Riddles of Identity
What makes Jewish women in their twenties worried, angry or hopeful? What are their concerns once they have moved away from the campus scene in their immediate postgraduate years? Since LILITH’ s founding in 1976, the magazine has attracted college students and recent graduates to work as interns, giving the senior staff an inside track on their concerns.
These concerns have changed, and in the following pages you’ll hear the fresh voices of a new generation of women who have distinctive perspectives on multiculturalism, the rubric for a whole set of issues which bring to the fore urgent questions about identity, especially for Jewish women.
When LILITH introduced its “On and Off Campus” columns in 1990, the topics of concern for its college-age authors (some of whom were LILITH interns) included, among others, date rape, sexual harassment, a take-back-the-night march at Princeton, the formation of a Rosh Chodesh group among Jewish women studying at the University of Santiago in Chile. The problems women dealt with on campus had to do with sex, sexism, the stereotyping of Jewish women by Jewish men (and others). For the most part, Jewish women activists reported exhilaration a sense of shared endeavour with their non-Jewish cohorts.
Something feels different now, in the wake of the intense self-scrutiny multiculturalism has engendered. The questions Jewish women are asking today—along with “How can I make the world a better place?” and “How can I integrate feminism into my Jewish practice?” and, “Why don’t I find Jewish partners?”— have to do with fitting into a larger national mosaic— “Is there a boundary between my Jewish identity and my other concerns?” “How can I be a citizen of my land?” and so forth. Ironically, these are the same kinds of questions, minus this generation’s commitment to pluralism and diversity, that Jewish men asked themselves two generations ago as they tried to integrate into North American life. Caught in the often complex crosscurrents of identity streams, the questions young Jewish women are asking today have as much to do with being “out” as Jews as they do with political or sexual preferences. In the multicultural mix, Jewish women—especially those in their immediate post-college years—are struggling to define themselves as Jews. Committed to the egalitarian goals of feminism, they want to feel as comfortable combatting overt or subtle anti-Semitism as they have been in speaking out for women’s rights, cultural diversity, racial equality, and other social justice issues.
In the next several issues, LILITH will continue to present the voices of an emerging generation of Jewish feminist women. Here, four women, all in their twenties, explore in very different ways how to be Jewish and female in the 90’s.
• Karen Prager describes giving an impromptu lecture on elementary Zionism to neophyte cowgirls who’d never before seen a Jew.
• Hadar Dubowsky finds that her definition of who she really is changes hourly at a social-change conference. Is she a karate-trained feminist strongwoman in her Wild Woman persona? A Jewish social-justice advocate? What comes first?
• Robin Beth Schaer, a part Sephardic woman, tells how her “Middle Eastern” coloring gets her identified only by her dark skin tones, not by her Jewishness.
• Alina Sivorinovsky, an emigre from the former Soviet Union, gives us, in a short story, the voice of a 17-year-old babysitter encountering American parents’ rigid expectations for their young.
Welcome to the world of postgraduate angst.