Dueling Identities

March 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance

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Throughout my childhood and adolescence, I spent a lot of time avoiding going to Temple. While I identified as Jewish and enjoyed the community¬† that my reform temple offered, I couldn’t ever understand how going to services or saying prayers really related to me. For my Bat Mitzvah, I avoided studying for so long that I had to spend a week in double-time tutoring and studying sessions. I enjoyed the practice of it all, and was surprised about how much I enjoyed thinking about the meaning of my portion. I maintained some interest in the theory, and in many ways found that my cultural Jewishness was a big part of my identity after leaving home. However, in my first encounter with Judaism after my first few women and gender studies classes, I couldn’t believe how patriarchal the whole thing felt. Why would I ever participate in it? How could anyone continue to? Who expected me to not be livid about it?

My junior year, I decided to take a class called Gender and Judaism. It was my first religion class, and I think I half expected that it would prove how outdated and unrelated Judaism was to someone whose main identity was as a young feminist. While we did learn about many of the ways which religion was a patriarchal structure or Jewish practices were based on sexist ideas, I was shocked when I realized how much women had done to find ways to create an identity as a Jew and as a feminist. For these women who felt strongly about maintaining duel identities, they took a two-pronged approach by carving out a place for them within Judaism while also reshaping the the religion itself.

Learning about Jewish Feminism was the first time it really registered that loving something can mean being critical of it. It made me question my initial idea that I should immediately and instantly drop my Jewish identity. Examining structures and the roles they play in sexism is a basic feminist practice, and the experience of Jewish feminists made me realize how easy it is to stop examining. Learning about Jewish Feminism taught me about the value of the fight, no matter how complicated it is. There is never one right answer, one feminist way, one version of intersectionality. But there is one major truth: identities are incredibly complicated and constantly changing. I don’t know how I’ll end up changing my identity or reconciling my feminism with my Judaism, or even if it’s the fight I want to have. But there’s something incredibly powerful in realizing that it’s not all or nothing.

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