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Rising Voices

Learn more about the Rising Voices Fellowship, JWA's thought-leadership program for female-identified teens.

Cooking Woman

Kitchen Culture and Me

I have this memory where I'm five and it's Thanksgiving, or I'm 12 and it's Chanukah, or I'm 15 and in AP World History. They're all the same memory, and there are more. Almost every year of my public-school education, there has been some kind of school celebration of cultural and ethnic diversity. The common factor in these celebrations is food, because what better way to bring a diverse (and generally uninterested) group of students together?

Black Lives Matter Logo

Kneeling to Take a Stand

I’ve never really distinguished between my feminist and activist identities. They’ve always been one and the same – my feminism inspires my activism, and thus they are not two distinct parts of me. As I’ve grown, I’ve gained more awareness about important social justice issues both inside and outside the feminist movement, one example being police brutality. 

Dorrit Corwin Dressed Up as Julia Child for School Presentation

From Spy to Spatula to the Small Screen

When I was in third grade, I had to choose a famous role model to research and present to my class. Naturally, I chose Julia Child – not because I was an aspiring chef or because I wanted an excuse to buy a red wig – but because I left the theater after seeing “Julie & Julia” (2009) absolutely fascinated by her legacy; both inside the kitchen, and beyond its walls. A female public figure with a personality as strong as hers was rare during the 1950s, and her role as a volunteer spy during World War II taught me that no one is just one thing. Even though history often highlights people solely for what they were most famous for, it’s important to look beyond that and explore their multiplicity of talents and contributions to society. 

Topics: Feminism, Food
Man Wearing Native American Headdress

Inappropriate Appropriation

My classmates started posting pictures from last year’s Coachella, their excitement for the music festival illuminating my phone screen. However, amidst all the elation, I couldn’t help but notice the troubling cultural appropriation that also filled the pictures. In the backgrounds of nearly every photo I saw, there were young women wearing bindis and feathered headdresses, and young men wearing war paint. Unfortunately, this insensitivity to and misappropriation of cultures is not specific to Coachella, nor is it a new problem in fashion.

Josie Rosman's Roller Derby Team

Derby Girl

When I first started playing roller derby (a contact sport played on roller skates) as an 11-year-old, I didn’t know how to skate. I could barely make it one lap around the track in my rental skates. Fast forward to last summer–my team and I made it to the national championships in Colorado. I think it’s safe to say that I’ve come a long way during the past four years—not just as a skater, but as a person. Roller derby has been one of the most empowering forces in my life, and it’s contributed significantly to who I am today.

Julia Clardy's Legs

Wearing the Pants, and the Dress as Well

When I showed a girl in my class the prom dress I was thinking about buying, the first thing she asked me was whether or not I was going to shave for prom. Her question wasn’t really that surprising. People often associate body hair with uncleanliness, and they don’t expect it to appear in formal situations. The fact is, people only question me about my body hair when I’m wearing something more traditionally feminine. When I’m wearing shorts and a t-shirt people rarely look twice at my legs or armpits, but when I’m wearing a dress, people consistently double-take. When it comes to how other people see me, it seems that my casual clothes and body hair make more sense together than my more feminine clothes and body hair.

Sofia Gardenswartz in "Serving Spoons" Apron

Double-Bound

I am the President of a nonprofit, Serving Spoons, that prepares and delivers healthy, home-cooked meals to families in need. I accepted this leadership position nearly five years ago, and though I expected to encounter challenges due to my age, I felt confident I could convince the other industry professionals to take me seriously if I demonstrated maturity, responsibility, and commitment to my organization. Yet one of the greatest challenges, as I soon discovered, wasn’t my mere fourteen years, but rather my identity as a female.

Topics: Food, Volunteers
Shira Small's High School Softball Team

Sexism and Softball: Covering All the Bases

At five years old, I launched into little league stardom by hitting a home run without even using the tee. From then on, my coach called me “Slugger,” a name I proudly wore throughout my thirteen years playing softball.

