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Linking up with the Web

Searching for Jewish women’s information on the World Wide Web can feel like walking through a house full of hallways. “Resource lists” of links dominate the landscape— each one pointing to a dozen other lists—and the unwary user can wander endlessly in circles without hitting any real content.

The Jewish world as a whole has carved out a powerful presence on the Web. The popular Yahoo directory lists more than 450 entries under the topic “Judaism” along with several slickly produced sites that stand waiting to guide you through a cornucopia of religion, culture, arts and politics. [“Hot Max” at http://www.jcnl8.com/jhot00.htm a fine example.] Orthodox organizations were among the savvy early adopters of this technology; they have produced an enormous volume of information on religious study and observance, from their own traditionalist perspective.

Among these rich resources, Jewish feminist concerns receive only spotty coverage. While some delightful individual efforts can be found, few sites take full advantage of the medium’s potential. On the information highway, a feminist joyrider might experience many dead ends and technological flat tires. Typical is the Kansas University Jewish Feminists’ site, a page abandoned at birth that floats sentence fragments like trial balloons: “The Jewish Feminists of KU (JFKU) is a group formed to…”; nothing more.

For surfers ready to brave these choppy waters, the place to start is Adina Levin’s page of Jewish Feminist Resources [http://worlcl.std.com/~alevin/jewishfeminist.html]. Levin’s well-organized lists feature the arts, religion, history, media and Jewish organizations. The site provides links to other Web pages, plus brief text profiles, reviews and reading lists.

One relatively vibrant sector of Web activity is the Jewish lesbian community. “Nice Jewish Girls,” a chatty, personal site laid out in retina-numbing purple [http://www.zoom.com/personal/staci/njg.html], includes—surprise!— a list of links to other resources. Creator Staci Schoenfeld is also planning a monthly “‘Zine for Queer Jewish Women,” for which submissions are invited.

For religious scholarship, check out Maqom, a cyber-school for Talmudic study run by Rabbi Judith Abrams, Ph.D. [http://www.compassnet.com/~maqom]. Abrams, author of The Women of the Talmud, promises “spiritually enlightening and intellectually honest study of Jewish texts.”

While Jewish feminists remain somewhat quiet on the aggressively public Web, they are more active in the semi-private realm of e-mail discussion groups. E-mail lists thrive for feminists, lesbians and women rabbis. These groups foster frank discussion, but at the expense of access; that is, membership tends to be restrictive. (A typical message reads: “This list is expressly for those who identify as lesbian and bisexual Jewish women. To those who identify as straight Jewish women or men, lesbian or bisexual Jewish men, non-Jewish women or men, or anyone else left over, we ask that you respect the charter and private nature of this space.”)

One of the benefits all these online resources share is their ability to transcend geography. Over the network, Jewish women in isolated areas have the chance to participate in a broader community.

Yet for now, these diverse arenas share a common limitation as well: their contents could be easily communicated on the printed page. The field remains wide open for an online, multimedia exploration of women’s music, for example. Or for interactive tools to tap users’ own creativity. Once resources like these are developed, the list makers will really have something to point to.