One of my favorite parts of being Executive Director of JOFA is that I get to meet people from around the world and listen to their dreams for creating better communities. Over the past year, I’ve had the privilege of hearing from groups in Boston, Stamford, Fairlawn, Pittsburg, Silver Spring, Washington, DC, and even London! Everywhere I go, I encounter tremendous interest in making religious life better for women, enormous engagement around gender issues, and increasing numbers of people thirsting for real change. It’s simply invigorating!
Yet, despite all this incredible energy, Orthodox feminists often think that they are alone. So many women I’ve spoken to share the same narrative: “I feel like it’s me against the entire community… I’m always the one reminding my rabbi to think of the women…. I show up to meetings and everyone knows what I’m going to say before I open my mouth… I’m all alone fighting for change for women.”
|"It’s not that there is one feminist in every Orthodox community; there are 20 or 30 or 50 feminists in every Orthodox community. Yet, so often, feminists still think that they are alone."|
I used to feel this way too. But I was optimistic: I thought, every Orthodox community has a feminist. That’s good, right? That’s why one of my first goals when I began working at JOFA was to find all those lone feminists in all the different Orthodox communities and build connections between them, so that we could all support each other and help each other and learn from each other. But as I travel more and speak to people, I realize that my assumption was wrong. It’s not that there is one feminist in every Orthodox community; there are 20 or 30 or 50 feminists in every Orthodox community. Yet, so often, feminists still think that they are alone.
The need for building connections between Orthodox feminists is even more pressing than I realized. Orthodox feminists need networks and connections, to share experiences of working towards social change within our communities, in order to make us all stronger, smarter and more effective – and help relieve all that unnecessary loneliness.
This is the JOFA mission. Our goal is to build connections between the hundreds of feminist champions around the world and provide networks, resources and support. Towards that end, JOFA has created a new program to provide networking and resources for Orthodox feminists engaged in social change. Over the course of the coming year, JOFA will be offering a series of video webinars on subjects related to social change in Orthodox life. In these webinars, we will hear from people leading change in their communities – in advancing women’s ritual roles, creating positions for women in leadership, engaging men in feminism, and more. The webinars are meant to offer real, practical examples of change and provide participants with ideas, skills and inspiration for advancing change in their own communities.
In the first video webinar, I will be interviewing Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of Ohev Shalom, the National Synagogue in Washington, DC. This community is a remarkable model of social change: from a shul where only ten years ago women were not even allowed to vote as members, to a place where today women lead aspects of the services and serve in half the positions on the board – and is one of the first three communities to hire a member of the first graduating class of Yeshivat Maharat. It’s a phenomenal example of change in action, and Rabbi Herzfeld will share with us some insights from his communal experience. The webinar, scheduled for Monday October 7 at 8PM EST, is free and open to the public. Click here to sign up.
We are very excited about this new series, and we hope you are too. I hope that this series will provide you with ideas and inspiration, and help you become a champion of gender equity in your own communities.
And of course if you have any ideas or suggestions for webinars, feel free to contact me any time. Elana.firstname.lastname@example.org. I welcome your imput!
See you online!