My parents kept kosher when they first married, but then they stopped. So I grew up with two sets of dishes [meat and dairy] that were all mixed together, a grandmother who, when she visited, ate cottage cheese from a paper plate, and a certain amount of skepticism about this aspect of Jewish ritual. I flirted with keeping kosher during college, but it lost meaning for me.
In the 1980s, my husband and I got really involved in the Soviet Jewry movement and we went to visit refuseniks who, under the most difficult circumstances, were keeping kosher. I came back to Philadelphia, where we lived at the time, and decided to keep kosher, too, in the beginning just in solidarity. My Jewish journey deepened as I became a mother. It was a big step to decide to send our daughters to Jewish day school.
My biggest influence Jewishly is the community we gravitated towards in Philadelphia. For more than 20 years, we’ve been part of a group that has put on its own High Holiday services. Nearly 10 years ago, we started a Kabbalat Shabbat minyan in our neighborhood. There are times when my most meaningful experiences are in this most intimate group. I can now lead prayers; why? Because someone was needed. The fact that Jews don’t need a synagogue or a rabbi to have prayer, that you can take ownership of your spiritual expression, is a very powerful idea, and I think is key to our longevity as a people.
As a feminist, I never felt, Jewishly, that there was anything I couldn’t do. To some degree, it’s not been the same for me professionally. There have been many times in my career when I was the first woman, certainly the first mother, in my position, and that can be a lonely place to be.
It was really hard to balance work and family when my children were young. Even now, I find that I look at some issues differently from my male colleagues. Some of that is because I’m a feminist, I’ve raised children, I think a lot about family. I just have a different perspective.
Because of my job, my feminism and my Judaism are almost fully integrated for me now. I feel a great deal of autonomy at the Forward. We have our Sisterhood blog about women’s issues, conduct salary surveys every year, track how many women are running major Jewish institutions.
I’ve written editorials about the role of women in Jewish public life, and our absence. I’ve called out people who are in charge to make them more aware. Every day practically I come across another example of the absence of women in the public conversation. It’s stunning. The Jewish community has a long way to go before we are truly egalitarian.
As told to S.S.