On What To Do Next
I recall vividly both the JFK assassination and the attacks of 9/11, and a good deal about the emotional response to our current moment feels eerily similar, though no lives have [yet] been lost. The disbelief. The comments that so many feel we should have a shiva ritual for our collective mourning and fear of what’s to come.
As women and as Jews we have experienced enough frighten- ing statements, real threats, vile ideation and a torquing of our expectations these past few months to leave us vertiginous, angry and grieving as toxic strains of misogyny, anti-Semitism, bigotry and bias move rapidly through our world.
Running through all our agitated reactions and conversations is the constant question: What to do next? We want Jews and other minorities to feel secure, and also to be secure. We want our reproductive options to be many and safe and affordable. We want to reclaim respect for women’s bodies and brains. We want to vouchsafe, as best we can, a just society. But how? Aside from speaking up and speaking out at conferences and demonstrations, via good writing and thinking, and by signing petitions, here are a few considered suggestions for how we might equilibrate, and continue to work toward the repaired future we all seek:
Listen in order to understand people whose fears may be different from our own, but also in order to be vigilant against language that subtly demeans. Reclaim some of those words used against us. (The slogan “Pussy grabs back” was heartening in this regard.)
But listen also for a certain harmony, to be able to connect with people like and unlike ourselves. Remember that, as Louis Pasteur (who was neither Jewish nor female) observed, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” We learn from disparate sources. Trying to distract myself by attending a concert of gorgeous medieval English music a couple of weeks ago, I read in the program notes a description of “indigenous folk practices” from the year 1198: “When they make their music together, they sing tunes not in unison, as is done elsewhere, but in parts with many simultaneous modes and phrases. …you will hear as many melo- dies as there are people…yet, they all accord in one consonant and properly constituted composition.” As many melodies as there are people. A pretty great line.
Run for office, strategically.
Get your ideas out in front of a wider public than just the friends you complain to over coffee. Exercise not just your right to vote, but also your right to hold office. All politics is local; consider getting on the ballot for your local school board, library board, district council, block association. Spur other women to do this, if a direct political role is not your mode. It’s time to reclaim our pride in the fearless, big-mouth Jewish women who’ve agitated to make the world better, unafraid of speaking truth to power. We have lots of good models. The late
senator Bella Abzug. Ruth Messinger. Ruth Bader Ginsberg. And try not to be daunted by the words you will hear: bitchy, nasty, strident. And worse. “Being Jewish and a woman has become double jeopardy,” one of Lilith’s donors wrote us last month. “Now more than ever we need Shrill Feminists.”
Political power works at every level, from your congregation to city hall.
And one thing that has emerged from the election and our nervousness: a faith in direct action. Call your representatives in Washington, D.C. (or Ottawa, or wherever power gathers), make your voice heard —literally. (And, no surprise: calling is better than tweeting. Human contact is what moves the needle, according to those who monitor the effectiveness of direct action.)
Imagine a situation likely different from your own. What does it take to help a refugee struggling to feel safe in unwelcom- ing circumstances? To feed your hungry children on inadequate government assistance? To be unable to move because of arthri- tis, or to control your diabetes because you don’t know when you’ll have your next meal? And what if you don’t understand the language in the place where you’ve landed? What if you’re pregnant and the nearest clinic is 200 miles away and you can’t get there?
It may be hard for us to extrapolate from our own pain to that of others. But we’ve got to try. And to act.
Whether of your money or your time. At Lilith our pledge is to nurture the next generation of journalists, thinkers, writers and activists. The different and distinct voices you’ve come to expect in Lilith don’t fly in by chance though our large windows. They’re sought after, welcomed, sustained. Their opinions are elicited, and even our student interns always have a seat at the conference table. Their voices are invited, heard and often heeded. To be able to sustain this time-consuming (but always gratifying) effort, Lilith has created a fund for a feminist future, so that with your help we can recruit and raise up the next generation of iconoclastic Jewish women.
I hope you will help us grow the next crop of Jewish feminists. By making a contribution to Lilith (see opposite page) each of us can, as another donor told us, “help build a society that most closely reflects our values.”