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Archive for January, 2010

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I am feeling VERY overwhelmed right now. This feeling occurs on a certain day each season. It usually starts with a mailbox and ends with my head buried in a magazine. This feeling occurs when a new issue of Lilith: Independent, Jewish & Frankly Feminist arrives. This time, however, the overwhelming feeling must go beyond my internal flutter of Jewish feminist inspiration and progress into posts on a baby blog that has yet to face a new issue of the magazine that started the fascination.

Usually when I am overwhelmed, I need to retrace my steps to see where I began. My interest in feminism took hold at a reading for my writing program when I was in the ninth grade. Jessica Valenti was the guest speaker and read from her pioneering book Full Frontal Feminism on what it means to be a young feminist, the injustices we see daily in the media, and actually having the power to change that. I was hooked. I began reading Feministing daily (who am I kidding? Hourly.) and I was given a language through which I could express an identity I perpetually learn from.

My friend and I shared this passion and decided to start a feminism club at our school last year. From the club, I have learned what it means to have a feminist community and the importance of creating dialogue.

Throughout all of this, I was not practicing Judaism. I actually kind of gave up on a religion I did not share a language with. And by “language,” I do not just mean Hebrew. I mean an ideology that I could not identify with. I did not know of the legendary matriarchs because the all-male rabbis I had growing up acted like they never existed or told their stories only in the context of those of their husbands.

Then, at the end of last year, I was preparing for a 5-week trip to Israel as a part of a pluralistic community of Jewish youth. As fate would have it, on the day I went to borrow the books I had to read for the trip, the library was giving away old issues of Lilith. Honestly paying more attention to the attractive cover than to the content, I picked up a few for what I thought would be some light reading. When I saw the subtitle Independent, Jewish & frankly feminist, I knew I found a connection between dueling identities. I realized they could connect and I recognized my own Judaism in light of my feminism.

During my time in Israel, I had the opportunity of being taught by an editor of Lilith who gave me some more back issues and I would sit on the Jerusalem grass listening to Ani Difranco as I learned to speak a sort of Yiddish – a fusion of the language of feminism I had first learned at that reading with a language I thought I would never be able to speak and one that continues to speak to me through the words of Jewish women that have both struggled with and celebrated their femininity in the context of my religion.

A few months after I got back from the trip where I reconciled identities, I started this blog. Now, I am here, contemplating what to do about the wealth of knowledge I receive from others and how to transmit ideas across publications and schools of thought. What I think I will do is take my precious time to savor the brilliance that is this magazine and then report back to you all with my own take on the latest hot topics of Jewish feminism and how they affect my life as a high school Jewish feminist.

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Only two days after International Holocaust Remembrance Day, only two days after President Obama spoke of Auschwitz before the SOTU, the South strikes again. With what? This time, a Virginia school system has banned the latest version of The Diary of Anne Frank – a young girl’s account of Nazi Germany up to her death – from being taught. And their reasoning just really tops this all of: homosexuality and sexually explicit content.

According to WaPo:

The diary documents the daily life of a Jewish girl in Amsterdam during World War II. Frank started writing on her 13th birthday, shortly before her family went into hiding in an annex of an office building. The version of the diary in question includes passages previously excluded from the widely read original edition, first published in Dutch in 1947. That book was arranged by her father, the only survivor in her immediate family. Some of the extra passages detail her emerging sexual desires; others include unflattering descriptions of her mother and other people living together.

Anne Frank was a young girl with a tragic life, a life that she documented. I do not know if Anne Frank intended to write for a worldwide audience. I do not know if she even wanted her writing shared. I also do not know if Anne Frank thought that she, along with 11 million others, would die before their time. At least the life of Anne Frank lived on through her written words.

