Sunday, February 23, 2014

In Which I Finally Say Stuff on Tefillin

Note: This post is based off of a personal journal entry and is slightly poetic.  While I could have edited, I wanted to maintain the authenticity and flow of thought and emotion.
Or can we????
I'm walking on a tightrope of legitimacy.  For the past week I've been on the edge of revelation and I now have something to say.  I have thought about wearing tefillin, weighed zeitgeist with peer- pressure with legitimacy.  I cringed when the school rabbi told the boys in my davening to put on tefillin and they sat there as if the mitzvah was no big deal.  I've sat around like a mitzvah was no big deal before, I've rolled my eyes at enforced religiosity, but this, this seemed to destroy me.  I knew not of whether it was a political activist pull or a religious one stirring inside me.  I knew only that I wanted to be bound.  Feel leather straps and boxes contain me and carry me.  So I cried and I cringed and I winced and I argued. After all of this pain, I've decided to postpone my decision until I've learned the Halacha thoroughly inside by myself and then discussed with a teacher I trust.

Once this pressure went away however, I still felt something unhinging inside me, creeping up, an old friend.  I was at a school Shabbaton sitting with a small group of friends and rabbis.  I asked them their thoughts on Shelo Asani Isha ("Thank you G-d for not making me a woman).  There was some apologism, but mostly answers I expected.  The talk turned to the female exemption from positive timebound mitzvot.  I began to cry, I debated with the rabbis, each respectful and even in awe that a teenager cared so much about religion. After that session I realized what I've really been struggling with all throughout Tefillingate, and in general, regarding liberal Judaism and complete egalitarianism.
I am balancing identity with citizenship with legitimacy.  Here's the starting point: I LIKE being frum.  I love the shells, the sheitels, the learning, the secret language of Yiddishkeit.  I speak in Yinglish with my friends and make jokes about the Mishna.  I love identifying as and being frum- showing daily, traditional commitment to G-d.  But then there's citizenship.  I want to be a vocal and visible part of my community.  I am a human rights activist and inequalities, especially those regarding gender, upset me.  Even though I don't believe I should be counted in a Minyan, when the gabbais and davening leaders look through me- "Anyone here so we can start one?", it hurts.  Especially when I've made the effort to attend services, these comments make me feel alien, inessential and invisible.  It's not about being counted in the Minyan, it's about being counted, period.

Ritually treated as someone with nothing to add, my only realms of control are sex and children, rich realms, to be sure, but not highly communal, visible or commended ones.  I crave to lead, to lay, to leyn, and to learn.  I am an important part of the Jewish people, not just someone's mother, but rather the next generation of Chazal, poskim, respected leaders.  As someone so passionately committed to Halachic Judaism, I feel betrayed by the frum community's awkward sweeping aside of my leadership and care.

However, this passion is its own prison.  Whenever I've been to fully egalitarian, liberal Jewish spaces, I feel that everything is a bit too casual, too new, too fluid.  It doesn't feel legitimate to me (NOT that it isn't, just that it doesn't feel that way to me, personally). I want to be respected by Orthodox rabbis, I want Partnership minyanim to be considered fully Halachic, because that is where I feel safe.  I don't want Neo- Halacha, I want old Halacha supporting the things that bring me spiritual fulfillment.  I want my voice valued, and contrary to my usual prerogative, I want to be normative.  Not in the eyes of society, but in the eyes of G-d.

