It occurs to me sometimes that I spend a lot of energy pushing on doors that seem like they’ll never open. The doors, of course, lead to inclusive, feminist, actively anti racist, socio-economically diverse, queer positive Jewish communities
In my previous post, I spoke about feeling marginalized from Jewish communities because of a pressure to form a certain kind of family and to behave according to expectations prescribed to Jewish women. Here, I’d like to offer my own prescription for making change, not only to this specific paradigm, but also to challenge our larger “communal” values.
1. Challenge/Expand the definition of “family”
It’s not our fault as Jews that we’ve absorbed the idea of the nuclear family- we live in a society where that is the norm, but just because it’s something we’ve inherited doesn’t mean we can’t redefine it. Family does not simply mean a wife/mother, a husband/father and their biological child-it’s any combination of people who love and support each other. If we adopt this larger definition of family, if we actively discuss it, point it out to our children, create programming around it, make different kinds of families visible, then we no longer have to marginalize people who don’t fit into it or do not choose it.
2. Stop treating heterosexuality as the norm and the expectation.
It goes without saying that Jewish communities prize the heterosexual couple/ relationship over all others, and that we demand that queer Jewish folks fit into this model in order to be accepted. We have to teach about ally-ship the same way we teach Jewish text, mitzvot, history. Part of being a good and active ally is not assuming that everyone around you is straight, or talking about how straight you are, or how everyone must want what you want and be who you are. This is precisely the kind of behavior that makes it difficult to be our authentic selves in Jewish communities, and pushes us
3. Publicly acknowledge people for accomplishments that have nothing to do with marriage/children
In Jewish communities, we value academic and artistic accomplishments–to the point where we invisibility those who lack access to the networks and institutions that provide these opportunities–but only to a certain degree. Continuity, in a traditional sense, is most explicitly valued. What if we created Jewish ritual and/or publicly acknowledged moments and accomplishments that have nothing to do with marriage or procreation? What if we named and placed value on our own moments of growth?
4. Understand that sexism hurts everyone.
Sexism impacts men as well as women, not to mention folks all along the gender spectrum. Placing oppressive gender roles upon women causes men to suffer as well. Based on what we’re socialized to believe about women, we expecte to see them as maternal, as primary care givers of children, even if they are partnered. On the other hand, we are leery of men who are kindergarten teachers and baby sitters, however, because they are stepping into a traditionally feminine role, rendering them “abnormal” and “dangerous.”
This is not different in Jewish communities, where we also mistrust, confine and punish men, in ways that are both glaring and insipid. We can break the cycle once again by opening the definition of what it means to be male and female in Jewish life, as well as exploring what lies between the gender binary. We cannot simply make overtures towards inclusivity, we must own it.
To some degree, Jewish communities can do all of the above. I believe this because I’ve seen communal change on many levels, and because I know people who are committed to making change and working for justice. I also believe that this is within me, both of these things, the rabble rouser and the person who wants to remain connected to Judaism. The potential of Jewish communities to be just and authentic is more than is being realized, and because this is true, we must pursue, claim and demonstrate new values. We know we can do better. We have no choice.