Topics: Schools, Athletes
Kara Sherman with her Mom

Not So Jewish American Mothers

Loud. Abrasive. Bossy. Great cook. These attributes all contribute to the popular caricature of the “Jewish American Mother.” I know plenty of women who fit this description. I’ve taught their kids on Sunday mornings. I love some of them. I can’t stand some of them. My mother is Jewish, and American, and pretty bossy when she needs to be; but she’s never conformed to this stereotype.

Topics: Mothers, Food, Judaism
Legends Football League Game

1 Down and Yards to Go for the Lingerie Football League

I’d like to think that I’m really good at pretending to know about football. As a self-proclaimed Green Bay Packers fan, I can name about 5 players and can usually tell which team is scoring the touchdown. Needless to say, when I found myself watching a Packers game at a friend’s house with all of her friends (who didn’t know me, but certainly knew football), I felt pretty out of place. I couldn’t offer much to the conversation comparing Packers’ quarterbacks Brett Hundley and Aaron Rodgers, but when the conversation turned to the Legends Football League (LFL), formerly known as the Lingerie League, I had plenty to contribute. 

Harvey Weinstein

Seizing Control of the Narrative

The avalanche of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape allegations over the past few months, catalyzed by the sexual harassment and assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein, make it clear that sexual violence is a problem deeply embedded in our society; it even finds credence in Judaism’s foundational text, the Torah.

Topics: Bible, Jewish Law
Daniella Shear Dressed as Queen Esther

Queen Esther: Quiet Leader

Purim has always been ranked high on my list of favorite holidays. Who doesn’t love dressing up, eating hamantaschen, playing games, and winning prizes? In addition to my synagogue’s annual Purim carnival I also look forward to the megillah reading each year. I always found the story to be interesting, but as I’ve gotten older, my interpretation has evolved from one about a queen who saves her people (the Jews), to a complex narrative about a female leader.

Topics: Activism, Purim
Egyptians Admire Sarai's Beauty

Sarai and the Silence Breakers

Once a month, I meet with about ten other Jewish girls as part of the Rosh Chodesh program. We drink tea, bake cookies, do mindful meditations, and kvetch. Most importantly though, we talk about the impact our female identities have on our daily lives and within Judaism. Earlier this month, over a batch of half-baked brownies, we discussed a Torah portion that rattled the foundation of my identity as a Jewish woman.

Topics: Feminism, Bible
Julia Clardy Canoe Trip Photo

Creation on a Canoe Trip

This past summer I attended a three-week-long canoe trip in Western Quebec. We set out to canoe white water and live completely in nature with a handful of tents, the clothes we were wearing, heavy containers filled with dehydrated food, and four red canoes. I had no idea what I was in for, and my only expectation was to learn more about the earth, and how I’m connected to it.

Tamar Cohen at her Bat Mitzvah

Near(ly) a Woman

Every year in the Hebrew month of Shevat, Jews around the world read Parshat Yitro, the Torah portion that contains the Ten Commandments. But the “Big Ten” are only part of this portion – Parshat Yitro also contains a visit from Moses’ father-in-law, a feast, and a set of instructions from G-d transferred with questionable integrity by Moses to the Israelites. Before becoming a Bat Mitzvah at age 12, I spent months studying this portion and its various commentaries. One line was particularly alarming to me: “Be ready for the third day: do not go near a woman.”

Drawing of Zelophead's Daughters

Finding the Founding Feminists

Every year in July, the story of Pinchas is told. And on July 6, 2013, I was the one telling this story. Yep. Little 13-year-old me, electric green braces and all, was up on the bimah, knees knocking, chanting the story of Pinchas. And I did a great job, if I do say so myself. But as embarrassing as it is to admit now, my understanding of my Torah portion at that time was very superficial. I had spent so much time making sure I knew the words so I didn’t make a fool out of myself when I was chanting, that I didn’t put that much effort into fully understanding what I was saying, and how it affected me.

