Ritualizing Riot Grrrl
In a religion that can seem inaccessible to those who aren’t cis men, it’s hard to be observant when you feel as if no one gives a crap about you. Over the course of my life, I have experienced exclusion by the wider Jewish community for various aspects of my identity and ideologies. Rather than turn away from Judaism, a religion and culture that is an intrinsic part of who I am, I made the active choice to reshape it into a Judaism that reflects my feminist and activist values. I chose to redefine my Judaism rather than give it up—that would have been too easy. Plus, now I get to freak people out with the sheer force of my GRRRL POWER.
I am currently in the process of redefining and reestablishing which rituals, practices, and mitzvot I would like to perform. Traditional Jewish rituals don’t hold the same meaning for me as they did when I was younger and attended a Jewish day school, so I’ve decided to form my own. Part of this process has been what I like to call ritualizing riot grrrl (cue confetti canons and gnarly guitar riff), quite literally making the art, ideas, and cultural politics of this branch of third wave feminism a spiritual experience for me. For the uninitiated, riot grrrl is a grassroots movement of young feminists closely associated with the punk rock style of music that sprung up in the 1990s.
My Judaism and feminism inform each other, and neither of them are concrete. My feelings change, my beliefs change, and therefore my practices change as well. On one Friday night the way I can connect best to my religion is through cooking Shabbos dinner for my friends or family, but the next week it could be attending a protest or rally. Sometimes attending shul feels right, but sometimes it doesn’t. Other times what works best for me is sitting at home and reading a translated story by Blume Lempel or Yente Serdatzky or any other Yiddish woman writer. My spirituality isn’t a knee-jerk reaction against traditional Jewish practice, nor is it an outright rejection. It’s an exploration, an alternative.
Some might say I’m a charlatan, or the reason why progressive Judaism is inherently flawed, or that I’m just a really angsty teenager. To those people, I say: SHOVE IT. Far from blasphemous, I would say that I feel closer to my Judaism now than I have ever before. A large part of this is because my Jewish expression ties in directly to my other values.
Rather than pray solely in an impenetrable, gendered language, I pray using words I understand, or through music (Adon Olam to the tune of Rebel Girl by Bikini Kill, anybody?), or through silence. Rather than mourn the destruction of a temple I feel little connection to, I mourn the deaths of the approximated 400 people of color killed by police and the 23 trans* individuals who have fallen victim to hate crimes in the U.S. this year alone. Rather than keep the laws of kashrut to the highest degree, I keep them in a way that is both comfortable for me and in a way that reflects my beliefs about food justice. Rather than read exclusively traditional Jewish texts, I read Jewish feminist poetry and prose, zines, manifestos, and biographies that enrich my life with a different kind of holiness.
I would even go so far as to say that Jewish values, specifically those of community, tikkun olam, inclusion, grappling with assimilation, respect, and constant questioning are paralleled in the riot grrrl movement (barring its lack of working class, people of color, and trans* representation—a major stain which is worthy of many eyerolls from generations to come). A prime example of such parallels is seen in the Riot Grrrl Manifesto: “BECAUSE doing/reading/seeing/hearing cool things that validate and challenge us can help us gain the strength and sense of community that we need in order to figure out how bullshit like racism, able-bodyism, ageism, speciesism, classism, thinism, sexism, anti-Semitism and heterosexism figures in our own lives.” I could just be trying to project myself onto the Manifesto, but this statement sounds a lot like the things Jews have been saying for some time now.
I know that the place I am at right now in my Jewish beliefs and practices isn’t where I’ll end up. I’m young, confused, and still have a lot of learning and growing to do. However, right now I feel good and comfortable—which is really what matters most. My G-d might not look like your G-d (if you were wondering, my G-d is genderless and sometimes looks like Chaim Topol as Tevye the Dairyman, but also sometimes looks like a 50 foot tall Amazon warrior). My Judaism might not look like your Judaism. My feminism might not look like your feminism. At the end of the day though, my G-d, my Judaism, my feminism are uniquely MINE, which if I may be so bold, is the whole point.
This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.
How to cite this page
Green, Noam. "Ritualizing Riot Grrrl." 7 October 2015. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on January 27, 2021) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/ritualizing-riot-grrrl>.