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Identity

Covering

I struggle with my Jewishness. I always have. The world is riddled with conflict, much of which is derived from the infuriating, irreconcilable differences in fundamental religious beliefs. I was brought up in a Jewish home and a Jewish community, read Jewish stories, and absorbed Jewish values. I never felt connected to the idea of God, but all that stuff about honoring thy mother and father and being kind to thy neighbor? I was down with that! Still, I reasoned that humanity would be far better off without such divisive religious constructs, and that our religions should be relegated to history books. 

Hello from Thailand!

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.

Teaching Truth to Power

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.

Kim Chernin

Through poetry, fiction, and memoir, Kim Chernin powerfully reimagined her personal history and her Jewish identity.

Emma Lazarus

Emma Lazarus’s famous poem “The New Colossus” helped the Statue of Liberty greet millions, but still reflected her experience of the mixed welcome that minorities faced in America.

What Fran Fine Taught Me About Feminism

I live in Vermont. There are no Jewish day schools here, no Jewish Community Centers, no kosher restaurants. I’ve been the only Jewish kid in class, having to sit and listen as a (non-Jewish) teacher explained that a mensch is someone who just “schleps through life.”

We have a Jewish community here—I am heavily involved with my synagogue and with Vermont’s branch of Young Judaea—but not a Jewish culture.

Then I accidentally found Fran Drescher’s show The Nanny while channel surfing at my Zayde’s cottage, and there it was, a culture I could take with me anywhere, as long as I had Internet or a DVD player.

More than Meets the Eye

We all deal with the misconceptions of other people about our passions. For me, those misconceptions repeatedly touch on my identity as a Jewish feminist dancer. Now when I mean feminist, I do not mean the stereotypical kind that burn bras in trash cans, but rather somebody who thinks equal empowerment is morally correct. Being a teenage girl, I believe girls like me should, and have the right to, feel empowered. Which brings me to my passions for dance and Judaism—the two things that have always allowed me to feel strong.

Defining Judaism and Feminism in my own Terms

I studied at Solomon Schechter Day School for nine years, and for nine years people told me what it meant to be Jewish. We prayed for 45 minutes every morning from the same standard siddur. We were taught about the Bible and God through one lens. We belonged to the Conservative branch of Judaism and followed the movement’s rules. After switching to public school for high school, I was forced for the first time to define Judaism for myself.

Broadening Horizons: The Jewish (and Feminist) World Beyond Mine

I became bat mitzvah on May 1, 2010 in front of my congregation. I wore a tallit, chanted Torah, and gave a d’var Torah. To me, that was normal. My mom became bat mitzvah before me, on the same bimah, years before.

For a long time in my world, “feminist” and “Jewish” existed in separate spheres. As far as I knew, feminism did not exist in the Jewish world because everything there was about as equal as you could get. Women were rabbis and cantors, educators and students, same as the men. Feminism was for the corporate world, where women did not make as much as men, or were excluded from managerial position jobs. Needless to say, my definition of feminism was narrow, as was my understanding of Judaism, and as I widened the circles of each, they began to overlap.

Feminism: More Than Just a Lens to View the World

Somewhere towards the end of my freshman year of high school, I became the class feminist. You know, the girl who always has to speak up about slut-shaming and rape culture and “where are the women in this narrative?”

I had begun to read feminist blogs, and the critical gender lens they used on everything from history, to clothing, to everything in between rapidly became part of my worldview. Right as I was hitting my stride as “that angry feminist,” I studied in the Dr. Beth Samuels High School Program at Drisha in New York. In addition to being a feminist, I was (and remain) a lover of Talmud. Spending the summer with other girls who took Judaism and Jewish text study seriously was a formative experience for me.

The erudite feminist women who taught us became my role models. (It was not unusual for us “Drishettes” to enthusiastically exclaim to one another that “I want to be insert-name-of-teacher-here when I grow up!” after a particularly great class.)

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How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Identity." (Viewed on September 23, 2014) <http://jwa.org/tags/identity>.

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