March 21, 2017 by Amelia Dornbush
Last February, B’nai Keshet was expelled from Ohio State University Hillel for participating in a fundraiser for LGBTQ refugees that was co-sponsored by 15 other organizations, including Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP)—a Jewish organization which supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Yesterday, B’nai Keshet and Open Hillel publicly called for Hillel International and Ohio State Hillel to get rid of the policies that resulted in B’nai Keshet’s expulsion and reinstate the group in a move that was reported on by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, The Forward and Haaretz.
Elaine Cleary, a senior at Ohio State University and leader in B’nai Keshet, spoke with Amelia Dornbush, a one-time internal coordinator of Open Hillel who graduated from Swarthmore in 2015, about the challenges of student activism and the pain that accompanies feeling alienated from your community. The interview that follows reflects the personal experiences and perspectives of two activists who, two years apart, worked to make the Jewish community more pluralistic.
Amelia Dornbush: First things first. How are you holding up?
Elaine Cleary: You know, it’s a little exhausting. I really wish for so many reasons that Hillel had just let us do the fundraiser and stay in to begin with. I really hope that the national American Jewish community will heed our call to tell Hillel to let us back in.
AD: How would you describe what happened with B’Nai Keshet and Hillel?
EC: So, B’nai Keshet co-sponsored a fundraiser with 15 other LBGT community groups. Because one of the co-sponsors was JVP, B’nai Keshet was kicked out of Ohio State Hillel. This was very sad, because not only did we lose the logistical and financial support of Hillel, we also lost our connection to the Jewish community symbolically and physically. This is very troubling to me as a Jewish lesbian, because I believe it’s important to have strong visible presence of queer students on campus, and I don’t think people should have to choose between two identities.
February 7, 2017 by Amelia Dornbush
I am fifth-generation Jewish Atlantan. My great-grandmother was a child when Leo Frank was lynched. My grandfather was sent to Christian school and converted to Christianity as a young child, actively working to make sure no one discovered his Jewish roots. To his then-chagrin, my father did, and began attending synagogue in the same place that past generations of Dornbushes had. The Temple, whose walls are full of old photographs of my family members who died well before I was born, was where I officially converted.
I love Atlanta. The city is in my muscle memory and in my subconscious. It’s been five years since I lived in Georgia, but I can still walk through the backroads around Emory without getting lost. I sometimes wake up craving cheese grits from Georgia Homegrown. My nightmare—a recurring dream of driving off a highway overpass—was spawned by Atlanta’s heavily congested interstates.
Atlanta builds and rebuilds, constantly reinventing itself, never quite acknowledging or healing the scars of its past. I know the city not just by its current places, but by the places it used to have. Ponce City Market I know also as City Hall East. For my Dad, it’s the Old Sears Building. He told me that the shopping center across from Ponce City Market/City Hall East/The Old Sears Building, which I know as The-Place-That-Used-to-Have-a-Borders-and-Still-Has-a-Whole-Foods was home to a minor league baseball team, called the Atlanta Crackers, when my grandfather was a child.
December 22, 2016 by Amelia Dornbush
Ever since I realized that I would be spending each day of Hanukkah with my parents this year, I’ve been trying to get excited about the holiday. As a family of three converts (who all converted at different times for different reasons… it’s a long story), this is the first time that all of us will have been together as Jews celebrating the holiday for its duration. And yet, I’ve been having a difficult time working up the same kind of enthusiasm as when we’ve been able to spend the High Holidays or Passover together.
I can’t shake the sense that it all feels artificial in a way, a manufactured celebration.
December 10, 2016 by Amelia Dornbush
“For us, Kashrus means aiming higher,” declares the website of the Birdsboro Kosher Farms. “We take no shortcuts and accept no excuses.”
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), however, begs to differ. On September 2, the government issued citations to Birdsboro Kosher Farms for two willful and eight serious safety and health violations. This followed an investigation that began in April after a worker’s thumb was amputated.
November 18, 2016 by Amelia Dornbush
“MoMath wants to be the symphony of mathematics,” says Cindy Lawrence, founder and executive director of the National Museum of Mathematics, North America’s only mathematics museum. Lawrence notes that a child can hear a symphony and become inspired to be a musician, and that before this museum came into being, there was no way to generate this kind of enthusiasm about mathematics. Now, Lawrence tells stories of parents dragging crying children out of the museum because they don’t want to leave. Often, these same children didn’t want to go to a math museum in the first place.
Lawrence became involved with MoMath after meeting Glen Whitney, a fellow founder of the museum, at her temple.
September 9, 2016 by Amelia Dornbush
When scholar Andrea Lieber and her husband were at the early years of their academic careers, attending the annual Association for Jewish Studies conference meant “we just roamed the hallways with our six-month-old baby and connected with other scholar/parents on the margins of the conference,” recalled Lieber. This was 2001, and there was no on-site child care. At this year’s conference, parents who are also professional academics will have another option.
Last week, the Association for Jewish Studies (AJS) announced that, after more than a decade of organizing by affiliated academics, it will offer highly subsidized child care for attendees at its 2016 conference, to be held December 18 – 20 in San Diego.
August 11, 2016 by Amelia Dornbush
On August 4, the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York (JWFNY) published an editorial in The Forward explaining a dramatic new policy to award grants only to organizations offering their employees at least four weeks of paid parental leave.
The response on social media was positive––and swift. And, significantly, the editorial also caught the attention of employers. “Three organizations have already talked to me saying that they’re going to revisit their policy,” says Stephanie Blumenkranz, Assistant Director of JWFNY.
The changes decided on by the JWFNY board were driven, says Blumenkranz, by a desire to take concrete action. “We’ve advocated for paid parental leave for a few years now, and for us to be true advocates we can’t just talk about it. We have to do something about it. Because we’re a foundation, we felt that the best way to bring about change was with our grantmaking dollars.”
Julie Sissman, a JWFNY member who was part of crafting the new policy, noted the significance of specifying parental leave as opposed to just maternity leave. “It is important to be bold and not stand on the sidelines of the national conversation about parental leave. To achieve gender equity we need systems in place that break women and men and people of all gender identities out of gender-stereotyped silos and assumptions. All employees starting their lives as new parents need equal support. Paid parental leave is a key component of creating real change,” says Sissman.
Blumenkranz called the response to the new policy very positive. “A lot of people, especially in the Jewish community, felt like this was really needed.”
June 27, 2016 by Amelia Dornbush
“You aren’t really a convert, though.”
I have heard these words numerous times. Usually from friends trying to exclude me from whatever comment they are about to make about converts. Instead of making me uncomfortable, these moments remind me of the varied ways there are to be Jewish.
My Jewish journey isn’t typical—but whose is? My Dad began his conversion to Judaism when I was thirteen, and my Mom followed shortly after, saying she felt like she had discovered that she had always been Jewish late in life. Dad was of Jewish descent on his father’s side, and conversion was like coming home for him.
I spent my adolescent years rebelling against Judaism. Mom forced me to come downstairs on Friday night for our new family tradition—my parents saying Shabbat prayers while I pointedly remained silent. For me, religion was a disingenuous way to make the world easier.
When I started college, Dad persuaded me to go to Hillel for the free food. “Do you really think I’d sell out my principles for free food?” I asked when he first suggested the idea. “Your principles are free food,” he countered.
Feeling like he had a point, I went.