So who knows if I will end up wearing tefillin (call me in 5- 10 years).  But before I decide, I have something to say. To me, this Tefillingate is not about tefillin, or even chiuv(that's for another post...).  It's about weighing citizenship with legitimacy.  I'm not 100% sure of the Halachic support or leniency for women laying tefillin, but, I do think that dissenters harm the Jewish people by alienating the women who care most.  The women who think critically, worship devotedly and experiment with new ways of achieving intimacy with G-d.  For if these strong, beautiful women have their spirits broken, all is lost.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Image of Victimhood: Holocaust Remembrance Day

When I looked up a photo representing the Holocaust I was too sickened and needed to exit the page.  This article is also a testament to the value of education on tragedy without scare tactics or brutal imagery.  We should all feel uncomfortable enough to learn with respect and diligence but comfortable enough to approach the issue without feeling intense anxiety and depression each time we learn something new.
This is a really short post, but I wanted to get a few words in on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  I want to say something radical: Jewish history does not revolve around the Holocaust. We are not defined by this tragedy, in the sense that we are not defined by the string of tragedies that we have been taught to bear as our only form of heritage.  This is the Lachrymose Conception of Jewish History, the reason why the Jewish studies sections of libraries and book shelves are ridden with Holocaust survivor books and a few treatises on the Inquisition.  But what of the Haskalah, Kibbutz movement, Chassidut or Bar Kochba?  What of Chazal and rich shtetl life and the Counsel of Four Lands? I am Jew and I have lived tragedy but my name is not Tragedy.

Hitler was a monster and my people suffered in murderous camps of affliction, my mothers were raped and my brothers were tortured but these faces and names have been shown primarily as corpses since the world awoke to this perversion of humanity.  Remember the Holocaust, yes, watch sad movies and research and fiercely preserve the dwindling testimonies of those who bore witness and survived.  But I also urge you to research the Golden Age of Poland, learn some Gemara, study the role of Jews in America throughout history, examine Israel's rich culture.

We were not lambs to the slaughter, we were people in a genocide. People who fought and rebelled, survived and compromised.  Remember us as people, remember us for our strengths. My last urging on this difficult day, is to acknowledge that Anti- Semitism still exists.  Please call people out on it, please know your facts, please prevent this relaxing of consciousness. And to the Jews reading this, be unabashedly proud, and don't let anyone else define who you are or who you should be now, or anytime throughout history.

Here's a post that also brings a new Holocaust perspective:


This post is especially dedicated to my ancestors who lived in Eastern Europe (Transylvania represent!) and the entire phenomenon of Yiddish culture.  If you don't know anything about Yiddish language and culture, it's literally the best thing ever. Here's a good place to start:

This is also in memory of all of the non- Jews who suffered at the hand of the Nazis.

May the souls of all those who suffered live on in our memory for a blessing.

Cultivating Change, Cultivating Anger

Recently I've been angry.  Not hormonal, not social life or family related, not logical, just enraged.  The first incident was after I finished reading Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine (an excellent and sarcastic read on all of those neuroscience studies that are like LOOK! We didn't make up all those gender stereotypes, here's some questionable data that just happens to prove all the stereotypes we believe in!).  The book really revved my feminist engine (in a good way), and I went into this long, teary rant about how it's despicable that if I were to dress my son in a skirt, people would suspect some pernicious agenda, but putting him in pants would be perfectly normal and ungendered, whatever my child's sex.  I was just bawling honestly, because our society is broken, transwomen are questioned on their genitalia, women are chastised for breastfeeding publicly while surrounded by images of breasts advertising products, people become objects to be acted upon, and men are suffering under the burden of masculinity.  I cringe daily at how I see and hear educated people behave.

I am reminded of a quote, "It is no measure of good health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society." People call me oversensitive or say I have a one track mind, but dammit if that's not what they've said to every activist.  George Washington should've chilled out about the whole subjugation by England thing, Sojourner Truth should've been like "well, I guess I'm not a woman... what's for dinner? (oh right, I'm making it)", Theodor Herzl should've thought "this country in Palestine thing seems hella tumultuous," and Beethoven should've taken a sedative.  How can I calm down? How can I stop? The number of enslaved people in the world is at an all time high , and I just sit back down and watch the commercial?  I'm sorry but that is not why I exist. Even though I volunteer, am in clubs, etc, I never feel like I'm doing enough. A typical life in the suburbs is not failure, but it's also not for me.  If I am not part of the cycle of inspiration and knowledge every day of my life, I kinda feel lazy.  Now, this is also a recipe for crazy sauce, but it also cooks up a mean batch of change.

