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Can We Talk? 2021-2022 Season Wrap

[Theme music plays]

Nahanni: Hello everyone. It's Nahanni Rous, here with Judith Rosenbaum and Jen Richler...the whole Can We Talk? team!

Judith: Hey there.

Jen: Hi.

Nahanni: We are here to wrap our 2021-22 fall and spring seasons. So we'll be sharing some highlights and talking about some of our own favorite moments from the past year’s episodes. We are recording this at the tail end of Pride Month, so we’ll spend a moment remembering one of our early episodes from last fall, when we talked with the photographer Joan Biren.

Judith: Also known as JEB, J-E-B.

Nahanni: In the 1970s, JEB published some of the first images of lesbians in their everyday lives.

Judith: It was amazing when I got to talk to her. I really—I’ve admired her work for a very long time. It was kind of amazing to talk to her and to be reminded that at the time that she was doing her work, there were, like, literally no photographs that she could find of women who—you know, who looked like her, who were living lives like her.

[Clip of JEB plays]

Joan: I couldn't find any images of lesbians that looked like me or my friends or my lovers. I could not find them. Literally. It was a complete image desert. So I thought, if I want to see these images, I am going to have to make them myself.

Judith: It was also amazing to think about what a huge risk it was for her to even take and publish those photographs—that she, you know, couldn't find a publisher, that the printer was worried that they might get arrested for putting those images out into the world.

Nahanni: And what a huge difference it makes for people to see images that they can relate to. It's really a way of creating community and empowering people.

Judith: Yeah. One of the other things that I found so interesting in talking to Joan was thinking about what it is to...for women to hold the camera and to be the ones looking, and just how revolutionary that is. And not only for images. I mean, I think that is true for so much of the kinds of stories that we've looked at on this podcast, also just to think about what happens when women are writing the stories and how they might tell a story differently, or notice something different or frame a character differently.

Nahanni: That ties in well with another one of our episodes, which was an interview with Yael Kanarek about Toratah, her project of re-gendering the Torah, flipping the genders of all the characters so that the female characters in the Biblical stories, in Toratah, are the ones who have more agency, and the ones that we know more about. And both Joan’s and Yael’s projects are deeply personal. So, for Joan, it was a need to see images she could relate to as a lesbian, and Yael’s inspiration came through feeling a need to have sacred stories that resonated with her as a woman.

[Clip of Yael plays]

Yael: I did it because I was desperate. I did it for myself. All the language that I’ve studied in relation to the divine starts from a man's point of view. I don't have language. I don't have enough words that are in that place of relationship to the divine.

Jen: On the theme of people being seen, and centering stories that are often marginalized, we also talked with Ilana Kaufman, who's the executive director of the Jews of Color Initiative. She talked with us about the survey of Jews of color called “Beyond the Count,” which dealt with the experiences of Jews of color and their feelings of belonging in the Jewish community—and sometimes not belonging, experiencing racism, being excluded from the Jewish community. And she also talked about how important it is to have a full picture of who the Jewish community is.

[Clip of Ilana plays]

Ilana: For so long, we've missed a whole other...all these other sets of our stories, all these other chapters. And the idea is not to do away with the narrative that we've been telling, but to expand that narrative. And when we do that, not only do we tell the truth, but people become relieved, because the truth allows us to fully engage in what we know to be real.

Judith: Part of what I love about thinking about those three together as doing some of the same work is just such different formats that they're working in, right? Like, you know, a sociological survey, a creative Torah—sort of midrash kind of process, and photography, right. And, you know, I think it sort of speaks to...just all the different kinds of work that need to happen to expand the narratives that we tell, and to create more equity and justice and perspective on the world, and how much creativity is called upon to do it in so many different arenas, and how much Jewish women are doing to contribute to that.

