Dr. Elana Maryles Sztokman in an award-winning author, anthropologist, and feminist activist. Her books, two of which have won the National Jewish Book Council award, focus on gender, religion, education, politics, and society. She ran for Israel’s Knesset in 2020 as Chair of the Kol Hanashim Women’s Party.
Elana Sztokman grew up in Flatbush, Brooklyn and was raised Modern Orthodox with three sisters, though her family was completely opposed to feminism. Sztokman attended Barnard College, got married right after graduation, had her first child, and made aliyah to Israel in 1993. Her feminist journey began when she co-founded Mavoi Satum, an organization dedicated to helping agunot (women whose husbands refuse to give them a religious divorce). Mavoi Satum hosted an empowerment workshop where the facilitator challenged the board to consider why they related so personally to agunot. It took her a while, but Sztokman ultimately realized that all Orthodox women are trapped together within sexist halakha; no matter how wonderful her husband was, she was still living within patriarchy as an object, and could become an agunah at any moment. She woke up, stopped covering her hair, and realized that she could live the life she wanted, not just follow what the world wanted from her. Sztokman earned a master’s degree in Jewish education and a doctorate in education, sociology, and gender at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. She researched adolescent girls at a religious school, and right before she presented her dissertation, her spiritual healer helped her realize her own story and pain reflected in those girls. Her friend invited Sztokman to lead a few blessings with her daughter at a new partnership minyan (a minyan that maximizes women’s involvement and leadership within the bounds of halakha). While the experience felt incredibly liberating, and Sztokman later founded a partnership minyan in Melbourne, Australia, she grew tired of the partnership model because of how much sexism was still embedded. She never found a home in any particular synagogue, as she struggled to balance her and her family’s Orthodox preferences with her desire for gender equality and women’s liberation.