JOFA is proud to welcome the newest member of our professional team, Aaron Steinberg, who began his work as JOFA’s Associate Director in July. Aaron brings with him a passion for gender equality and a wealth of experience in Jewish communal life. JOFA’s Executive Director Elana Sztokman interviewed Aaron about his new role.
Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Aaron Steinberg, and I live in White Plains, New York with my wife Adina and my daughter Dahlia. I grew up in Maryland, went to the Hebrew Academy in Rockville, Maryland, and continued on to college at Yeshiva University.
I received my Masters degree in social work from Yeshiva University, where I focused on community organizing. I worked for four years running a high school leadership development program at YU, and went on to work at SAR Academy in Riverdale, New York as a development associate.
I like to bike, read, and do woodworking projects. If I had more time, I'd go camping and hiking with my daughter.
Why did you decide to start working at JOFA?
I was interested in a job at JOFA, because I wanted to work for an organization whose mission I could be passionate about, and that I thought was affecting real change in the world. I want to live in an Orthodox Jewish community that does its absolute best to treat men and women the same, and provide meaningful, spiritual, ritual experiences for everyone. I've found that in the synagogue at the Hebrew Institute of White Plains, and now I'm able to work towards those goals as a professional as well.
I have to ask: What does it feel like to be a man working at a women's organization?
There are days when I feel a little funny being a man working in a feminist organization, especially being the first and only man working full-time for this feminist organization, but I really feel like I'm here as a professional. Not because I'm a man, but hopefully because I have skills and experience to contribute to the team. Feminism must be a movement that involves both men and women, and I hope I can serve as an example for other men and women about the importance of involving the entire Jewish community in the efforts of Orthodox feminism.
I will admit, however, that being the only man has made gauging the dress code a bit harder.
What might be your advantages, and disadvantages, as the only man in the room?
I think it helps to bring a new perspective to the organization. Being a man, I’ve experienced the Orthodox community in a different way than most women have, and hopefully I can help us explore issues and challenges in a new way. One disadvantage has been my relatively recent full immersion into feminist issues and language. I'm learning as I work.
What does being an Orthodox feminist mean to you (and do you consider yourself one)?
I absolutely do consider myself an Orthodox feminist. To me it means finding every opportunity to increase the role of women in the Jewish community within the bounds of halachah. We need to identify what restrictions are in place simply because of outdated communal standards, and what practices are truly rooted in authentic halachah. But ultimately Orthodox feminism means equality to me.
What is your vision for the organization?
I would like to see JOFA expand its grassroots organizing efforts, and spearhead a sea of change across North America and throughout the world relating to the role of women in the Orthodox community. We can serve as the organizing body for Orthodox men and women who are committed to creating a more equal, vibrant and committed Jewish community.
What are the changes that you'd like to see in the Orthodox world over the coming years?
I would like to see the expansion of partnership minyanim, and their greater acceptance in mainstream Orthodox circles. I would also like to see more women being placed in clergy positions at Orthodox synagogues, and I would like to see the rabbinate as a whole have a better perspective on what is best for our community.
What are three fun facts about yourself?
Have you ever played the game two truths and a lie? I think that's a lot more fun. So here are three things, but only two of them are true. You'll have to figure out which one isn't true.
1. I spent many years as a Boy Scout growing up, but never even came close to achieving the rank of Eagle Scout.
2. I've always loved long car rides, but only if I'm driving. I once decided to drive to Chicago and back with a friend just because we didn't have plans for the weekend.
3. I believe in an equal distribution of parenting responsibilities (and you can confirm this with my wife) but despite the fact that I have five nieces and nephews, I have never changed a diaper that wasn't my daughter's.
Is there anything else you want to share with us?
I'm excited to be a part of JOFA, and look forward to getting to know everybody in the movement little bit better. Please bear in mind that learning and remembering names is not one of my strongest suits, so please be forgive me and help remind me your name if I seem to forget. You can connect with me through phone, email, Facebook, and Twitter, and I hope you do!
Aaron is eager to hear from you! If you have thoughts about the work JOFA is doing or would like to chat more with Aaron or anyone else on the JOFA staff, contact Aaron at firstname.lastname@example.org or 212-679-8500.