Three days before the end of Passover, I’m sitting on the floor, surrounded by a group of other Jewish feminists, staring down an orange. We peel away the lumpy flesh and distribute the slices around the circle. We recite the blessing, tell the story we know (Susannah Heschel, Oberlin, the orange represents the queer community and also women). I taste it cautiously, hoping the flavor is sweet and juicy, instead of like an old sock.
The taste is right, and it dissolves quickly in my mouth. I wasn’t raised in an observant house, so I’m pretty sure the first time I ran into an
orange on the seder plate was in college, running towards feminist communities as if my life depended on it. It was thrilling to see ritual
being reinterpreted to create space for me.
In most of my circles now, the orange is commonplace, acknowledged, and then we move on, because, seriously, we want to eat. This year, though, I’ve been thinking about this orange more than usual, even now that Passover is gone. I’ve been considering how it’s bigger than women and queer people, it’s a symbol of all the Jewish folks that the mainstream community doesn’t know what to do with, who won’t fit into a box, who won’t just settle down and be what we’re expected to be (heterosexual, breeding, married, content with the status quo, etc.).
As a single Jewish woman, I’m part of this symbol, both because I’m female and because I choose to not be partnered. In fact, the Jewish community is at a total loss to respond to single people, but particularly women. J Date, singles events, Shabbat meals-the answer is, simply, find someone! As a people, we’re very wedded (pun intended) to pairing each other up. There is an explicit understanding that one is to move out of this purgatory stage of roommates, bar nights, synagogue socials and speed dating into the “reality” of family life. One is not considered a full Jewish adult until this happens.
For women, this expectation is ponderous. To defy it, to say we want something additional or instead of marriage and children is to subvert what many would say it means to be feminine. In the Jewish communities in which I travel, and I suspect in most communities, men are something to be attained, especially if they happen to be attractive and well learned. Women prepare meals, not exclusively, but overwhelmingly. We take care of our guests, we give to each other, but our relationship with food remains predicated on how skinny we feel we need to be. After all, we want to get married. If we protest coupling and fecundity, if we opt out, we’re a traitor to our people. What about the Holocaust? How will we ever make more Jews? To these questions, I’ll offer another : What kind of Jews do we want?
To be clear-I’m not advocating that we all stop having relationships and/or babies, but that as a Jewish community we create space for everyone and not assess one’s committment to Judaism based on whether we have a profile on Jdate. There must be models of all kinds of Jewish women, and overall, our life choices must be taken seriously, not relegated to a corner until we “grow up” or “figure it out.” This is what it means to live in a diverse community that’s serious about justice. It requires us an unflinching look at ourselves to realize how far we need to go.