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Mimi Arbeit, 26, Doctoral Student in Child Development

Her feminist-Jewish sex education

I started U.S.Y. (the Conservative movement’s Jewish youth group) in ninth grade, and I loved it. We danced, sang, debated, did social action projects and built a community together. At the same time, I started teaching workshops for gender violence prevention to eighth graders and learned to analyze the world through the lens of gender. I saw the harm done by sexist jokes and stereotypes tossed around in the school hallways.
I started hating that U.S.Y. presented such a strict gender binary. Boys were required to put on tallis and tefillin, for example, and for girls it was optional, which totally changes its meaning. U.S.Y. also had a focus on “nice Jewish girls” getting together with “nice Jewish boys,” which fueled homophobia.

At college, as an observant Conservative Jew, I started going to an Orthodox minyan, but I felt awful on the women’s side; I rejected all separation on the basis of gender. One day a friend pointed out that I was the only female singing out loud. After that I totally quit Judaism, seeing no way to rescue it from centuries of patriarchy. At college I took courses in critical race theory, queer theory and feminist activism, and I taught about sexual consent and sex-positivity. I had found my life’s mission: to revolutionize sex education in the US.

After college, I found a job teaching health and sexuality education at a middle school, and I found the Moishe Kavod House, a vibrant, peer-led community in Boston for people in their 20s and 30s. At the end of a draining week, we come together to pray, sing, learn, eat and talk. We strive to create the Judaism we want to see in the world: egalitarian, pro-queer, pluralistic, and dedicated to tikkun olam (the repair of the world) and social justice.

I started a sex education team at Moishe Kavod that’s putting together a curriculum for Jewish young adults. It addresses sex, bodies, pleasure, love, ethics, sexual orientation, gender, hooking up, kink, feelings, families, violence, consent and communication. We’re training team members to facilitate these workshops.

Sometimes I still ask, “What is Judaism doing in my social justice?” But mostly, I ask, “What’s patriarchy doing in my Judaism, and will you work with me to make it go away?”