Interview with JOFA Journal editor Roselyn Bell

Wed, 03/13/2013 - 8:00pm -- JOFA

The JOFA Journal has been a phenomenal instrument for creating a world-wide community engagement and connection Orthodox feminists. Now going on its thirty-third issue, the JOFA Journal has covered a broad range of topics, such as women’s leadership, birth rituals, wedding rituals, gender in day schools, women the arts, body issues, women in philanthropy, and more. JOFA Board Member Roselyn Bell, the engine behind the JOFA journal who became editor in 2012, brings to the job a love and a passion for the project, as well as a wealth of editorial experience. As the Spring 2013 issue hits mailboxes – a fascinating issue which covers the vital and often under-reported topic of gender and aging in the Jewish community – Roselyn Bell shared some of her insights with JOFA Executive Director Elana Sztokman:

Roselyn Bell

TELL ME A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOURSELF.

I was born in Houston, Texas, to a mainstream Jewish (traditional Conservative) family and first encountered Orthodox Judaism in Israel at Hebrew University and in Berkeley, California, at Congregation Beth Israel. I was fortunate that my early rabbis were among the greats of modern Orthodoxy—Rabbi Saul Berman, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, Rabbi Yosef Leibowitz—and I was much influenced by their open and engaged view of halacha and Jewish issues of the day. I participated in Drisha from its beginning, serving on its first board and studying with Rabbi David Silber, whose literary and wide-ranging approach to the biblical text opened my eyes to the richness of close text study.

Professionally, I have enjoyed a long career in Jewish editing, beginning withHadassah magazine, where I was associate and then senior editor, and on whose editorial board I still serve. I then “stopped out” when I had three children within twenty-six months. I returned to work part-time and then full-time for CAJE (Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education), a pluralistic organization of Jewish educators, where I edited the journal, curricular publications, bibliographies, and text-based study guides. Most recently I served as director of publications at the American Jewish Committee. I am now “semi-retired”—pursuing a Masters in Jewish Studies at Rutgers while editing the JOFA Journal. 

HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED IN JOFA?

I attended JOFA conferences from their beginning, having been involved in some precursor Jewish feminist organizations (such as the JFO) and the international Jewish feminist conference of 1988 (where the Women of the Wall began). I had also been active in women’s tefilla groups, both on the Upper West Side and in Highland Park, New Jersey. So when my friend Zelda Stern asked me if I would like to join the JOFA editorial board, I was pleased to do so. When I was asked to take on the editorial responsibilities held for many years so competently by Jennifer Breger, I was thrilled because it combined by professional interests (I love the challenge of putting together a magazine) and my long-held l beliefs and commitments.

WHY IS JOFA SO IMPORTANT TO YOU? 

It is very important to me that women’s voices be heard within Orthodox Judaism—on issues of halacha, of belief, and of experience. I feel that when women are silenced, Judaism loses half of its reservoir of talent and energy. Women’s experiences of Jewish life are not identical to men’s, and it is those differences that need to be represented in public policy decision-making.

JOFA helps Jewish women find their voices—such as creating a Megillat Esther app to help women learn to leyn megilla, It also speaks up for them on issues of injustice such as aguna. 

WHAT IS THE EXPERIENCE OF CREATING A JOFA JOURNAL LIKE? 

It takes a lot more time than one might think: First the editorial board chooses a topic and discusses the various subtopics involved. Then, with suggestions from the editorial board, we reach out to potential writers to see whether they are interested in writing for us on a defined subject at a defined length. When the manuscript comes in, it is edited and reviewed by several editorial board members and myself. Since authors sometimes go in a different direction than expected, there is some collaborative back-and-forth between the writer and the editor/s.  Then visual images must be found to go with the articles, the edited manuscripts are typeset and laid out—and then the editors get to play the jigsaw puzzle game of making the articles and visuals fit into exactly the space on the pages,

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE HIGHLIGHTS OF YOUR WORK AS THE JOFA JOURNAL EDITOR? 

I enjoy working with a terrific team on the editorial board. For the last two issues, one editorial board member—first Karen Miller Jackson and this time Zelda R. Stern—has stepped forward to partner with me in finding the right contributors to the journal for the topic at hand.

I also really enjoy preparing the Book Corner feature—identifying books that fit our topics and our audience, assigning them to reviewers, or reading and reviewing them myself.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE JOFA JOURNAL? 

Hard to say. It’s like asking a mother which is her favorite child.

WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE MOST IMPORTANT WORK OF JOFA IN THE YEARS TO COME? 

First, assuring Jewish women’s place at the table when Jewish communal decisions are made, and second, promoting young women into leadership track positions so their voices will be heard in the next generation.

WHAT DO YOU THINK ARE THE GREATEST CHALLENGES OF ORTHODOX FEMINISM?    

As women rise to leadership positions in every profession and walk of life in American culture, it seems ridiculous to maintain that women cannot be a sar, a leader such as a synagogue president. Orthodoxy must find a way to incorporate women into meaningful leadership roles in every aspect of communal life or the best and the brightest will take their talents and resources elsewhere.

WHAT IS YOUR VISION OF JEWISH LIFE? 

My vision of Jewish life is of a rich and variegated community where Jews of many stripes will listen and learn from one another, where men and women alike will have choices of paths to seek spirituality, and Jews will support one another both materially and spiritually, even when they make different choices about how to express their Judaism.  

 

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