When I applied to the Peace Corps in the fall of 2011, I thought I knew myself pretty well. In fact, I thought I was the person I was going to be and I just couldn't wait to share that person with the world as an ambassador from our great nation.
As it turns out, I didn't know shit. I'm a 26 year old graduate of Barnard College with a degree in Economics. Sounds okay on paper, no? Well, eighteen months into my Peace Corps service in Thailand, the only thing I know for certain is how little I know. The sheer optimism and raw idealism I arrived with did not get me very far. They did, however, prove to be active catalysts for many experiences I've had, and I feel supremely lucky for the humbling opportunity to rethink everything I thought I knew.
My first daughter made me a father (with significant help from my wife). I felt unprepared then, and still do, on occasion, even though she is now 21. For example, I am still unprepared when she calls in a funk about tomorrow's final exam (in which she ended up doing more than fine, thank you).
Our son was born six and a half years after our first daughter, and our second daughter was born six and a half minutes after him. Ask me about twins another time, or boys; this time my assignment is daughters. My daughters have taught me about dance, and fashion, and the photosynthesis cycle, and scuba diving, and inductive geometry. They have taught me that observation is not judgment, that you don't have to be a feminist to support feminism, and, distressingly, that the world is cruel to women in ways that men only know when we worry about our daughters.
It’s a warm spring Saturday night, and I am standing in a tot lot, knee deep in toddlers. It’s past seven, and the late light is starting to smudge. As I gaze across the garish reds, blues, and yellows of the bulky play structures, across the immovable iron fence, I spot a 20-something couple walking by on the street. They are light on their feet, smiling, arm-in-arm, and I think: They’ve just had sex. A late afternoon session, bodies sweaty, faces flushed, their hair tousled by a post-storm breeze from the window. A prelude on their way to a chic bistro and a boisterous bar. The young man and I trade squinting looks, both trying to make sense of what we see. After a beat, he gives up and rejoins his partner’s earnest banter.
Thanks to another successful mixture of time, biology, and good fortune, we welcomed another baby girl into our family a few weeks ago. For those of you who are counting, that makes five kids- we led off with two boys, and since then have been on a girl binge.
Now listen, I’m not a sociologist, or an academician, or a statistician when I talk about kids, society, and gender. With that in mind, as I reflect on being a parent to three girls, these are not to be interpreted as blanket statements about boys/girls/gender, but they do reflect my experience.
Who still watches Miss USA? I remember tuning in when I was younger, eager to check out the contestants’ glam evening dresses. Now, if anything, I’ll glance through pictures online of the top five. Maybe. If it’s a slow internet day.
Well, the dated, sexist, eye-roller of a pageant became suddenly culturally relevant this Sunday, in more ways than one. The winner, Miss Nevada Nia Sanchez, is a fourth-degree black belt in taekwondo. Thanks to thorough research (Google search) I can tell you that black belt is the highest rank, and there are nine levels within the rank. So, Nia is about halfway through the most advanced level. She started training when she was eight, and became a certified taekwondo instructor at fifteen. This is something she’s been dedicated to for most of her life, not a hobby she picked up to stand out at pageants—which she didn’t even begin competing in until 2009. Impressive.
Some readers of Jewesses with Attitude might remember that almost a year ago, I wrote about the documentary film Girl Rising, which at the time was being shown here in Boston as Abby Mohr’s bat mitzvah project. I was frustrated that I couldn’t see the film at the time, so I was thrilled when Tara, JWA’s Director of Engagement and Social Media, posted on our Facebook that the American Jewish World Service (AJWS) would be screening a shortened version of the film. I made it a priority to go to this event—not only to make up for missing it last year, but also to finally see what I’ve been hearing so much about since the making of this film.
Girl Rising tells the stories of girls in developing countries fighting to earn the educations they need and deserve. What’s so powerful about the film is that it is truly a docu-drama. Each story focuses on a young woman who worked with a writer from her country to present her story the way she wanted it told.
Roz Chast is one of The New Yorker’s most enduringly popular cartoonists, beloved for her signature neurotic style and quick wit. In her first graphic memoir, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, Chast dives into the always frustrating, often funny, sometimes surreal world of elder care. As an only child, Chast was wholly responsible for making sure her aging parents were safe and taken care of, despite their tendency to drive her completely nuts. We meet her mother Elizabeth, a domineering woman who always had the last word, and her father George, an anxious man who adored Elizabeth. Together, the three of them navigate the last years of her parents’ lives, the brutal realities of aging, and the bittersweet comedy of reaching the end of the road.
