Mentoring I’ve been thinking a lot about its meanings lately.
For 25 years LILITH has had the pleasure of I nurturing more than 90 young women—high schoolers, college students, graduates, and some who have finished graduate school. They’ve been sending us their reminiscences recently, in response to a first-time-ever questionnaire we sent out, and we’re discovering that the internship experience has had an extraordinary and positive impact on their lives. Why? Well, for one thing, the fact that there’s always food at the LILITH office. I’m serious! Almost every intern, even those who worked here years ago, mentioned sitting around LlLlTH’s library table surrounded by books and manuscripts, being invited with absolute sincerity into the roundtable (oblong, actually)editorial discussions—and eating! This very concrete nurturing(which, I do believe, takes place in a women’s workplace more than in a male-culture office) counts. Sarah Wallis (’96) jokes about our”managerial inquiries about what everyone had ‘on their plate’. In the traditional publishing world the question is ‘Are we on the same page?’ But in an office of Jewish women it’s ‘Is your plate full?'”
Connecting to the next generation feels more urgent than ever now
The mentoring experience goes deeper than the world of work. Their exposure to important themes in Judaism and in feminism have shaped them, our ex-interns say, as much as the analyzing and research and writing they did at the magazine. In a world destabilized over these last harrowing months, formalizing a connection to the next generation through the thoughtful mentoring of our small scale LILITH internship program feels more urgent than ever. The interns teach us editors a great deal. And they hold the promise of a future for the ideas we—you and I—believe in. They have gone onto do remarkable work, and many say their informal education at LILITH has left its mark as they’ve become rabbis and mothers, doctoral candidates and then full-fledged Ph.D.S, teachers, novelists, doctors, world-changers in other not-for-profit organizations.
Obviously, to be memorable, the nurturing extends beyond food. LlLlTH’s editors have always invited the interns to become stakeholders in the magazine’s work. Susannah Jaffe, just graduating from Barnard, says, “I think of my life as a Jewish woman differently. My time at LILITH was the first time that I was confronted with reconciling my Jewish commitment with my feminism.” She goes on: “To this day, it boggles my mind that we were taken so seriously at the age of 19.” And Enid Schatz (’96) says she “loved when we would all sit around the big table discussing books, articles to be written, artwork, and life. Each person’s opinions were listened to attentively and with respect—something that hasn’t been as present in some of my endeavors since.” (Her doctoral dissertation is on gender relations in the lives of women in rural Malawi).
Our interns’ ideas are actively solicited,heard and, where possible, acted upon. Arielle Derby (’00) remembers being “so surprised to be asked to sit at the table and contribute! It made me feel like the intelligent, mature writer/thinker I wanted to be.” Liz Leshin (’81), a writer for television and development director for a Jewish day school, e-mailed me saying, “You handed me a piece of the manuscript and asked me to take a look at it and tell you what I thought. I read it and gave you my feedback. That was the first time I really saw myself as a writer, with skills and opinions that were taken seriously, and not just a wanna-be kid.”
Their time at LILITH shaped, in small or large ways, how each of these women now sees herself and the world. At LILITH I think we provide—just in the nature of thinking through and creating the content of each issue—an identity link (Jewish), a social-action component(feminist) and hands-on vocational training(researching, writing, editing). Butin terns also have a chance to see up close how personal life and work intersect inreal time for women a little older than they are (since there’s little space in ouroffice for a truly private phone conversation!).
Obviously, young women drawn tobe come LILITH interns are a self-selected group, not a random sample. They are already drawn to the magazine’s mission when they walk through the door for their first (sometimes nervous, often overdressed) interview. Lisa Lepson (’95) wrote that “The best thing about being at LILITH was becoming part of a community of women who cared about women and the future of Judaism so passionately.”Young women who feel that they are stakeholders—that is, respected members of the community they’re working in, even temporarily—are likely not only to feel connected, but also to stay connected. They weave the themes of Judaism and gender into their work lives and their avocations long after they’ve left the office.