My Grandfather: Guide in My Jewish Feminist Journey
My grandfather has been extremely influential in my life, and has guided me through my journey in my relationships with both Judaism and feminism. It may seem strange to credit my 87-year-old grandfather for the development of my Jewish and feminist identities, but he helped me gain the confidence to speak my mind and advocate for myself.
When I was little, most adults didn’t take me seriously. It angered me that so many people didn't seem to think my thoughts and ideas were worthy of their time. I knew, however, that I could always count on my grandfather to sincerely listen to me and spend meaningful time with me. Some of my earliest memories with my grandfather were our weekly “dates” where we would pick up sugar cookies from the pizza store together. I adored buying as many cookies as I could carry and eating them in the park in the company of my grandfather. I was attached to him at the hip, and whether we were in the park eating cookies, touring museums, or browsing the toy store, I savored every second I got to spend with him.
As I matured, so too did the activities that my grandfather and I did together. When I began learning Talmud in middle school, I had the opportunity to connect with my grandfather on a deeper, more spiritual level, as I studied with him for every exam. Before I started learning Talmud with him, I didn’t believe that my ideas were important or worth listening to. But as my grandfather and I discussed Talmudic concepts and debates, he made me feel empowered to speak my mind; my grandfather helped me realize that my voice could be meaningful and valuable, and that I could speak to larger issues.
When I started learning to read Torah for my bat mitzvah, I felt tentative because girls at my congregation typically gave a speech and didn’t read Torah for their ceremony. I was reluctant to advertise that I wanted to take a different route for my bat mitzvah, out of fear of backlash from my classmates and community. But as I continued on my journey to becoming a bat mitzvah, and spent more time studying with my grandfather, I felt encouraged to embrace the fact that I was one of few girls in my class reading from the Torah—and inspired to be proud of my will, my learning, and my mind. With my grandfather’s guidance, my bat mitzvah ultimately became one of the most transformative experiences for my Jewish and feminist identity. I learned to never be ashamed to break norms or to do something out of the ordinary; I learned instead to be proud of what I'm capable of accomplishing. I may have been an outcast for learning to read Torah, but I learned to embrace it rather than be ashamed.
My grandfather has inspired me to advocate for women in Jewish contexts, and to urge girls to make their voices heard. Whether this takes shape in encouraging my friends to say a bracha aloud in front of my entire grade or motivating my cousins to read from the Torah for their bat mitzvahs, my grandfather has helped me reach this pivotal approach to my life. He taught me to love my mind, Judaism, and feminism. He made me realize the power of my voice, and the good that can come from using it. I still study with my grandfather almost every day, and I continue to be excited for each new lesson to come.
This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.