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Bay Area Jewish Women Told : “Reclaim Our History”

Over 250 Jewish women, coming from as far south as Los Angeles and as far north as the Oregon border, participated in the Bay Area Jewish Women’s Conference and Arts Fair January 28. The Conference commenced with a morning Shabbat service, continued into the afternoon with 16 different workshops, and concluded with an outdoor Havdalah (Shabbat conclusion) service. The Conference was organized by the Bay Area Jewish Women’s Collective.

The two keynote speakers were Leah Kroll and Judith Klein. Dr. Klein, a clinical psychologist in the Bay Area, presented the results of her study on the relationship between Jewish women’s identity and self esteem. Ms. Kroll, a rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles, spoke of the innovations Jewish women are bringing to religious ritual.

Among the workshops were: Jewish Women Writing (Janet Rudolph), Jews with Non-Jewish Partners (Gayle Dakof), Conversion (Carolyn Craven), Jewish Lesbians (Maida Cohen), and Growing Older (Lillian Rabinowitz).

Jane Litman, a feminist writer and Judaic scholar, said at her workshop on “Judaism and Feminism:

“We cannot allow ourselves as Jewish women to be treated in ways we would not allow ourselves to be treated as women. Jewish history is a history of a patriarchy. … It is time for us to reclaim our Jewish women’s history…

“We are now and have always been at least half the Jewish population. We have a history as common women Let us study our history. What were Jewish women’s lives throughout our past? It is a heritage we will build on, reform, teach to our children. No longer will we allow Jewish women to be buried in obscurity…

“We must also rework our mythology. Midrash, Bible commentary, must be an ongoing process. The legends of the male-dominated Talmud must not be our only legends. We cannot be afraid to meddle in what clearly is our business…

“We must rewrite our theology. Our religion has always stood four-square against idolatry and yet Jewish theology has remade God in the image of man. Jews have persistently reduced God from a genderless infinite to a describably sex-bound finite. Not only is this abysmally sexist but it is also profoundly un-Jewish If men feel that merely by being born male they somehow resemble God, then they will have contempt for females who do not. It is up to us to end this abuse of God within our theology…

“It is possible that many of us are not firmly committed to Judaism. We wonder whether we should put our energy back into the patriarchal system…Yet is not the whole world this way? To be a feminist is to be dedicated to change. If we can change the world, and we must, then we can certainly change Judaism. We are all sculptors on a block of marble so large that sometimes we cannot even see each other. Yet all of us in our own corners continue to chip away the stone.”