What she said…

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly.  Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed.  They existed.
We can be.  Be and be
better.  For they existed.

 

-Maya Angelou

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#BowDown

If you know me, you know I love Beyonce.

I have a hard time thinking she can do any wrong. I mean, because she never does.

So when the internet went haywire over the feminist question in regards to Beyonce after her super-secret album drop last month, I was in shock. How DARE anyone question Queen Bey without my permission.

I obviously think Beyonce is good for the feminist cause. I think she is pushing us further, asking important questions (whether or not she means to), and challenging the status quo that many of us white feminists seem content to accept.

But I’m getting “old” in terms of activism (sigh), so I had to ask the next gen of feminists.

I asked the Rising Voices Fellows, a group of six young women who I am working with this year on the intersections of Judaism, feminism, and writing, what they thought about the “Flawless” video. In particular, I asked them what they thought of the line:

“Bow down, bitches”

The particulars of the conversation aren’t really important. What WAS amazing was that it was a half an hour or so dedicated to discussing the word “bitch.” Eight women in the room, eight opinions, eight million sets of questions and what ifs. The power of language, and how it impacts historically disenfranchised groups, was the name of the game. And the whole thing was fascinating.

We didn’t come to any conclusions–if you’ve figured out the “bitch” problem, please let the rest of us know so we can get on the solution–but the conversation was rich. It exposed our fears about ourselves, the strengths we want to enhance, and how we want to interact with the world around us.

It was beautiful. And to the haters of feminism or Beyonce….

#BowDown.

 

AFTER THE FACT ADDITION:

My very wise mother commented that I copped out, and she’s right.

My take on the “b” word: I like it. I’ve liked it, as a reference to myself, since middle school (I am pretty sure I had a keychain with the word BITCH and an acrostic from Spencer’s back in the day). I think a bitch is a tough, smart, no-nonsense lady. I think it has come to be used as a put down, but honestly? I embrace it. Call it re-appropriating language if you want, but I just think its a good word. However, I will not use it to describe someone else until I know they feel the same way. I try not to use it disparagingly towards other women when I can remember/am being thoughtful and kind. I think the trick with words like “bitch” are that its in the eye of the beholder, so its hard to place identities on others.

So, #bowdownbitches

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Feminist-Fandom

As the Red Sox went along, up and up the ladder to win the World Series, I noticed some posts from my leftist friends living in Boston. They were commenting on the perceived chauvinism of sports fans, mostly drunk men on the Green Line, who had rubbed them the wrong way.

It got me to thinking about my firm feminism ideals and my Sox fandom—are the two things directly contradictory? Is there something about being a sports fan that makes me less of an activist for justice?

In short, the answer is no. My love of sports and my desire to dismantle systems of oppression do not have to be dichotomous.

As I do for many things, I asked my good friend Jennie to share her thoughts. Jennie is one of my feminist role models, and a huge Chicago Bulls fan. She brought up a few points that have resonated with me strongly:

As a girl, I was encouraged to PLAY sports, but not watch sports… why is that? Something about playing sports as something you work hard at, but watching sports as being about really understanding the game? Also, as a girl, sports were something I did to “better myself” i.e. put on a college application, but not something that was just supposed to be fun, the way it is for boys.

Now, I was not necessarily encouraged to play sports as a kid, or encouraged to watch them either. Sports have always been part of the fabric of my hometown, but it was never emphasized in my home. It also didn’t seem like something I had to do in order to be accepted by my peers, let alone society.

I started to watch baseball in high school, and then when I moved to New York with more regularity. It was among Yankees fans that I learned to be a loud, obnoxious Sox fan. I gave no thought to my gender as I did this, because it was something that I saw in Boston. But what I did start to notice was I would be out at bars, hooting and hollering, and people (often women on their phones sitting at tables with men who were watching the game) would look at me with disdain or judgment. Jennie had some illuminating insights on that as well:

The act of showing sports fandom = inherently unfeminine – yelling, being angry, taking up a lot of space with your yelling. It’s been really difficult for me to navigate that as a woman, to feel like my “emoting” over sports doesn’t come as naturally as it does to men who feel comfortable shouting at TVs in private homes and also in public bars. How many times have I been in sports bars and been the ONLY woman in the room? It’s a really difficult space to be part of.

It’s not quite as challenging being a feminist-fan in the post-season, because goodness knows there are bandwagon jumpers everywhere. But there is something very counterintuitive about being “ladylike” and being a vocal sports fan. 