Jen: Right. And then, also the taking-charge attitude of, like, you see an area that is not getting enough attention or stories that aren't being told, and rather than just observing that or critiquing that, there are women who are saying, “I'm gonna do something about that.” That makes me think of one of our—actually our final episode of the fall. The final episode was about this group of women called the Jane Collective, who in the years before Roe v. Wade became law, when abortion was still illegal, decided first that they were going to—these were women living in Chicago—that they were going to connect women who needed abortions with an abortion provider.

And then eventually decided that they had learned enough from the abortion providers that they could provide the abortions themselves, and so were doing these abortions illegally.

[Clip from Jane Collective episode plays]

Judith Arcana: I thought, well, look at this, here are these nice Jewish girls, as the saying goes, and what are we doing? Well, we're committing a crime in order to do what we think is good for women and girls.

Jen: Eventually, a group of them got arrested. We spoke to two of those women who were part of what was called the “Abortion Seven,” the seven women who got arrested.

But I guess the connection to me is, you know, deciding that something needed to be done and doing it. And that was actually—the words that, I think, Jean Galatzer-Levy, one of the women I interviewed, said in—in the interview was that they weren't extraordinary women. It's sort of easy to look at this through the lens of history and say, “Oh, they were so brave,”...but they didn't see it that way. They saw themselves as very ordinary and just realized that there was a problem that needed to be solved. And instead of looking for someone else to do it, they just did it themselves.

Judith: And of course, that episode has been on our mind a lot and has been listened to a lot in the last, you know, few months as these issues have risen again, as we in—in this moment that we're recording, at least, are awaiting the Supreme Court decision that is expected to overturn Roe, very sadly.

Nahanni: Yeah. So moving into our spring season, we started off with a three-part series that marked important milestones in Jewish life. And they were: 100 years since the first bat mitzvah, 50 years since the first woman rabbi was ordained in the United States, and 50 years since a group of women called Ezrat Nashim crashed the Rabbinical Assembly’s annual meeting and brought with them a set of demands to the hundreds of rabbis who were gathered there. So there were certainly a lot of threads that tied each of those anniversaries together, and maybe we could talk about some of those briefly right now.

Judith: Part of what we were celebrating in the anniversary of the bat mitzvah is this moment where young girls played this leadership role in changing Jewish ritual life, and—and recognizing that there's a kind of throughline there, that when adult women saw girls taking on some of these roles, that it created a change that enabled adult women to demand more access and more leadership—and that that influenced women who went on to be able to envision themselves as rabbis.

And so, even though we tend to think that change flows in other directions, I think often, you know, that...we might think, like, “Oh, first there were women rabbis and they would make the change of bringing girls in for bat mitzvah,” but actually to recognize, like, no, that girls led the way in many ways there.

Nahanni: Jen, I was wondering if you wanted to maybe share some of the specifics of some of the bat mitzvah stories, ’cause there were so many and we weren't able to include all of them, but I mean...some of the anecdotes about some of the bat mitzvahs from, like, the ’40s and ’50s...

Jen: I'm remembering now that Carole Balin, who was one of the main voices of the episode, who is in the process of writing a book about the history of bat mitzvah, she told me so many great stories and they couldn't all fit.

One that we did include, but I don't know if this detail was in there, is that there was a girl by the name of Judy Darsky. Her bat mitzvah was, I believe, in 1955 at the Plum Street Synagogue in Cincinnati. Judy Darsky was sort of a trailblazer and, in fact, she was a very bright and musical young woman, and it was at some point suggested to her by someone that she have a bat mitzvah. And I believe that her response was, “What's a bat mitzvah?” So that's how, you know, foreign the concept was.

I actually think it was “What's a bas mitzvah?” because that was the way it was pronounced in—in her circles. And then, you know, she went on to do a great job. And I just love the footage we were able to include that we got from, I believe, the American Jewish Archives of her giving a little bit of her speech.

[Clip of Judy Darsky’s speech plays]

Judy: Adonai Eloheinu, O Lord our God. I come before thee to take my place as a bas mitzvah, a daughter of thy commandments. O God, help me to grow in knowledge and in faith as a fine American and a noble Jewess.

