Exhibit: Women Who Dared
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Biography
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  Shulamit Izen
  GLBT [Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender] Jewish Youth Activist
  Boston WWD Event 2002
  Born in 1984
  Founded Gay/Straight Alliance at New Jewish High School of Greater Boston and
 
Biography  up to top

Shulamit Izen was born in 1984 and raised in Lexington, Massachusetts, along with two younger siblings. Her family has always been involved in their Reform synagogue, but when she was in seventh grade, Shulamit decided she wanted to become more religiously observant. At the same time, she realized that she is a lesbian and was immediately confronted with the question of whether she could be gay and Jewish. She asked her rabbi, who responded by telling her that this challenge might be what made her soul special. From that moment, Shulamit realized that her own identity defined her mission to make the Jewish community inclusive of all Jews, gay or straight. Research taught her that for gay and lesbian youth, who are at greater risk of violence, suicide, and drug use, inclusion is an issue of pikuach nefesh, the Jewish value of saving a life.

In ninth grade, Shulamit began attending the New Jewish High School of Greater Boston, where she has worked tirelessly to raise awareness of homophobia within the Jewish community. She campaigned to form a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) within the school, organizing and speaking at a school-wide Beit Midrash (community forum; literally, "house of study") on the issue of homosexuality and Judaism. This event opened dialogue about this issue within the school and made possible the formation of the GSA in the Fall of 2001. Through the process of starting the GSA, Shulamit realized that there must be other Jewish youth struggling with questions of sexuality and Judaism. She therefore helped found Ga'avah, a group for Queer Jewish youth in the Boston area, which is part of Keshet, Boston's Jewish Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Advocacy and Education Organization.

Although being Jewish and a lesbian challenges Shulamit to be an activist and a risk-taker in her community, she also celebrates the joy of being gay and Jewish. She cites many role models who have taught her to be a good organizer and activist, and also how to smile in the face of adversity. Shulamit continues to be active in Queer Jewish issues; for her senior project, she is writing a guidebook to forming a GSA at Jewish High Schools, complete with organizing techniques and traditional Jewish sources. She plans to remain involved in these issues when she begins Smith College in the Fall, but she also hopes that she will be able to seek out new activist projects. She looks forward to a time when there won't be a need for her work on gay and lesbian inclusion within the Jewish community.

 
What She Said  up to top
ON JEWISH VALUES
When I decided that it was an issue that I was a lesbian and that I was Jewish, I went to a rabbi at my temple and I asked her, can I be Jewish and gay? And she said ...More 
ON FAMILY UPBRINGING
Since I was 12 I went to the women's spirituality conference with my mom at the JCC and that was always so powerful. The first time I went ...More 
ON ROLE MODELS
She [mother] does so much stuff for other people ...More 
In terms of GLBT [gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender] stuff, Annie [Lederberg, the first full-time organizer for Keshet, Boston's Jewish Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Advocacy and Education Organization] has been amazing and I look up to her so much ...More 
ON BEING A WOMAN ACTIVIST
It's kind of hard for me to separate being a lesbian from being an activist, because I feel like they came really linked ...More 
I think it's easier because I'm a woman. Guys in this school won't talk about being gay, really ...More 
ON PATH TO ACTIVISM
I always felt like I was a lesbian walking around New Jew before - like I was a lesbian-in-residence. But after that ...More 
While I was trying to start the GSA and realizing it was going to take a while, I was like, 'Hmm, there must be other Jewish queer teens in the Boston area who don't have a place to be gay and Jewish ...More 
When I came to New Jew I joined Amnesty, and we were talking about human rights and I was like, 'Hmm, part of Amnesty's agenda ...More 
ON IMPACT ON WORLD
There's a lot more awareness here now. People are definitely questioning more. I think that the questions of sexuality are linked to questions about society ...More 
I think the most personal experience was when I was with school and going to Washington for the JCI (Jewish Civic Initiatives) program ...More 
ON IMPACT ON SELF
I didn't think it was going to be a big deal before [to speak in front of the school] but I stood up there and I was shaking ...More 
ON CHALLENGES
[The greatest challenge was] definitely talking. I knew it was so important that I kind of put it aside but through this work I've kind of lost my identity of shy little girl ...More 
ON REWARDS
Two more people are out at New Jew now, and that's so good. And I know, at least for one of them, she said that a lot of the work that I've done here has made it so that she could come out ...More 
 
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Photographs Photographs
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How to Cite This Page
For a bibliography: Jewish Women's Archive. "JWA - Women Who Dared - Biography Shulamit Izen." <http://jwa.org/exhibits/wwd/jsp/bio.jsp?personID=psizen>.

For a footnote: Jewish Women's Archive, "JWA - Women Who Dared - Biography Shulamit Izen," <http://jwa.org/exhibits/wwd/jsp/bio.jsp?personID=psizen>.