Emerging sexual desires are actually normal for a teenage girl to experience. This was perhaps the one normalcy Anne Frank experienced during her time in hiding. And treating them as inappropriate furthers a taboo on discussing sex, especially in the schools, where students are beginning to have sex or have unanswered questions concerning it. As for “homosexual content,” how dare a school ban a book on that premise? How dare a school make sure that the only books students read are heteronormative? How dare a school do such a thing when there are bound to be homosexual students around who are wondering why a book which only hints at sexuality would be regarded as taboo? This is blatant homophobia and license for it to continue within a legislated school system.

This young girl has changed the hearts and thoughts of millions who have read her, many of whom have been assigned her diary as school assignments. The Diary of Anne Frank is tragic and accessible and it is not meant to be cut short because her life was cut short enough.

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<b>Off</b> <b>and</b> <b>Running</b> Jewishness is often associated with whiteness. Statistically speaking, this association makes sense, seeing as over 99 percent of American Jews are identified as white. This was not the case half a century ago when Jews were being barred from universities and “white” required the addendum of “Anglo-Saxon Protestant.”

Judaism is a culture for some. It is a religion for all who identify as Jews. Judaism is not – in my opinion (and many disagree with me) – a race. When Judaism is confined to a race, especially when that race is white, many Jews are excluded and discriminated against. Judaism is an aspect of one’s identity – a choice rather than a racial obligation. When individuals are told they have to “look Jewish” to “be Jewish,” they lose the chance to claim their own identity.

In American Jewry, this is especially pertinent concerning trans-racial adoption. Avery Klein-Cloud, an African American Jew, co-wrote Off and Running, a documentary of her search for personal identity that opens today in Manhattan.

The Times reviews,

All Avery understands, by her own admission, is how to be white and Jewish. Raised in an observant household in Brooklyn by Tova Klein and Travis Cloud, a lesbian couple with two other adopted, nonwhite children, Avery is a gifted athlete and a loving sister. But when she reaches out to her birth mother in Texas, her need to connect with the past jeopardizes her future and distances her from the only family she has ever known.

I will definitely be seeing this documentary, seeing as a text that depicts “the complexities of transracial adoption without forcing [the] film into a predetermined, inspirational box” is crucial to the development of Jewish identity and acceptance.

And how is this a Jewish feminist issue?, you might ask. Adoption is a manifestation of reproductive choice. Reproductive choice is a feminist issue. This film is a manifestation of women in the movie industry, which is a feat seeing as – according to WAM – only 15 percent of movie producers, writers, and directors are women. This documentary is written, directed, and produced 100% by women!

Last, but most definitely not least, this is a coming of age story about choice, identity, and equality. I’d say Jewish feminism is totally behind that.

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Kippot and Women

The other day I was thinking: if traditionally a Kippah is worn to signify an acceptance of God and his power, then why don’t women have to wear them? A relatively religious friend of mine and I recently got into a conversation about this issue, and she told me that she had heard that because women give birth, they are naturally closer to God and so men, because they cannot give birth, wear Kippot to compensate and bring them closer to God, as well. She thought that the reason was beautiful, and I, although not completely won over by it, agree that there is some beauty in the idea of giving birth being a special womanly connection to God.

I did some research on the topic, and while I did not find that exact explanation, I found this:

“Women don’t have to for two reasons:

1) Women have a stricter code of modesty, and so they are already reminded of G-d in their dress.

2) Women are naturally more intuitive into spiritual concepts and G-d and thus don’t need as tangible and physical a reminder as the men need”

While I am not going to address the first reason right now, as I believe it is mainly a denominational belief issue, I will address the second. It makes me uncomfortable. Who can say that a woman is more intuitive about spiritual concepts or closer to God than a man, unless he or she has been both a man and a woman? How can you generalize an entire gender’s spirituality when a connection to God is such an individual thing?

However, studies have shown that women actually tend to be more religious and to have more belief in God than men. In one study, 77% of women said they have an absolutely certain belief in a God, while 65% of men said so. The difference in the numbers is not trivial, and so I want to be more open-minded about the possibility of women as a gender being more religious than men. But a part of me (the part of me that likes to ignore statistics?) still insists that this generalization is too convenient, too simple—I’m torn.

