Jewish feminist history
November 09, 2005
The internet is full of wonderful things. One of them is Jewish Women and the Feminist Revolution, a site created by the Jewish Women's Archive, which I discovered thanks to an email from co-curator Judith Rosenbaum. (That link is for folks who can handle Macromedia Flash; if you'd like a simpler version of the archive, look here.)
As activists, professionals, artists, and intellectuals, Jewish feminists have shaped every aspect of American life. Drawing on the insights of feminism, they have also transformed the Jewish community...
That's the opening premise of the site, and the curators offer three paths in: following a timeline, exploring themes, and a searchable interface for the whole collection. The timeline begins with the civil rights struggles of the early 1960s. In the '70s, we get listings like the "Call to Change" document presented by the Jewish feminist group Ezrat Nashim to the Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative movement. (Read about it here.) And so on. Each event gets a mention and a little icon; each icon, clicked-upon, yields a wealth of information. I consider myself pretty well-versed in Jewish feminist history, but a lot of this was new to me.
The "Themes" section looks at Jewish feminist history through six lenses. One of them is "Feminism and Judaism," which asks the question of what relationship feminism has to Judaism, and explores how the effort to "integrate one's multiple identities opens new doors and creates new possibilities, bringing feminist insights to Jewish life and Jewish insights to the women's movement." Another is "From Silence to Voice," where one finds good stuff like Kim Chernin's musings on her 1973 Spirit of Peace Haggadah and the radical act of ritual recreation.
Exploring the searchable collection, I naturally gravitated to the "Spirituality and Ritual" section, where I spent a happy while looking through The Outstretched Arm (newsletter of the Jewish Healing Center, 1991) and listening to Marcia Falk speak on "A Blessing For This Day." (Read the powerful story of how she first prayed her own blessings in public here.) Around every virtual corner I found another fabulous thing -- like this list of prominent Jewish feminists, each name a portal into another world.
What a tremendous resource. The JWA is based in Brookline; that's on the way to my sister's house, and I'll probably stop by sometime when I'm in eastern Massachusetts. But it delights me that I can sit on my couch on this cold and rainy night, a hundred and eighty miles from Brookline, and benefit from their labors -- that we can peruse this collection no matter where we are in the world. Kudos to the JWA for making this available on the internet for free! Go and enjoy.