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 or apply for 2017-2018!
The Rising Voices Fellowship is funded in part by a grant from the Hadassah Foundation.
I started wearing tefillin at camp. I was fourteen and I had a lot of ideas about overthrowing patriarchal Judaism, and I thought it looked cool. Tefillin are traditionally worn only by Jewish men who have reached bar mitzvah age (thirteen), although Conservative and Reform Judaism, some of the more liberal sects of Judaism, are very accepting of women wrapping as well.
My mother struggled her whole life to bring her love of Judaism and her expectation of gender equality together. I was raised on the foundation that she had worked tirelessly to build.
I never realized that it was possible for my whole outlook on Judaism to be transformed in an hour and a half, or that a few moments of hearing voices come together in prayer could move me so deeply. But that’s exactly what happened when I led my youth group in Shabbat services this past March.
I would understand if upperclassmen boys bad-mouthed feminism – they tend to have the need to silence strong women. But our head of school? The first female to hold this position at my school? What kind of example does that set for new girls on campus?
Boys in my preschool told me that I should like pink. “Boys like blue and girls like pink;” that was their reasoning. They told me that if I wanted to play with them at recess I couldn’t “act like a girl.” I didn’t understand what they meant, but I agreed to the terms. While things like this didn’t bother me in preschool, as I got older, people’s choice of words started to have more and more of an impact on me.
As a vocal feminist, you might expect me to get upset at various sites in Israel, such as the Kotel, because women are not treated equally to men. On the contrary, I tend to forgive these characteristics that go against my personal values, and instead embrace the spiritual and Jewish aspects to which I can connect. However, I broke this trend on a Shabbat trip to Tsfat, one of the holiest cities in the country with one of the most observant populations.
Dress codes. If you’ve been on the internet in the past few years, you’ve probably noticed that teenage girls tend to butt heads with them quite a bit. You may have read about how blatantly discriminatory dress codes are when it comes to gender. You might already be informed about how they contribute to victim blaming, are a form of slut shaming, and reinforce rape culture. Indeed, dress codes have become a sort-of gateway into feminist thought for teenage girls. For me, they were certainly a rude awakening.
I don’t think I fully understood the importance of my mother's words at the time. But looking back, this lesson, and being raised in a household that constantly preached passion and hard work over vanity, are some of the things that have shaped me most into who I am today.
I wouldn’t really say I write for change. In theory, yes, that’s a wonderful idea: the idea that everything can be changed through the power of the pen (or should I say keyboard), but I honestly don’t believe that’s true in my case. Would I love if my blog posts really inspired people and made them want to change the world around them? Yes! But I know that’s probably not the case. In fact, I think it would be a little naïve rather than ambitious of me to think that.
Each day when you wake up in the morning, you have a choice. You can be positive, or you can be negative. Sometimes people blame what choice they make in the morning on what is going on in their lives, be it trivial or life threatening issues. I am one of those people.
As a little girl, I dreamed of when I would be in high school and would get to attend my high school prom. I always thought that it would be just like what I saw in the movies - I would be asked by the boy of my dreams, I would go to the mall with my friends to find the perfect dress, and I would spend the morning getting ready with my friends. Then my date would ring my doorbell, we’d take pictures on a grand staircase, he’d sweep me off my feet and away to prom, where we would dance the night away and take home the titles of Prom King and Queen. It would be perfect.
My summer camp has rats in the walls and rotting wooden decks and haunted basements. My summer camp is hot and cold, made up of love and hate and freedom and restriction and myth and reality. My summer camp is more corrupt than the Brazilian government but still comforting enough to call it a religion. My summer camp is where I grew up two weeks at a time.
In that masterwork of the western cannon, Fox TV’s That 70’s Show, the main character Eric Foreman is a wimp. The viewer knows he’s a wimp because of numerous running gags, including his friends mocking him for his action figures and Spiderman sheets. He is derided for his childish things, unlike another member of the gang, Jackie (a woman), whose obsession with unicorns is considered cute. This running gag is telling of a larger phenomenon, that men are expected to move on from childhood more quickly than women.
Two driving forces in my life are creativity and passion. These qualities have always gone hand in hand. As I have grown through the years, my love for writing and my passion for activism have blended into one tremendous, creative, passionate, one-act play.
When I was nine, I idolized Hermione Granger. I had just finished the Harry Potter series, and I was convinced that she was everything I aspired to be--bookish and intelligent, a powerful witch who stood up for what she believed in, but who could also snag the world’s best Quidditch player as a prom date.
My world completely changed when I learned how to read in first grade. From that time forward, I brought books with me everywhere I went. As a shy girl who rarely had the courage to speak her mind, I learned to make friends with characters in cozy novels.
I’ve kept a journal since I was ten years old-- just over a third of my life. After seven years of writing, I’ve filled eighteen notebooks, all of which I’ve kept in a box under my bed. I can get lost for hours in these old volumes; I’ve been known to lose full weekend evenings to re-reading my thoughts from sixth grade.
Such is the life of a Rising Voices Fellow. Late nights full of soul searching and edited drafts covered in red. Going to sleep feeling like your latest piece is worse than your third grade diary, and waking up realizing it’s halfway decent. But it’s not just about the writing.
In looking forward into my near future, I’ve seen it fit to look into my distant past for inspiration and as a guide. I’ll soon be leaving my childhood home and will be tasked with forging a life and identity separate from that which I had with my parents. I’m an Ashkenazi Jew, one that has always felt connected to the “old country,” so to say.
You are female.
You wake up in the morning and get ready to go to school. Picking out clothes can sometimes be a little emotional for you. Like 91 percent of other girls, you are unhappy with the way you look. Doing your makeup isn’t easy either. The day that you ran out of time to put any on, someone called your skin gross. A few days later, your friend tells you you’d be prettier if you just didn’t wear so much makeup.
I appreciate an outstretched hand in a moment of need. Kindness is a necessary building block for a just world. I do not, however, appreciate my voice being minimized because of my gender. I do not appreciate condescension in a moment when I am working to prove myself.
In continuing with the Jewish Women’s Archive’s goal of elevating the voices and sharing the stories of Jewish women, I decided to interview and profile Yael Marans, a childhood friend and overall mensch.
Susan Penn is my Dad’s sister and my aunt, and she is very close to me and valued in my life. Driven by a desire to enhance the lives around her, Susan doesn't believe in any kind of discrimination or intolerance. I’m overjoyed that I get to have someone in my life who is such a strong role model, mentor, and friend.
I for one do not believe that teenage boys just wake up in the morning and say to themselves: “I hate women, and they don’t deserve rights.” No, the descent into alienation from feminism is a much longer slow moving process, and those who fall down this path are frequently driven away for understandable reasons.
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Rising Voices." (Viewed on April 29, 2017) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices>.