The Rising Voices Fellowship is open to female-identified teens with a passion for writing, a demonstrated concern for current and historic events, and a strong interest in Judaism—particularly as it relates to issues of gender and social justice. Learn more!
The Rising Voices Fellowship is funded in part by a grant from the Hadassah Foundation.
My grandmother, Marguerite, was born in Paris in 1937 to Polish parents, Fania and Adam. Shortly after her birth, the family moved to Jarnac, a tiny village in southwestern France. The family was Jewish, though they were not observant. Regardless, after the fall of the Third Republic in 1940, it became dangerous for them to even speak of their religion.
Lucy is easy to find. It’s easy to spot her bobbing pink hair in the crowd, though it might have a blue or purple undertone now. Even before she started dying her hair last year, Lucy made herself known. Whether it’s by singing at the top of her lungs – with perfect pitch, by the way – or boldly introducing herself to strangers left and right, Lucy is not like everyone else.
Almost every Saturday for the last five years, I’ve gone to visit my friend Rhoda Nissenbaum. We read together and talk, along with my mother and Rhoda’s aide, Sarah. What started as my Bat Mitzvah project has blossomed into a beautiful friendship. Fortunately, I was able to record my recent meeting with Rhoda, and we got a chance to talk about her life, all 97 years of it!
For someone I spend a lot of time with, I was sadly ignorant of much of my grandmother’s past. My maternal grandma, Joan, grew up in Brooklyn, New York with an older and a twin sister, and her Judaism was largely cultural. Until a few weeks ago, I didn’t know where she went to college, why she chose Reform Judaism or how she felt about feminism. She simply never talked about those sorts of things.
Laila Goodman isn’t your average high school biology teacher. Her class is regularly filled with personal anecdotes from her life, and her office is regularly filled with students seeking advice. One of my most memorable interactions with her was talking about her experiences as a doula, and then later looking at an album of birthing photos.
Stephanie grew up going to a single-sex Orthodox day school and later went to Stern College for Women, a partner with Yeshiva College. But knowing her today, you’d never be able to tell. Since then Stephanie has exploded into a Jewish feminist badass, and yet a lot remains the same.
Rabbi Emily Mathis always seems to know the right thing to say. I remember being a little girl looking up at her on the Bimah during Friday night services, and wondering how she produced such beautiful and meaningful speech. I had the opportunity to speak with her recently, and I found myself wondering how she was able to answer so many of my questions before I had even asked them.
This interview spotlights Caroline Kubzansky, a senior at Washington DC’s Edmund Burke School and an alumna of the 2015-2016 cohort of JWA's Rising Voices Fellowship. She was interviewed by fellow RVF alumna, Abby Richmond.
Abby Richmond: What have you been up to this year?
Caroline Kubzansky: So, the biggest thing is that I got into college (University of Chicago)!
A longtime fixture in the Philadelphia Jewish community, Arlene has been president of our synagogue for the past four years, overseeing numerous changes in shul clergy, staff, and financial circumstances. She’s everywhere all the time, attending board meetings, giving announcements from the bima, schmoozing with congregants at services.
My grandmother Elaine Fallon was born in 1938 and grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts. Social activism has played a major role throughout her life, even though her involvement started later than one would expect. Since her introduction to feminism and activism, Elaine has been a key figure in voicing the importance of education throughout her community.
My aunt and I share so much more than our smile, passion for math and science, and college (go Barnard!). Our strongest and arguably our most important similarity lies in our shared sense of civic responsibility. Although I still have more to learn about social justice work, my aunt is the perfect model of a passionate, hard-working, and persevering activist.
It takes great courage to challenge authority when you’re a high school student. At that stage in your life, school comprises much of your world, and your relationship with school determines many aspects of your future. Although many school administrations might not encourage dissent, learning to stand up to injustice is as essential a skill for a young person to learn as calculus or chemistry. Of course, administrations are not the only unjust systems that teenagers typically encounter at school: it also takes great courage to stand up against the rigid social hierarchy that characterizes many student populations.
