The Balancing Act

A woman walks across a tightrope.

I was raised in a modern orthodox household. I went to a private Jewish preschool, then a private Jewish elementary school, and then a private Jewish middle school. But when I reached high school, my family and I made the decision to go to public school. It was a brand new social and educational experience, and almost all of the changes I went through were positive. However, I lost the daily Hebrew and Judaics I’d had my whole life, and I realized how you can get very distant very quickly from your Judaism. It was a little hard to grasp, as I had always been the child who would walk around Shabbat dinner telling anyone who would listen to me what the Torah reading I’d learned that week was about. I’d give a summary, include my deeply critical 10-year-old analysis of said Torah reading, and conclude by asking more questions to whoever would entertain them.

I am the oldest child in my family, so no one really knew how to approach the lack of daily Jewishness. I tried BBYO but I just didn’t feel like I connected with the people. I tried NCSY, but, at times, it was a little too orthodox for me. I tried USY and just didn’t like the feel of it. In short, I dreaded going to each organization more than the next. I just didn’t get the attraction. I didn’t think I had time for weekend Hebrew school now that I had to hang out with new friends and do copious amounts of homework. I did attend a Jewish sleep away camp, but, as convenient as it would be, you can’t get a whole year of Jewishness in three weeks. I pushed the thoughts away for a while, conjugating verbs in Spanish instead of Hebrew, and studying the complexities of business instead of Judaics.

As for my feminism, I wish I could say that it has been a part of my life for longer than it has been. I don’t truly know the moment when I realized that women are treated as lesser in many situations. I do remember sitting in class during middle school though, wondering why it was that if a boy answered a question wrong it was as if nothing happened, but if a girl answered a question wrong it was socially acceptable to laugh at and tease her as if she was stupid. I grew too scared to participate in class out of fear of being wrong. I remember wondering, why is the staff so obsessed with the length of my skirt and not at all bothered by the fact that boys are walking around with saggy pants and untucked shirts? I developed a radar for the teachers who particularly liked to whip out the ruler, and became self-conscious of my clothing and appearance because of it.

When I was in 7th grade, one of my friends who went to another private Jewish school was fed up with the toxic system surrounding the uniform skirts we both had to wear, and when she asked to wear pants, the issue was sent to the school board for discussion. I was baffled! If she wanted to wear pants so badly, why couldn’t she? And why was a panel of mostly adult males making that decision? But I just shrugged, assuming that the adults around me were making informed decisions.

Fast forward a few years, and, the avid reader that I am, my dad handed me my first copy of The Economist. To say that my mind was blown to pieces by the sheer amount of information there was about so many different countries, people, events, and cultures would be an understatement. I became interested in world politics when everyone else had just caught “Bieber Fever.” A few more years passed and suddenly Angela Merkel is my Kim Kardashian, Ruth Bader Ginsberg my Miley Cyrus. I went forward and co-wrote a thirty-page business plan for my school’s business club with a few of my best friends, and we competed on a national level.

Not once along this whole journey have I stepped back and thought, “Wow! My Judaism and Feminism just go so perfectly hand in hand; they’re basically conjoined twins!”  In fact, I didn’t even think that they would ever have anything to do with each other. Then, last summer my Aunt in my native California emailed me a link to the Rising Voices Fellowship. I filled out an application thinking that there was no way I’d be able to get into something so cool, but I guess I was wrong. So, for the moment, I believe that this fellowship will be the place where my feminism and Judaism intersect.

This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.

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One proud aunt in "native California" - you are a tribute to all of us! Love you and can't wait to read more about your journey - you can achieve anything you set your mind to. I may be your aunt but you are my hero (note: no feminine conjugation here) and I know that this will begin a very meaningful journey for you.

This is such an impressive piece! Wishing you good luck as you continue your life journey!

How to cite this page

Franks, Maya. "The Balancing Act." 19 October 2015. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 2, 2023) <>.

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