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Sisterhood Is Powerful

In Joining the Sisterhood: Young Jewish Women Write Their Lives (State University of New York Press, $18.95), editors Tobin Belzer and Julie Pelc open the floor to young Jewish women, ranging from their late teens to early thirties, ranging from secular to Orthodox; lesbian, bisexual, and heterosexual; women of color, poets, students, novelists, educators and professors. This is the generation who grew up knowing that women could be rabbis, that Orthodox women could be feminists, that Jewish women could be not only teachers but also doctors, and that bat mitzvah ceremonies were a given and not an anomaly. Write Belzer and Pelc, “Today, there are young Jewish women who engage in almost every aspect of religious and cultural Jewish life.” They also claim that “our unique perspectives have remained largely invisible.”

In this collection, Belzer and Pelc mix the zesty sounds of terrifically diverse voices. Meet Leah Berger. She stands as a feminist, a bisexual, an environmentalist, an abuse survivor and a Jew. Putting labels aside, she takes her quest for identity to the deserts of Tucson and, ultimately, to the redwood forests of California where she prays on Tisha B’av, a day commemorating “acts of discrimination and destruction toward our people throughout our collective history.” Meet Loolwa Khazzoom, born and bred as a practicing Orthodox Jew in the context of a biracial, Mizrahi Jewish family. Her essay unfolds the resolutions she must reach with her North African roots, no matter what her family thinks, and the veins of feminism and Judaism that affirm her sense of self In Leanne Leiberman’s essay “God Lives in the Himalayas,” the author studies Buddhism in Thailand, Israeli history in a liberal Orthodox yeshiva in Jerusalem, and reconciles her non-Jewish boyfriend with her family. And Julie Pelc tells how, after a debilitating injury, she unearths the healing spiritual power of dance as her essay begins, “On Tuesday night, I go dancing with God.”

The pieces in this anthology swell with passion, learning, and struggle as this cohort of very different women strut, step, and stomp into new identities and experiences. Eye-opening and vivacious, the essays and poems of Joining the Sisterhood are a testament to both feminist and Jewish values.