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A Voyeur's Garb

I admit it–I’m an Orthodox voyeur (fetishist, you might call it). As in, I am guilty of a certain degree of exoticization of the Orthodox community. For a while, I was convinced that in spite of my relatively non-observant upbringing, I could become part of it (see “Pants Embargo, 2003-2005”). I was wholly unsuccessful at it- I didn’t become more religious, I just didn’t wear pants- although I think on the outside, people bought it. At least, they were quick to comment as soon as the jeans made a reappearance.

Some vestiges have remained, in the form of what I can describe as situations in which I feel like an anthropologist in communities that I am theoretically supposed to be a part of. Example most recent: the JOFA conference (Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance). I love this space, every time it comes around, I rearrange things so I can go. It’s a strange place for me to find comfort and inspiration, because I often also feel insanely frustrated by what I perceive as collusion with a system that consistently, actively and aggressively subjugates and invisibilizes women.

I’ve been listening to the recordings of the sessions I didn’t attend while at the conference, and thinking about the creation of space as I do it. I thought a lot about what to wear this year. Ultimately, I wore a skirt, which in hindsight, I shouldn’t have done. I felt like I was in costume, undercover, but also, fake. With the exception of a few people I knew, everyone who saw me that day thought I was an Orthodox woman. In the past, I would have been okay with that, even grateful for the association, but no longer, because it’s not who I am, or who I ever was.

Ultimately, the genius of the JOFA project, whether purposeful or not, is the opportunity for ingathering of all different types of Jewish feminists, the welcoming of the lenses and the narratives. In doing so, we (okay, me) have to confront what we find most disturbing, meaningful and joyful about Judaism, as well as put our heads together to change it. It requires patience and commitment, but it also requires an unpacking of assumption-about Orthodoxy, Jewish women, Jewish communities, and ultimately, what it means to be Jewish ourselves.

-Chanel Dubofsky