Topics: Bible, Jewish Law
Holding Hands

The Importance of Self-Love

“Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Leviticus 19:34 provides the Jewish people with this inspirational and often-repeated Torah verse that seems to pop up in my own life endlessly. In Temple, in Jewish Studies classes, at home when my mother reminds me to be the bigger person—this verse follows me wherever I go. For a long time, I appreciated it and used it as a motivation to do good. But then I reached a point in my life when treating others as I treated myself wouldn’t have been the kindest path. 

Topics: Schools, Bible
San Francisco Pride

Cafeteria Judaism and Feminine Queer Identity

Religion isn’t always easy. I often like to pretend it is—buzzwords like “interfaith” and “pluralism” pervade my discussions about faith. But every now and again, I’m reminded that the history of my faith is not easy. Judaism was, in fact, built on questions. How do I find support as a woman from a faith founded on patriarchal texts? How do I reconcile ancient laws with a modern identity of queerness?

Rising Voices Fellow Dorrit Corwin with her Grandfather

L’Dor V’Dor: A Legacy of Love

My grandfather means something different to each and every person he’s met. To some, he’s kindness, always putting others before himself no matter the circumstances. To others, he’s community, building a network so wide that everyone he runs into is an old friend. To his parents, he was a miracle, not predicted to survive long past birth, or live to create all that he has in his lifetime. To me, he’s all of these things stitched together into one simple phrase: L’dor v’dor (from generation to generation).

The Story of Job

Job and Josie

One of the most challenging parts of being Jewish is learning how to struggle with stories from Jewish texts that initially seem to contradict my values. When I come across these stories, I have to decide if and how they fit into my own personal relationship with Judaism. The story I have struggled with the most is the Book of Job (Iyov).

Topics: Activism, Bible
Rising Voices Fellow Emma Mair at her Bat Mitzvah

The First Hero

Robert Lappin, Jewish philanthropist and the man who’s foundation sent me to Israel this past summer, has said that interfaith families who choose to raise their kids Jewish are the heroes of Judaism. With Jews making up only .2% of the global population, Judaism is both the oldest and the smallest monotheistic religion, meaning that families who tackle raising their children Jewish in this Christian-normative society are much needed. 

Make America Great Again Hat

Picking Battles

Not to be dramatic, but my blood boils whenever I see someone in Trump paraphernalia. Luckily, this is rarely an issue for me. My area of New York is notoriously liberal (Hillary Clinton lives 15 minutes from my house!), and I rarely encounter anyone diametrically opposed to me. However, I’m reminded on occasion that my town isn’t always the liberal bubble I make it out to be. 

March on Washington for Gun Control

A L’chaim to Gun Control

“He who saves one life… is as if he saves an entire universe. He who destroys a life… is as if he destroys an entire universe” (Talmud, Sanhedrin 4:5).

Josie Rosman at her Bat Mitzvah

Whose Bat Mitzvah Is It Anyway?

Becoming a bat mitzvah was the most spiritual event of my life thus far. Being surrounded by my friends, family, and community as I claimed my place as a Jewish adult was exactly as awe-inspiring and invigorating as I’d been promised it would be. The only dark spot of my day came just after services, during the celebratory brunch, when my uncle informed me that my interpretation of the Torah was wrong.

Sofia Gardenswartz with Friend Diana

Dialogue with Diana

October 2016 was a difficult month. It was the month that Donald Trump started to become a truly scary candidate to me. It was also the month in which my family lost one of our beloved dogs to cancer. Amidst all this, my family was hosting a Chinese exchange student, Diana, in our home for a couple weeks. She was incredibly supportive and understanding as my family grappled with these tumultuous events.

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Jewish Women's Archive. "Rising Voices." (Viewed on May 26, 2018) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices>.

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