Women plus Minyan equals Winyan

Mon, 03/04/2013 - 8:00pm -- JOFA

Helyn SteppaBy Helyn Steppa 

So, I started this thing called a Winyan. You know, Women plus Minyan equals Winyan? (Just to clarify, Winyan isn’t a davening group, a lot of people think that. Winyan is actually a place where we share personal stories, debate issues and inspire one another). I know I was asked to discuss how I came to start this group, but I’m not sure how to articulate all that it means to me, and besides, we’ve only had two meetings. I remember when I was around eight years old and my dad asked me if I could read a map. Fancying myself sassy and clever I said “No… but I look good standing next to one.” My dad’s eyes flashed uncharacteristically and he said “I hate when people say that. Never say that you’re just good at standing next to something.” (Love you dad!) They say that a girl’s self-esteem has to do with her relationship with her father, well, I’m a feminist now and my life mission is to empower women. Not to say that my mom had nothing to do with it. She was the one who defined feminism for me (third wave, anyone?) and insisted on calling private parts by their scientific names. What a woman (that’s not sarcastic, seriously she’s awesome.) 

Let’s see, I’ve been the designated “class feminist” since about the fifth grade, I spend my free time reading up on women’s and gender issues and I’m a Modern Orthodox teenager. So how did this whole Winyan mishigas begin? Well, I first wanted to create a girls’ club in middle school (a dark time for most free spirits), because I wanted a better and more student-led davening. That never happened, but as my feminism developed and I filled my brain with more and more patriarchy- smashing women’s empowerment, I also gained a great reverence for the power and inner beauty of Jewish women. I started reading Megillah in the eighth grade, and during the past year I’ve decided that I will cover my hair every day after I get married (Tichels kind of rock). As Jews we have such a rich history and we need to remember the other half of it, the feminine half. That’s why I started Winyan.

Every Tuesday around 10-13 Beth Tfiloh High School girls join together in Room 202, along with Mrs. Frank, our awesome advisor. At the first meeting each person said why they had come. I felt amazing because so many of them said that I had inspired them not to be afterthoughts and to question things. When fighting sexism, I’ve often felt like a broken record that no one’s listening to, only now I know that people were paying attention. Last week we discussed the origins of sexism and why men and even women might be afraid of female strength. These are important dialogues and I’m so glad that I was able to get them started in my community. So feminists: keep on fighting! Because I love inspirational quotes of the non “stitch in time saves nine” variety, here you go:

“Activism is my rent for living on this planet.”

-Alice Walker

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