Israel, in english means ‘struggles with God.’ It’s not a very cool name. Even by Cheroke standards, it’s no ‘Runs with Eagle’ or even ‘Little rock.’ The nickname was acquired after God kind of blitz attacked Jacob and wrestled with him – Jacob didn’t tap out or call 911. He continued fighting until sun up (and God kind of cheated.) That’s who we are, we are people who struggle with God, whether it’s trying to understand why terrorists hate us or why we can’t go to that concert on Saturday – we live our lives trying to decipher why, why God decided to do what God does.
And everyone has their own unique ‘struggles.’ For some, it’s why bad things happen to good people, for others it’s the concept of free will, soul mates or trying to be an individual in a community that values tradition, loyalty and solidarity above all others. For me, it’s learning how to be a Jewish woman in a religion that, at first glance, seems not to care so much about my feelings.
Yet, when I articulate my struggle, I will sometimes get dismissed like my plight is some attempt for attention. That I am a feminist trying to get a rise out of those around me. Like I am trying to be difficult. Like I should just follow the rules, that’s just the way things are.
Don’t get me wrong. I *love* being Jewish. It is the club that allows you to be welcomed to complete stranger’s houses for a weekend. I love thinking that I am part of the same family tree as amazing poets, kings, philosophers, rebels, scientists and artists. It is the only thing you will have in common with Scarlett Johansson and James Franco. But this is not an equal opportunity society. And to my millennial mentality of “You deserve the same respect, treatment and consideration as anyone else,” it does not jibe.
I think the first time Jewish girls are exposed to the feeling of inequality is in elementary school. We sat during prayers saying the same blessings as the boys, “thank you for giving me sight,” “thank you for giving me clothing,” and then the girls fells silent while the boys simultaneously chanted “thank you for not making me a woman.” I didn’t have the words at age 8 to understand the feeling of uneasiness in my stomach.
It felt like a school-sanctioned playground taunt. “Haha! Thanks God for not making me a smelly cooty-girl! Boyz rule!” is what it might have well been. Then girls chanted back “Thank you for making me in Your image.” Did that mean boys weren’t in God’s image? Adam was created in God’s image. Our blessing felt like a weird consolation prize that didn’t even make sense.
But I kept quiet, accepting this Orthodox world where women sat in the back of the shul, were told not to sing in public lest it arouse a man, cover our distracting knees, that we weren’t obligated to read Torah or build a sukkah. For my Bat-Mitzvah, I studied Ethics of our Fathers (ie Advice From old timey Rabbis) and learned that talking to women would lead to sin. Like bro, you have ONE sentence to leave to the WORLD and this is what you choose? What would you mother say?
It stings to hear that women weren’t supposed to learn Gemarah, that a woman’s value is in her virginity. It’s hard to wrap around your head around the fact that Rabbis who love the same god who created you, told their disciples that women are chatterboxes (Kiddushin 49b), male babies are always preferred (Tractate Pesachim 65a), and if you have to choose between saving a woman or man – always save the man (Yoreh Deah).
It fucking hurts.
I learned all these previous examples while trying to find out a reason why women aren’t allowed to be witnesses for a wedding. After all, if she’s already at the wedding, she’s clearly found a way to leave her 20 babies at home. In my quest, I haven’t found any answers other than “Umm…’cause she’s a woman obvz.” I don’t think I’ll ever be satisfied with that kind of answer.
And I don’t really have any conclusion to this piece. I wish I did. The only thing I can hope will come of it is for people to stop dismissing women who want to actively participate in their religion. To stop waving away girls who want to know *why* they can’t do something. For people to stop thinking women are just out for attention. I want people to know that you can love a religion yet be SO angry at it for a lot of the time. That it’s okay to question.
I want people to know that this struggle, or any struggle they have with Judaism is what truly earns them this place in this crazy religion.