Almost every Saturday for the last five years, I’ve gone to visit my friend Rhoda Nissenbaum. We read together and talk, along with my mother and Rhoda’s aide, Sarah. What started as my Bat Mitzvah project has blossomed into a beautiful friendship. Fortunately, I was able to record my recent meeting with Rhoda, and we got a chance to talk about her life, all 97 years of it!
For someone I spend a lot of time with, I was sadly ignorant of much of my grandmother’s past. My maternal grandma, Joan, grew up in Brooklyn, New York with an older and a twin sister, and her Judaism was largely cultural. Until a few weeks ago, I didn’t know where she went to college, why she chose Reform Judaism or how she felt about feminism. She simply never talked about those sorts of things.
On January 29, 2017, a lone gunman entered the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City during the evening prayer and opened fire. He injured nineteen people and killed six. Less than a month later, the windows of Al-Tawuba Mosque in Montreal were vandalized. These two incidents are just a few of the many that have been on the rise in recent months. One young Muslim woman, Mona Abdullah, took the feelings of frustration and anger that this violence caused and channeled them towards rebuilding the Muslim community in Canada.
Laila Goodman isn’t your average high school biology teacher. Her class is regularly filled with personal anecdotes from her life, and her office is regularly filled with students seeking advice. One of my most memorable interactions with her was talking about her experiences as a doula, and then later looking at an album of birthing photos.
Stephanie grew up going to a single-sex Orthodox day school and later went to Stern College for Women, a partner with Yeshiva College. But knowing her today, you’d never be able to tell. Since then Stephanie has exploded into a Jewish feminist badass, and yet a lot remains the same.
Even now, I find myself having trouble writing this post. Even now, after giving up dieting over 25 years ago, after writing songs about loving my bathing-suited body exactly the way it is, after years of asking doctors to treat me using the evidence of blood tests and blood pressure cuffs instead of only the numbers on the scale, after previous––largely positive––experiences writing on Torah and fat activism, there is still something in me that wishes I could somehow slip away from, or obscure, this stigmatized aspect of myself: my fatness.
Rabbi Emily Mathis always seems to know the right thing to say. I remember being a little girl looking up at her on the Bimah during Friday night services, and wondering how she produced such beautiful and meaningful speech. I had the opportunity to speak with her recently, and I found myself wondering how she was able to answer so many of my questions before I had even asked them.
This interview spotlights Caroline Kubzansky, a senior at Washington DC’s Edmund Burke School and an alumna of the 2015-2016 cohort of JWA's Rising Voices Fellowship. She was interviewed by fellow RVF alumna, Abby Richmond.
Abby Richmond: What have you been up to this year?
Caroline Kubzansky: So, the biggest thing is that I got into college (University of Chicago)!
A longtime fixture in the Philadelphia Jewish community, Arlene has been president of our synagogue for the past four years, overseeing numerous changes in shul clergy, staff, and financial circumstances. She’s everywhere all the time, attending board meetings, giving announcements from the bima, schmoozing with congregants at services.
Like apparently everyone else in the world, we at JWA had some thoughts about the series finale of Girls. Two of our staffers, Emily Cataneo and Elena Hoffenberg, both millennials, feminists, and fans of the show, sat down and chatted about Girls, its legacy, and the best way to end a show about young women.
This conversation is also the fourth installment in our Reading Our Rights series.
My grandmother Elaine Fallon was born in 1938 and grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts. Social activism has played a major role throughout her life, even though her involvement started later than one would expect. Since her introduction to feminism and activism, Elaine has been a key figure in voicing the importance of education throughout her community.
In 1905, New York was a city of seemingly boundless opportunity — the entryway into a land where new jobs, secure homes, and potential legacies were within reach — even for the most destitute of immigrants, of whom a significant percentage were young, single Jewish women.
My aunt and I share so much more than our smile, passion for math and science, and college (go Barnard!). Our strongest and arguably our most important similarity lies in our shared sense of civic responsibility. Although I still have more to learn about social justice work, my aunt is the perfect model of a passionate, hard-working, and persevering activist.
Let's be clear: I did not make it to the application process for rabbinical school. I didn't even request an application. I came close, but luckily, before I did anything, I managed to figure out the difference between a calling and an impulse. In this case, I probably should have felt a little more called to actually engage with the Torah, instead of hoping that my ambivalence would resolve itself. (Update: it has not.)
At the Jewish Women’s Archive we believe that good food and good stories will always bring us together. When both the food and the stories are provided by a culinary Jewish superstar like Joan Nathan, forming these kinds of connections is easy. From tarts to tagines, from lox to latkes, Joan’s recipes have brought families together for decades.
It takes great courage to challenge authority when you’re a high school student. At that stage in your life, school comprises much of your world, and your relationship with school determines many aspects of your future. Although many school administrations might not encourage dissent, learning to stand up to injustice is as essential a skill for a young person to learn as calculus or chemistry. Of course, administrations are not the only unjust systems that teenagers typically encounter at school: it also takes great courage to stand up against the rigid social hierarchy that characterizes many student populations.
Radical things happen when women come together. Whether it’s to plan a strike, march for the right to vote, or use their networks to spread information about birth control, when women come together, the establishment trembles. As Bella Abzug reminds us, “the establishment is made up of little men, very frightened.” If history is any indication, women who are brave enough to speak out can create an earthquake of social change, shattering any delusions little men may have about women and women’s equality.
With so many issues and challenges facing the world today, it’s easy to believe that effecting change must happen on a large scale in order to make an impact. However, small actions can often make big waves, and for teenage girls, one of the most radical and brave things you can do is be yourself. In a world that actively encourages teens to conform, sit still, and stay silent, having the courage to be your authentic self is no small feat, and it can have a lasting impact on the surrounding culture.
Happy (almost) Pesach!
I have been a vegetarian for about seven years now, and one of the only foods I regret giving up is good matzoh ball soup. My mom has made it for holidays my whole life, and I miss it. Nothing’s better than eating matzoh ball soup, loaded with chicken and vegetables, and sitting with your family during the holidays.
At some point in their development, almost all young feminists must figure out how to balance participation in inherently patriarchal institutions with their burgeoning feminist sensibilities. This balancing act can be particularly tricky for young women raised in organized religions, which are often even more explicit about their sexist practices than other institutions.
One Day at a Time is about a Latino family…Oh wait, you thought I was talking about that show from the seventies about a single mother raising her daughter? Well I am. Sort of. The Netflix reboot of One Day at a Time (ODAAT) tells the story of Penelope Alvarez, an army vet, current nurse, and single mother who shares the screen with her two children and her mother.
Part 1 of the series Reading Our Rights
When North Carolina began debating bathroom laws last year, the issue was so new, so out of left field, that it was easy for liberals to take a step back and say, “We don’t have evidence of trans women assaulting other women in bathrooms. Most threats to women come from straight, cis-gender men. This law has nothing to do with protecting women; it’s purely a tool to harass transgender people.”
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Jewish Women's Archive. "Blog." (Viewed on June 23, 2017) <https://jwa.org/blog>.