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Joanna Ware, 25, Community Organizer and Educator at Keshet

Her feminist-Jewish tattoo

I grew up in San Diego around a lot of evangelical Christians and when I was 10 or so I was going to church a lot with my best friend. I was excited about an essay I had chosen to write for school called, “Why Abortion Is Wrong,” and I was telling my mother all about it.

“Abortion isn’t as simple as killing a baby,” she said. “It can be about women’s health, and different circumstances under which women get pregnant and don’t want a baby.” That was my first feminist consciousness-raising moment.

My family joined a synagogue, finally, so that I’d have my own faith community (that reflected our family’s values), and in a class on Jewish ethics we looked at abortion. My mother’s feminist teaching was completely reinforced from a Jewish perspective! A woman’s life takes precedence, and sometimes an abortion is a matter of saving a woman’s life. So I had these burgeoning values that were both feminist and Jewish from the start, and even today I’d have trouble drawing distinctions between the ethics I hold that are feminist and those that are Jewish.

When I was 21, I got a tattoo in Hebrew letters on the inside of my left wrist that says, “U’vacharta ba-chayyim,” “Choose life,” from Deuteronomy 30. I was reading Tanakh [Hebrew Scriptures] in college and I had an immediate moment of resonance with these words. The takeaway: to choose life, to be more, to make choices that allow others, and yourself, to grow, flourish, thrive. When I’m confronted with an interpersonally challenging moment, I can choose to shout the other person down, or to grow, to treat people with dignity and affirmation.

I got the tattoo on my left side because that side’s weaker, and on my arm because that’s how I go forth in the world. If it’s visible, I thought when I got it, I’ll stay true to my feminist-Jewish values.

As told to S.S.