When I was in tenth grade, a male friend of mine told me he would kill himself after I said I wouldn’t go out with him. The next day, he confronted me in the hallway and told me I was, among other things, a terrible person, a tease, and a slut. Later that year, a senior who I was too shy to talk to approached me and told me he really liked me and wanted to go out. He tried to kiss me at my locker, in front of a teacher, and I pulled away. Later he told his friends that I wouldn’t have sex with him and that I was obsessed with playing hard to get; that I loved the attention. Of course, this was news to me—I’d had a crush on him and was baffled when he stopped talking to me after the attempted public kiss. Later I learned that the two of them—I’m-going-to-kill-myself guy and kamikaze-kiss-guy—circulated a list detailing which sexual positions would best take advantage of my body—which, as was noted in the list, “would be really great if she lost 5 pounds.” There were other incidents that year, and many more throughout high school.
As a feminist activist and Internet junkie, I get most of my news from online, feminist-leaning news sources. Consequently, I learned about the plight of the 300 kidnapped girls in Nigeria before the general public became aware of it. I was dismayed that it took so long for mainstream news sites to cover the incident, and I am equally saddened by its quick disappearance from people’s thoughts. Although major news sites are still reporting on the situation, such updates are largely absent from social media. A couple days ago, my Facebook newsfeed was exploding with event pages, shared articles, and updated statuses about the kidnapped girls. Now, I hear nothing.
"I am proud that I had the guts and the patriotism to defy my parents and enlist in the service of my country when it needed me." –Miranda Bloch
"What is a nice Jewish girl going to do in the military, especially in the Marine Corps?" –Miranda Bloch’s incredulous father
Did you know that there were women in the Marines in the 1940’s? I certainly didn’t.
“The fire was burning low, and just a few live coals are on the bottom. With the slow feeding of wood and finally coal, a roaring fire is started. I couldn't help thinking how similar to a human being a fire is. If it is not allowed to run down too low, and if there is a spark of life left in it, it can be nursed back. So can a human being.” –Frances Slanger
Lt. Frances Slanger of Roxbury, Massachusetts was one of four nurses who waded ashore at Normandy on D-Day. She was also the first American nurse to die in Europe in World War II.
In 1942, the United States was suffering through a severe shortage of pilots. Men were needed to fight overseas, and the government was forced to take a chance and train women to fly military aircraft. This pioneering group of civilian female pilots was called the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots, or WASP for short. Over 1,000 young women were trained to fly B-26 and B-29 bombers, test new planes, and fly shipments across the country from factories to military bases. Fun fact: the WASP mascot was drawn by Walt Disney, and appeared on each woman’s shoulder patch. Less fun fact: All records of the WASPs were classified and sealed for 35 years, so their contributions were little known and all but inaccessible to historians.
In the few short days since Jill Abramson’s surprise firing from her post as executive editor of the New York Times, much has been written about her ouster. There are many questions still unanswered about the reasons behind such an abrupt dismissal: Was it a pay dispute? Her “bossiness”? And, as Ken Auletta asks, “Why did the Times, which so heralded the hiring of its first female executive editor, terminate Abramson in such a brutal fashion?
Hello, Internet. My name is Tara, I’m the new Director of Engagement & Social Media at JWA and I’m thrilled to introduce myself! I came to the Jewish Women’s Archive to creatively promote a mission that I strongly believe in—to document Jewish women’s stories, elevate their voices, and inspire them to be agents of change. I’ve been actively writing, posting to Facebook, and tweeting my heart out for the last two weeks—I hope you’ve noticed!—but this is my first JWA blog post. I have big plans for this blog, and I hope to bring you, dear readers, a thoughtful, funny, progressive place to think, share, and converse. Please be in touch—I want to hear from you! And in return, I promise to do my best to keep you entertained and interested while staying true to JWA’s mission.
At the moment, I am a Jewish educator. It doesn’t necessarily fit in with what I thought my career path would look like, but it’s taken me to some incredible places and connected me with some of the most wonderful people I’ve had the pleasure of working with.
