really smart, really devout rabbi came to our class one day and talked with us about the idea of God. The part I'll never forget was when he said, "It's OK if you don't believe in God. Sometimes I don't, either." Since about ten years later I came to identify as an atheist Jew, I think that statement rang in the halls of my consciousness for years afterwards.
Every child deserves the right to learn. Every Jewish child deserves to have a Jewish education. Every teacher should have the opportunity to watch a child have that “aha” moment. Every child deserves to learn without having any stumbling blocks in his or her path and as a teacher, it is my pleasure, to ensure that there are never any in stumbling blocks in the way.
Why do some women wear Tallit? Why shouldn’t women wear Tallit? What’s the big deal?
If you’re like me, you probably haven’t spent a lot of time pondering these questions. As someone who falls somewhere outside of regular observance, a tallit, or prayer shawl, isn’t usually on the forefront of my thoughts. (Even defining a tallit required a quick search of myjewishlearning.com.)
Last week I was lucky enough to join hundreds of Jewish educators at NewCAJE, a peer led conference that brings together educators from all walks of Jewish life. One of the highlights of my time at the conference was attending a session led by Ronni Ticker entitled “Women of the Wall- What’s the Big Deal?”
Even as it’s the start of August and the middle of summer, it’s also about to be the start of the Hebrew month of Elul.
I’m particularly conscious of the timing because my Grandma died – ten years ago this month – on the last day of Av. Confusingly the last day of Av is the first day of Rosh Chodesh Elul; ie the day before the second day of Rosh Chodesh Elul, which is in fact the first day of Elul. That in turn is the first day we blow shofar, and thus the official start of the season of teshuva – of returning to our best selves. So, in honor of my grandma, and lest the holidays catch you unawares, a few things to think about in the forthcoming season of teshuva.
It’s one thing to swap stories (the guy who didn’t understand personal space on the subway, the guy who wouldn’t stop talking to you despite the headphones in your ears and your nose in the book, the guy who shouted something about what you were wearing) and, well, it’s another thing to take action. While great resources exist online—like hollaback, an app that exists in 64 cities across 22 countries—support can feel hard to come by. Harassment can feel isolating.
I knew when I went to get my first tattoo that the hardest part wouldn’t be the pain (although it did hurt quite a bit), it would be telling my mother. I had the idea when I was living in Israel, where I fell in love with Hebrew–it’s twists and turns and calligraphy were captivating to me. Chazak, strength, meant to me that I would always be strong, even in moments of weakness or distress.
Since its inception, Yad Vashem has been in the forefront of identifying and honoring Righteous Gentiles saved Jews during WWII. Many of these individuals hid Jews in their homes or organized hiding places that allowed Jews to escape the Nazi dragnet. Stories like those of Oskar Schindler (of Schindler's List fame) and Raoul Wallenberg are well known. Others, no less amazing, are only now beginning to come to light.
Abby Mohr lives a stone's throw away from Boston, but her take on education is global. Barely even in her teenage years, and she cares deeply about making sure girls all over the world can get an education. “I really like school,” she says. “Boys get to go to school all over the world, and girls should too.” Most teenagers probably do not realize just how lucky they are to be educated, but Abby is not one of them.
When I first began writing this piece, I wanted to explain why I got an abortion. But then I remembered it’s no one else’s business. And that’s what’s missing from the conversation in North Carolina. I don’t think its a bad thing for all health clinics to uphold a certain level of standards, both in hygiene and practice; in fact I want that to be the case for any place where I or my loved ones receive medical care. But it IS a bad thing to attempt to limit my right, or the right of any other woman, to make decisions about their body and pass it off as “protection”.
The struggle for social justice involves going beyond what is easy, taking actions that are often risky. I find it helpful to have role models to remind me of the work that needs to be done and often is done by people of privilege. The Jewish Women's Archive website is brimming with just such role models—hundreds of examples of women who did not let their privilege positions keep them from taking courageous action. JWA gives us a look at how our foremothers reconciled the complicated relationship between privilege and activism.
Probably the only thing better than reading a thought provoking piece in a major publication is realizing it was penned by a colleague. Leah Berkenwald, the former editor of our blog, wrote a fantastic article about sexual assault and responsibility. Her message veers away from the traditional, and unfortunate, message of placing blame on women who drink too much and open themselves up for violence, and instead asks the reader to think about the sexual culture of college campuses. Today Leah is the Wellness Education Coordinator at Wentworth Institute of Technology, where she is implementing an original bystander intervention campaign to prevent sexual assault called "Be a WIThero."
As the words of Eicha echo in my ears and the tune gets stuck in my head, I think about how next summer we will still be lamenting same historical tragedies. The crusades and the inquisition and the Holocaust and the siege of Jerusalem all still will have happened. But additional tragedies, of children going to bed and waking up and going to bed again still hungry, of brains not being fed by education, and of bodies forced to bear children they do not want or cannot take care of, are still ahead of us.
As a white, cis female, I’m aware of my privilege. As a Jew, I’m especially aware of how we as a people and community have had first hand experience with more than our share of both privilege and persecution. Perhaps it is because I am so aware of my own privilege and so motivated to move beyond feelings of helplessness that Jacqui’s writing so moved me.
As a Reform Jew, I have long struggled with the meaning and ritual of Tisha B’Av. I have learned and studied over the years; this week at the Hartman Institute, we wrestled with the notions of and texts on communal mourning. I do not wish to see the Temple rebuilt speedily in my day, and so what do I do with this holiday?
While we aren’t still wandering the wilderness of Maob, or navigating the hard working conditions of the lower east side, we must not forget what it means to be a newcomer to a foreign land. And we must take alongside us the reminder that we are the links to our past and our future. We serve as the reminder to not take for granted our ability to be both freely Jewish and American at the same time and to empathize with the conditions new Americans face today. For just as we were slaves in Egypt, so too were our families the ones who paved the path for great opportunity.
It’s been two weeks since our New York Educator’s Workshop, and I am still amazed at the places we visited and all that was taught by Etta, Ellen, Rabbi Jill Jacobs, and all the participants and presenters in attendance. It occurred to me recently how connected I feel to the labor rights movement, which we discussed as we stood in the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side. Of course there’s the Jewish connection: Jews made up a large percentage of the population of advocates and protesters in the fight for labor rights in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in America. Jewish teachings and Yiddish phrases were often incorporated into the battle cries of the rioters. For me personally, there is much more to it than that.
Earlier this month the Yiddish Book Center's Wexler Oral History Project shared a video of Helen Yelen, who reflected on her time working in a factory alongside Ethel Rosenberg. Rosenberg was executed alongside her husband, Julius Rosenberg, for conspiracy to divulge atomic secrets to the Soviet Union.
David participated in Women of the Wall's Rosh Chodesh Av service in Israel. Using the tool Storify, David weaves together his own tweets, reflections, and photos from the experience.
A few years ago, after moving to Cincinnati for Rabbinical School at HUC, I saw a sign along the interstate with a quote from the book of Jeremiah that stated “Before I formed you in the belly, I knew you; and before you came forth out of the womb I sanctified you. I have appointed you a prophet unto the nations.” The quote refers to God comforting an incredulous Jeremiah after being told he will be a prophet to all the people at an almost impossibly young age.
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Blog." (Viewed on January 27, 2015) <http://jwa.org/blog>.