In 1973, the national Jewish student organization, Jewish Students’ Network, organized a groundbreaking conference for Jewish women. Many of the 500 or so women who attended that conference experienced a profound sense of transformation there in a shabby hotel in mid-town Manhattan. I know that I did. I was convinced that because of this transformation we’d carry the message forward and transform the Jewish community.
The following year, Network once again organized a national conference for Jewish women. Only this time, men were invited too. It would be, as the poster for the event proclaimed, “A conference just for women, a conference just for men, a conference for all of us together.”
Phyllis Chesler has said of the birth of political feminism, “We had an opening in history and walked through it together.” That mythical portal had been revealed exclusively to women at the ’73 conference: now we’d partner with our brothers and walk through together.
It’s so poignant to me, to look back at this poster and remember those days, that conference. I believed that men would also hear the call (over 100 men attended). They would realize that they, too, were oppressed as men, as Jews; they would see the injustice of the many restrictions placed on Jewish women; and they’d join us in our work. I was young and I was fervent. Failure was impossible, resistance and backlash unimaginable.
It was at this conference that the short-lived national organization, the Jewish Feminist Organization (JFO), was born. The preamble to the constitution of JFO, written at this conference, included this statement: “We seek nothing less than the full, direct and equal participation of women at all levels of Jewish life – communal, religious, educational, and political.” The conference ended with a declaration of support for “Jewish male and female homosexuals” that seems quite prescient. It reads, in part: “Therefore, let it be resolved…that the Jewish community, in acknowledging and accepting its gay members, open its doors to their full participation…that Gay legislation now before city, county and state legislators be supported by the Jewish lay and religious bodies.”
Much has changed in the decades since that conference, and much remains to be done. Maybe we did walk through that door together, at that conference. Maybe it’s just that the road to full equality was longer than I thought, and that we’re walking still.
Cheryl Moch was a founding board member of the Jewish Feminist Organization (JFO). She is a writer and playwright, living in New York City with her daughter Hannah. Her play, “Cinderella, the Real True Story,” which celebrates gay marriage, has been performed around the world. Moch designed the poster for the Jewish Students’ Network’s 1974 National Conference on Jewish Women and Men, and shot all of the portraits. The two older women included in the poster are her mother, Ethel Moch, and her grandmother, Stella Moch.
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