One of the best parts of working at Prozdor is that my boss almost always says “Yes” when I want to try something new. So when I came to him with the idea to run a Social Justice Leadership Certificate program for Jewish teens, he was into it right away.
The Rising Voices Fellowship was an experience unlike any other I’ve had before. It offered new insights on so many areas of life: feminism, Judaism, writing, working with others, personal growth, community... and I could go on. Needless to say, I’ve learned more things this year than I can list. But I can still offer a small sample...
I honestly had no clue what type of psychological boot camp I signed up for when I agreed to participate in JWA’s Rising Voices blog. This was nothing like the physical endurance that I face at school when I dance; writing for the Fellowship has carved every possible theme, issue, and interest that could be put into a blog post out of my cranium. Yes, we fellows technically had a month to write our pieces, but for perfectionists like me, this was nothing!
When I became a Woman of the Wall, I became more fully Jewish.
I had been a rabbi for almost 20 years the day I was detained, with nine other women – including my seventeen-year-old daughter – by police for wearing a tallis and praying out loud at the kotel. We were singing the psalms of hallel when a young police officer waved for me to follow her out of the women’s section. I shook my head. She approached me, her hand outstretched. I reached for my daughter who is named for the prayers we sang – Hallel --and together we sat down. The police officer squatted in front of me and asked me to come with her.
I went to Charleston, South Carolina during the week of Passover to escape the fact that this year my holiday didn’t really feel like a holiday. My three kids were with their father for the week, according to the custody schedule. My parents and siblings were in Israel, and I’d decided not to join them there.
My boyfriend and I had picked Charleston because it was a city I’d never been to and as a Southerner myself, I’d always wanted to visit. But until now, it had never made it to the top of the list – and indeed, my own sense of myself as a Southerner was fading. The longer I lived away – in New York and now in Boston - the less present that personal and family history felt, more a piece of where I come from, but less and less who I am.
I didn’t expect much when I first joined the Rising Voices Fellowship—I thought I’d meet some fellow writers and have a good time blogging. Yes, both of those things ended up happening for me, but I ended up getting so much more out of the fellowship than I had originally expected. I’ve participated in many meaningful activities, but joining the Rising Voices Fellowship was one of my favorites. I’ve been able to explore who I am as a writer and as a Jewish feminist.
Before this year, I had always viewed writing as a solitary process. I wrote alone, revised little and only sought feedback after a piece was complete. Rising Voices has given me the gift of community both inside and outside of the Fellowship—writing has become a collaborative process and I and my work are better for it. I’ve learned three primary lessons in this area from my peers, from my teachers, from my editors, and from my friends.
Here at JWA, every day we celebrate the lives of American Jewish women and their contributions to our history. We commemorate their lives and accomplishments and share their stories with visitors from all over the world. For this Jewish American Heritage Month, we are partnering with Kveller.com, a parenting website with a fresh Jewish twist. JWA and Kveller are teaming up to bring to light lesser-known stories of Jewish American women whose legacies live on—and inspire-- today.
As my year in the Rising Voices Fellowship comes to a close, it is time to look back on the experience and look forward to my next adventures as a student, a writer, and a teenager. RVF has allowed me to explore Judaism, feminism and blogging in ways I never have before. I have learned many small and meaningful lessons over this year, but I found the most important material taught about writing—and life—that I learned from Rising Voices fit neatly into three parts: looking back, living in the present, and moving forward.
The first books I ever fell in love with were the American Girl books. The American Girl Company as a whole was a big part of my childhood, and its influence is still with me today: if it weren’t for it and Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start The Fire,” I don’t know if I would have passed US History last year. Educational value aside, the books have held up as fantastic examples of children’s literature, with their beautiful illustrations, interesting historical notes in the margins, diverse characters (including their cast of thirteen young female protagonists), and, most importantly to me, simple but solid stories.
What does it mean to remember together?
Silence. That’s what I remember. Silence coated in hazy sunshine and a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.
I spent most of the week of the Boston Marathon Bombing feeling alone—at my desk at work, on the couch or laying in bed at home. I woke the day of the lockdown to the news on WBUR coming from my alarm clock and I sat quietly, anxiously, in my apartment all day. I heard nothing outside, no sirens or cars or people shouting in the alley outside my window. It was totally surreal. I didn’t sleep well for weeks after that happened. I felt scared and alone.
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Blog." (Viewed on October 1, 2014) <http://jwa.org/blog>.