Radical things happen when women come together. Whether it’s to plan a strike, march for the right to vote, or use their networks to spread information about birth control, when women come together, the establishment trembles. As Bella Abzug reminds us, “the establishment is made up of little men, very frightened.” If history is any indication, women who are brave enough to speak out can create an earthquake of social change, shattering any delusions little men may have about women and women’s equality.
With so many issues and challenges facing the world today, it’s easy to believe that effecting change must happen on a large scale in order to make an impact. However, small actions can often make big waves, and for teenage girls, one of the most radical and brave things you can do is be yourself. In a world that actively encourages teens to conform, sit still, and stay silent, having the courage to be your authentic self is no small feat, and it can have a lasting impact on the surrounding culture.
At some point in their development, almost all young feminists must figure out how to balance participation in inherently patriarchal institutions with their burgeoning feminist sensibilities. This balancing act can be particularly tricky for young women raised in organized religions, which are often even more explicit about their sexist practices than other institutions.
One Day at a Time is about a Latino family…Oh wait, you thought I was talking about that show from the seventies about a single mother raising her daughter? Well I am. Sort of. The Netflix reboot of One Day at a Time (ODAAT) tells the story of Penelope Alvarez, an army vet, current nurse, and single mother who shares the screen with her two children and her mother.
When I was ten years old, I dressed up as Princess Leia for Halloween. I dressed up as her because I admired her, and because I felt like I had no choice. My brother and I were both deep in our Star Wars phases, and I knew I had to match his Darth Vader costume with an iconic character of my own. Of course, as a little girl, there weren’t many iconic female characters to choose from, but I didn’t mind too much at the time.
I was a sophomore when I first stumbled across Easy A on my Netflix browser one lonely Friday night. The green poster, exclaiming in bold lettering, “Let’s Not and Say We Did,” was the first thing to pop up under the “Top Picks For Hannah” banner. It instantly grabbed my attention. Intrigued, I clicked play.
Her struggles are relatable, and her story is compelling, giving hope that we too can break free from the patriarchy. By talking about her life with such brutal honesty, Liz Gilbert provides a cautionary tale for women about what happens when we define ourselves by our relationships with men.
Throughout The Odyssey, Penelope, Odysseus' wife, is characterized as constant, virtuous, and patient. She’s seen as the epitome of faithful wifeliness for her refusal to marry a suitor and for her belief that Odysseus will return. Her character is two-dimensional and, for the most part, irrelevant to Odysseus' escapades.
It’s late Monday evening. I’m snuggled up on the couch in my living room, popcorn rapidly flying into my mouth. My eyes are glued to the TV screen in front of me. I can’t look away from the scene of a handful of girls and one guy bouncing around the beach on some exotic island. It’s Bachelor time.
Even though the series successfully portrays many failures of prisons, the show occasionally misrepresents the hardships people face. OITNB may have its viewers talking about feminism, LGBTQ+ rights, and so much more, but the series needs some work when it comes to elevating the voices of less privileged women and portraying the abuse they face.
Despite my positive feelings about them, I was disappointed that Tina and Queenie didn’t acknowledge their Jewishness, that the movie left this part of their identity ambiguous. Sometimes it’s fun as a Jewish viewer to get winks that fictional characters may be members of the tribe. The hints of Judaism in Fantastic Beasts, like Tina’s middle name being Esther and a glimpse of a challah, made me smile. But since having two Jewish women starring in such a global, mainstream fantasy film would be monumental, I wished that Tina and Queenie had claimed their heritage proudly like I do.
This show isn’t something you can find on most American TV, or on TV, period. I normally have to unplug my feminist brain when I settle down to consume media. Otherwise there’s just too much to get angry over: the one-dimensional female characters, the unrealistic beauty standards, the male gaze of it all. But when Netflix gently pushed me towards Miss Fisher last year, I found that I didn’t have to be upset all the time.
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Rising Voices." (Viewed on May 26, 2017) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices>.