While I have never worn a kippah and do not particularly want to, I have a great respect for women who do. And a part of me wishes that I wanted to wear a kippah, because the part of me that thinks that men are just as spiritual as women knows that wearing one is a necessary step for equality. And the other part of me, the part that is weary of tearing down tradition, thinks that maybe there is something to be said for the fact that for hundreds of years women have not had to wear kippot and have stayed connected to God.  I find myself somewhat of a hypocrite because in reality, I have no interest in wearing a kippah, but in theory, a large part of me thinks that women should.

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Domestic Felicity, a blog written by a Jewish stay-at-home mother living in Jerusalem, warns us against the dangers of feminism.

Oh, I’m scared.

But I’m not scared of my beliefs in a woman’s right to choose, which aren’t going to change any time soon. I’m scared of this blogger’s frightening understanding of what feminism means. According to Mrs. Anna T, feminism is synonymous with “having it all.” And to Mrs. Anna T, “having it all” means being forced to do it all, rather than having the choice to have all one chooses to have.

But this blogger defines feminism as a rather strange conspiracy theory:

I think that saying, ‘oh, go ahead and get a full-time career, you can juggle a marriage, children and household successfully along the way, and you can have a baby whenever you want’ is much more dangerous than ‘career is a better choice, go forsake your family!’ – Why? Because honestly, can you imagine a decent woman stand up and say, ‘hey, I choose to neglect my family, I don’t care if my marriage suffers, my laundry piles up and my children never see their Mommy!’? But she can be tempted to buy into the I-can-have-it-all idea.

First of all, many women who do not want full-time careers are forced to get them out of financial necessity. Not everyone can be wealthy Jerusalem suburbanites of privilege who can live off of a single income and many women are single mothers who work in order to put their children first, not the other way around.

Second of all, why is it that if a woman chooses to have a full-time career, she is “neglecting her family,” whereas if a man has a full-time career, he is “providing for his family.” It is the exact same choice yet one parent is labeled neglectful for doing so and the other is labeled responsible. It is an age-old double standard that must be recognized.

Third, I simply wish that Mrs. Anna T could recognize that her lifestyle is a feminist lifestyle. She is choosing to stay at home and finds fulfillment in doing so. That choice, that conviction that she is able to fulfill her own agenda is what feminism is about. Many other women choose different paths and feminism is also about recognizing and supporting the fact that all of those paths are entirely valid and it is a woman’s right to be given all the necessary tools to dodge the double standard and live her life as she sees fit.

Feminism is a safety net, not a danger. It does not mean that women must “have it all;” it means that women can choose from that “all” because we are not being restricted in our choices.

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As I posted previously, for my Senior Keystone project, I will be interviewing Jewish women in New York City to discuss feminism, Judaism, and the intersection of the two…an idea inspired by the thoughts I have generated on this blog.

Readers, I need your help!

Are you a Jewish woman/girl living in NYC between the ages of 5 and 95 (I’m serious – I’m using that broad of a range)?

Do you have anything to say (positive or negative) about feminism?

Do you consider your perspective representative of Jewish pluralism?

Would you like to work with me in creating this anthology through offering yourself as an interviewee?

If so, please email me at fromtherib@gmail.com! This project is really important to both me and the future of this blog (I will be posting the narratives of all the interviews here as the project progresses). It is my goal to document thoughts on Jewish feminism through revealing that Jewish women and girls do not conform to one singular stereotype. This is an opportunity for you to define what it means to be Jewish. It is an opportunity for you to define what it means to be a feminist. Any and all input would be greatly appreciated.

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Stuff Jewish Young Adults Like #13: Writing About Themselves

It speaks for itself.

(Although these posts are also intended to elicit responses)

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