Nahanni: I love the “noble Jewess” part.

Judith: Don't you identify as a noble Jewess?

Jen: Oh, don't we all! Don't we all wish we identified...maybe we should change the name of JWA to Noble Jewesses. But anyway, that moment stuck out, but there were so, so many good ones and, you know, I have heard, and I know other people at JWA have heard, from women since that episode came out about women who had bat mitzvah ceremonies, you know, back in times when these were not so common, and who—for many of whom it was a real source of pride.

Nahanni: And for some of them having to fight for it was also an important part of them becoming an activist in the future.

Judith: Speaking of feedback from our listeners, we love it when our episodes spark more stories, and our episode on Ezrat Nashim led to someone sharing with us a little bit more of a glimpse into the experience of the women at the RA convention who were not the women of Ezrat Nashim.

One of the things we talked about in the episode is that in addition to meeting with the rabbis at the convention, they also met the other women who were at the convention who were the rabbis’ wives. And this letter that we got, it reminded us that, in fact, these women went, often, because they got to participate in a lot of really great learning at the convention. And it was an opportunity for them to be part of high-level Jewish learning and conversation, and that they were able to participate in every session that was not a voting session, and the gathering that they were able to have with the women of Ezrat Nashim was because there was a voting session going on. So they had free time on their schedules then to meet and to hear about the work that Ezrat Nashim was doing.

Nahanni: Another episode that I got a lot of feedback about was the orange on the seder plate. Right before Pesach, we corrected the myth about where that tradition comes from, and I heard a lot of people who said, “I had no idea what the real story was.” Um, let’s not give it away here, because people can go back and listen to that episode. But hint, it's not about women in the rabbinate.

Judith: It also reminds me, it's not enough to tell stories, because stories get told and retold in so many ways and can morph in all these strange ways. We also have to continually make sure that history is not being, you know, totally rewritten in its retelling and—and how we kind of navigate that is...interesting and complicated.

Nahanni: Stewarding our own stories.

Judith: Yes.

Nahanni: And speaking of being storytellers, as storytellers we tend to tackle a lot of—of serious topics on this podcast. And so, we thought we'd try something a little different, and we introduced a miniseries called Word of the Week, where in each episode, we talk about one word and explore what it means for Jewish women. So the three words that we talked about this spring were gaslighting, eshet chayil, and yenta.

[Clips from the Yenta episode play]

Judy: I'm definitely a yenta.

Miriam: I don't know if it's positive or negative, but it's sort of this, like, all-knowing, gossipy figure who really knows everything about what's going on.

Nahanni: And I like to think that we kind of put the fun in the serious and the serious in the fun with that miniseries.

Jen: And I think at least two of them, um, had a bit of that making sure we're getting the story right. You know, sort of taking what you think you know and going a little deeper into the origins. And so that was fun too, to sort of upend people's expectations.

Judith: Those were among the first episodes that I got to hear that I hadn't been part of making. So that was really fun for me too, since I was on sabbatical for a couple of months this spring. And I really enjoyed getting to be, like, a regular...I don't know what you call it, it's like a “Jew in the pew,” right, when you're talking about rabbis? A regular Jewish woman in the podcast app who's notified when there's a new episode in my feed and hadn't already listened to it seventeen times before it came out.

Jen: A little secret of being a podcast producer is that by the time the episode comes out, you've listened to it so many times that you can't bring yourself to listen to it anymore. [laughs]

Judith: Exactly.

Jen: And you almost don't want to hear if there's a little tiny mistake somewhere that—

Nahanni: We have no mistakes, Jen.

Jen: No, of course, of course! [Laughter]

Nahanni: Speaking of mistakes, Jen, we—we talked about transcription errors this season a lot because we were doing a lot of episodes that had a lot of, I guess, you know, more Jewish-specific or Hebrew or Yiddish terminology. And so our automatic transcription service that we rely on a lot gave us a lot of good laughs.

