In 1945 a young, beautiful, Jewish woman by the name of Bess Myerson threw her hat in the ring for the title of Miss America. Bess was told she’d have better luck with the competition if she changed her name to something a little less Jewish—but she wasn’t having it. Bess entered the contest with her Jewish identity intact.
Orginally published by ZEEK Magazine.
Tonight at Kol Nidre services, I will chant the prayer that absolves me from all oaths taken the previous year. The thing is — just yesterday I took an oath, alongside 119 women on a very hot day in the shadow of the US Capitol building, an oath that I (with the organization I represent, the National Council of Jewish Women) plan to keep. In part, we promised to:
"create a House United for fair immigration reform, a House United through my family, my community and my place of work, a House United for justice and equality for all and especially for the women and children who make up three-quarters of all immigrants but whose needs are woefully ignored by our failed system."
And we put our bodies on the line to reinforce our commitment to this promise.
The first time someone called me a “feminist” I was in the 3rd grade.
I had raised my hand for the billionth time to voice my concern that we weren’t talking enough about women and girls in our history lessons. I was specifically upset that Cornelia Jackson, daughter of famed Newton, MA abolitionist William Jackson, was barely discussed in our class, despite having her diary (or a fictionalized account of it—my memory is hazy on the details) at our disposal. My teacher, trying to humor me, said she would look into it. My classmate (let’s call him Brian for his protection) at the adjacent desk rolled his eyes and said, “Oh my god, can you please stop being such a feminist?”
I looked at Brian for a moment and then said… “No.”
It seems fitting that in the midst of our own Jewish time of reflection, we encounter a day of reflection for all Americans. Twelve years ago today, our nation was struck by an unparalleled tragedy. As an organization that is dedicated to the sometimes painful art of remembering, we pause to reflect.
When we think back on that harrowing day, our sadness at the loss of life is buoyed by the memory of people coming together, reaching out with acts large and small. Our challenge is to preserve the legacy of that day as one not framed by terror and tragedy, but one that regularly reminds us that even in the worst of times, we each have something to offer and we each can make a difference by acting on our best natures.
In the initial brainstorming stages of the Rising Voices Fellowship I sat down with quite a few teenagers, and I learned quite a few things. I heard a lot of helpful (and surprising) statements about how feminism is perceived by high schoolers. I discovered that while the Internet is an undeniable force in young peoples lives, it’s not the be-all and end-all of community building. I was impressed over and over again by the thoughtful way that these young women saw themselves in relationship to a long history of Jewish women. I promise you (and not just because I’m invested in the fellowship) that when we launch Rising Voices you will be glued to your screen reading the blog posts of 11th and 12th graders.
I also learned that I might be old—or at least I experienced high school in a different time.
Judaism does not shy away from the pain of these longings on Rosh Hashanah—in fact, it confronts them head on. This year more than ever I am struck by the stories we read about Sarah and Hannah during these two days. During the holiday we read of Sarah’s yearning for a child and her surprise at conceiving even after her cycle had stopped. And of Hannah’s burning desire for a child that, after many years, finally came to be. What connects these stories of barren women yearning for children and the name of Rosh Hashanah as Hayom Harat Olam (the Day of the World’s Conception)?
I love my legs. There, I said it! While I don’t have any serious self-esteem problems, I have always had trouble taking compliments and pinpointing the parts of myself I most appreciate. At the same time though, I’m not shy about expressing my opinion and standing up for what I believe is right. Friends who have argued with me about subjects ranging from books to movies to politics will surely agree.
But lately I’ve been noticing that while there are campaigns out there telling me I’m beautiful no matter what, society doesn’t actually allow people to feel that in a truly positive way. I’ve heard one too many stories about friends being hurt (emotionally and physically) by street harassment. I’m sick of people thinking they have the right to shout out whatever they like to others without any thought for their feelings.
Truthfully, I always needed other writers. As you know if you’re a writer, letting people into your brain is kind of like letting someone see you naked: Just…be careful. Not everyone deserves it. Finding the like minded is an unbelievable gift. Finding those who understand what it’s like to have a universe in your head, or to need a pen all the time, or what it is like when you read a perfect sentence, is what keeps a writer from going crazy.
I need other writers because when I talk about my work out loud, it gets bigger and clearer. I see what’s there. Writers are (fine, I am) a cranky, unpredictable lot. Finding us can be hard; getting us together can be even harder. Sometimes it’s a matter of luck, so if you think you might be onto something, I would recommend jumping on it immediately. It’s not often that an opportunity comes along like the Rising Voices Fellowship that’s serious about cultivating writers and community. The right company makes a difference. I promise.
I’ve been working at the Jewish Women’s Archive since the day after Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in 2011. In my almost-three years here, I have learned one thing above all else: in order to understand ourselves, to know our past, and to build our future, we must tell our stories. And this past week has been one of my most favorite weeks of story telling as every blog, news agency, and Facebook user has shared anecdotes, historical photos, and reflections of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Last week I highlighted some little-known historical facts about the March, including the involvement of Jews in the event. Since then, I have seen Rabbi Joachim Prinz’s name and words all over the Internet as Jews claim him as our own and passionately take up the legacy of his work for civil rights and social justice.
JWA has joined forces with Prozdor, a pluralistic Hebrew high school program, to launch the pilot year of a fellowship designed for female-identified teens in grades 11 and 12 who are looking to raise their voices. The fellowship will be awarded to 3 to 5 teens who show a passion for writing, a potential for blogging, a demonstrated concern for current events, a commitment to improving their writing skills, and a strong interest in Judaism—particularly as it relates to issues of gender and equality.
The Rising Voices Fellowship will open our blog to a new cohort of writers, as each fellow will craft one blog post a month. And, knowing that it isn’t always the easiest thing to be a writer, the fellowship will provide a community and support. Together we will learn and allow our voices to be heard. Together we will explore our voices, hone our skills, and share our experiences.
Prozdor and the Jewish Women’s Archive are thrilled to announce the pilot year of our Rising Voices Fellowship!
The fellowship is open to female-identified teens in grades 11 and 12 who have a passion for writing, a demonstrated concern for current events, a commitment to improving their writing skills, and a strong interest in Judaism—particularly as it relates to issues of gender and equality. These fellows will write 8-12 monthly posts for “Jewesses with Attitude,” the Jewish Women's Archive blog.
In honor of the 50th anniversary of the March tomorrow, I would like to share 5 things I have learned about the March on Washington that you may not already know—one for each decade. I hope you’ll take this opportunity to check your assumptions and look more closely at this monumental, game-changing event.
With Women’s Equality Day just around the corner, voting has been on my mind.
And, I’ll admit it, voting isn’t usually on my mind—especially during August. But Women’s Equality Day, which celebrates women’s right to vote, has me thinking about voting.
I’m a pretty civic-minded person—fast to roll my eyes at people who tell me they don’t see the point in voting. While I’m not usually thinking about voting, it wouldn’t be entirely accurate to say that I take voting for granted. In fact, I can’t imagine not being able to vote. Voting, expressing my views and taking a stand, is so central to my belief system that it’s hard to imagine not being able to vote.
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.
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Blog." (Viewed on September 2, 2014) <http://jwa.org/blog>.