Others' attempts to quell your anger may inadvertently silence you.  While this must be balanced with reasonable concession and respectability, every firework needs a catalyst.  And every person affects their cause.

And here are some lovely videos from my newest inspiration, Melissa Harris- Perry

Fight on my friends,

Friday, January 3, 2014

In Defense of "Girly" Books/ Thank You Twilight

When I was younger I always swore that I would never read "girly" books.  I'm not sure how exactly that was defined, but usually these books involved romance and embarrassing titles that made everyone think you were stupid.  So I read classics, fantasies and mysteries, etc., trying my very best to avoid fluffy stories that were decidedly not cerebral and made my brothers tease me.

In middle school I began to sneak some in, a little Princess Diaries here, some Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants there. But I always made the equivocation that these were well written or feminist in someway (both of which are true).  This all changed however when I decided to read Twilight.  Yep that's right.  I've read all four books and reread 'em more times than I remember.  And it rocked.

After a year and a half of hating the teen vampire series phenomenon and refusing to try them against the advice of a far wiser friend, I borrowed the book from the school library to take on my trip to Florida.  By the end of the trip I was almost finished Breaking Dawn.

I've never had a favorite genre for books, it's always been that I read whatever looks good, from cereal boxes to biographies, but I was missing one key piece.  Reading pleasurable books that admitted that they were just for fun.  Perhaps the story lines can be a little predictable or the wording cliche, but I enjoy the books and their characters and am ready to come out as a romance novel fan.  Besides, I can totally analyze them from a feminist perspective when I'm done.

Recently, my teacher joked that the books I was reading for winter break were stupid.  They were two of the best books I have read in a while (The Fault in our Stars  by John Green and Sisters Red  by Jackson Pearce). I am currently reading a book on the women who influenced America's founding fathers.  I think my academic legitimacy is still intact, thankyouverymuch.

So thanks Stephanie Meyer, for making an honest feminist out of me.  I now unabashedly read Good Housekeeping and Ladies Home Journal.  I bake people cookies and dream of glittery tutus.  And I no longer give a crap, which is the ultimate feminist statement.  If you'll excuse me, I have a victorian romance novel to read.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Taking the Plunge and I Have No Country

Hey people.  It's the new year and the new month (Rosh Chodesh Shvat).  I have many high hopes for 2014 (this time next year I may even know where I'm going to college!), and wanted to share non- resolutions with you.  I feel dorky making resolutions but I do have a few goals (okay they're the same thing, so sue me).
I want to create something everyday. Mostly in the form of a blog post.  You all have to keep me accountable because this is gonna be really difficult, but I want to get my writing out into the universe and this is the way.  So without further ado, here's my post:

The other day I went to the National Archives to see the new Iraqi Jewish exhibit (highly recommended!).  While I was there, I also went to a general American history exhibit.  One of the parts that stood out to me was a video of World War II American propaganda and recruitment commercials.  One laughably scripted ad, interviewed young people, each saying that they would love nothing more than to enter the draft.  The ad featured  a young man saying that behind G-d, the most important thing is one's country.  I cringed.

Perhaps this is a side effect of the Jewish condition but I don't feel that patriotism towards America.  I respect and love my country, I think that the U.S. has been one of the best nations to the Jews throughout all of history.  I feel forever grateful for the liberties I enjoy.  However, I do not feel an inherent loyalty (I would never betray my country, I just don't think I would die for it either).

All my Zionist friends reading this right now are probably sobbing.  Don't worry, I'm a Zionist. The problem is, I've never been to Israel.  Sure, I'm applying to Bronfman (cross your fingers!) and will go on my senior trip next year, but I don't feel a strong patriotism yet.  So as of now, I feel country-less, but not homeless.  Perhaps this is how my ancestors felt.