Jen: Mm-hmm.

Nahanni: For Ezrat Nashim, it turned into “retina machine.”

Jen: Yep. And “retina shame.”

Judith: I liked, um, thinking about “pulpit rabbis” as “puppet rabbis.” That was a good one.

Nahanni: Yes!

Jen: Yeah, I was picturing little, like, rabbi hand puppets and found that image amusing.

Judith: Right? I was—I think I was sort of picturing rabbis on marionette strings.

Jen: “You were installed as a puppet rabbi.”

Judith: Exactly.

Nahanni: I don't know if I'm allowed to say this here, but, um, eshet chayil got turned into “shit, Kyle!” [Laughter]

[Theme music plays]

...Anyway, it's been a really great season and I've loved working on all of these stories. So, on to preparing for a new season in the fall! We'll be taking a hiatus over the summer to get ready for that.

And if you really miss us, as we know you might, you know you can always catch up on old Can We Talk? episodes that you might have missed.

Jen: I believe our last episode was number 80. So you have a whole trove of episodes to listen to if you haven't been keeping up. So… sorry, Nahanni, how do people listen?

Nahanni: Oh, jwa.org/canwetalk or wherever you get your podcasts. [Laughs]

Judith: Subscribe—so it’s always in your feed.

Jen: Very good.

Nahanni: And over the summer, we’ll also be catching up on some of our favorite podcasts too. So, we're really grateful to Noah Efron from The Promised Podcast for the shout-out that he gave to us, so we wanna give him one for his excellent podcast.

Jen: Noah is the host of The Promised Podcast, which has been on for years and I've been a devoted listener for many years. There's usually a couple other guests, and they discuss, you know, current events in Israel with such a refreshing take and just with so much empathy and insight. So that is a recommendation for summer listening.

Nahanni: We'll also be listening to Kill Me Now, Judy Gold's podcast. It's a weekly podcast hosted by award-winning comedian and writer and a regular guest on Word of the Week, on our Word of the Week miniseries, Judy Gold.

Jen: Love her.

Judith: Woohoo, we love Judy Gold!

Nahanni: She interviews guests ranging from comedians like Amy Schumer to people like Mary Trump.

Jen: The reason it's called Kill Me Now is that, you know, Judy is usually pissed off about something, in a very amusing way. She brings celebrities and other people on, and they talk about what makes them angry, whether it's something really big happening in the world or something totally mundane. So, she really gets at the root of what makes people say, “Kill me now!” And Judy says that phrase better than I possibly could.

Nahanni: Also check out Judaism Unbound, which recently released an episode about how Jewish summer camps are harming LGBTQ+ youth. The interview was based on an investigation by New Voices Magazine. We were especially interested to hear this story, since our last Can We Talk? episode was on a similar topic—a group called Jewish Teens for Empowered Consent tackling what they call toxic hookup culture in Jewish youth groups and summer camps. So as we all gear up for summer, have a listen to Judaism Unbound’s podcast on safety and unsafety at summer camp as well as our most recent Can We Talk? episode.

Nahanni: So, that's a wrap on our spring season and we'll see you in the fall.

Judith: Have a great summer everybody. Bye.

Nahanni: Two days after we recorded this end-of-year podcast roundup, the United States Supreme Court struck down Roe. We’re all still reeling, but we’re finding strength in the long history of activism for reproductive justice in the Jewish community and beyond. We’ll have more to say about this on Can We Talk? and at the Jewish Women’s Archive over the coming months. In the meantime, you can find lots of great resources from our good friends at National Council of Jewish Women at jewsforabortionaccess.org.


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Jewish Women's Archive. "Can We Talk? 2021-2022 Season Wrap." (Viewed on March 22, 2023) <https://jwa.org/can-we-talk-2021-2022-season-wrap>.


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