I like baseball…and sports in general. I like feminism. And the two don’t have to be so directly in conflict, unless we keep making them so. Being a loud sports fan isn’t unladylike, it’s fandom. And who cares about ladylike anyway?

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Three Little Birds

In 2004, I was in downtown Manhattan, on the couch in my friends apartment. I held the hand of the fellow Bostonian next to me and I cried.

In 2007, I was wrapped in a franchise fleece blanket, on the ceramic tile floor of the Costa Rican dorm room where I was working for the year and I cried.

In 2013, I was on my couch in Boston, watching my boyfriend jump up and down, while I held the dog and cried.

I get emotional about the Red Sox in general, and things are just heightened when it comes to the World Series—as evidenced above.

While the pattern is apparent, this year was different. I wasn’t just crying when they won. I was pretty much crying the whole season.

Nathan and I were at the first game back in Fenway after the week of April 15th. The video montage played and I cried. It got worse when Team Hoyt, the father-son duo who has been running the marathon since I can remember, came out to throw the first pitch. Before Papi cursed, he pointed to his chest and said, “This doesn’t say Red Sox. It says Boston,” bringing on more tears. And of course, when we won, I bawled.

I don’t claim to be the biggest Red Sox fan in the world, but I am part of the Nation. I have been for many years now. It’s been hard to articulate exactly what made this season so special without harkening back to lots of clichés and oversentimental overtures, but there was a different feeling this year.

Although I sensed resistance from my leftist/non-sports loving friends as I posted an obscene amount of Red Sox-related items on Facebook, they all congratulated me after Game 6. My boyfriend moved from Dallas in March so this was his first season as a Bostonian—and he is the ultimate baseball fan, so it was quite a treat. I was able to go to SEVEN games this season, six of which were wins, including the epic Game 2 of the ALCS with the Papi grand slam and Officer Horgan moment of glory.

But what happened this year was more than a win, it was more than moments of glory and tragedy. It was a city, state, region, “Nation”, declaring unity and love for one another. Every time Shane Victorino got up to bat, I would cry. Because his walk up song, “Three Little Birds”, would be cut off before the last line of the chorus, but the fans would keep singing—and loudly.

“Because every little thing is gonna be allright.”

And it was more than enthusiasm and excitement for the game or for Shane. That sound, reverberating off of the Green Monster and hallowed halls of Fenway, was the sound of a group catharsis. A city soothing itself, affirming its resilience.

So every time I heard it, I would cry, and clasp my chest, and was reminded why this is the best damn city in the world.

Photos from the April 20th game at Fenway.

Photos from the April 20th game at Fenway.

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The Problem With Service Learning (aka my exercise in pissing people off)

Service learning isn’t doing its job.

Well, service learning as it currently stands isn’t doing its job. In fact, it might be hurting the ideals of Jewish social justice.

The goal of service learning is beautiful. Let’s teach our students about the principle of repairing the world not only through classroom lessons, but also through experience and hands-on learning. Perfect. Great. But what happens in reality might just be counterproductive to what we’re trying to teach our youth.

Service learning is a long-standing Jewish educational tradition; we take our students, predominantly white upper middle class and privileged, and expose them to “less fortunate” people, places, and circumstances. Some outstanding educators are able to root service learning in social justice principles through bringing in their knowledge of text and tradition, but this is the exception and not the rule. In general, we thrust our values and needs upon other communities that could really use a partner in their work and not some white knights (pun intended) to ride in from the suburbs and save the day.

While I don’t mean to be overly harsh, I do mean to be pointedly critical. When I look at Jewish institutions that use service learning as a mode of social justice, they do it because they want to engage in meaningful experiences for their students. The question remains, however—why is this the way we’ve gone? How can we delve deeper into the big questions behind the service learning model, wrestle with, and engage them? Would this struggle, hand in hand with direct service and advocacy, not serve our community better? (Not to mention be much less patronizing and much more empowering for others).

What do I mean? Let me give you an example:

A literacy program might be designed to teach teens and tweens about the need for literacy tutors, and then have them work one on one with young children to improve their reading skills. This is an important piece of the puzzle, yes, but why not examine the educational inequities that lead to literacy challenges? I live in Boston, and the staggering differences between suburban schools and more urban ones often go ignored when we talk about “literacy”. Let’s go in depth with our teens about how our school systems disenfranchise students of color at disproportionate rates while money pours into other schools down the highway—not to make them feel guilty or shame them, but to let them come to their own conclusions about how and where to help bridge this gap in resource.

If we don’t contextualize service learning in the systems of injustice and oppression that allow for inequity, we aren’t giving our students the full picture. Throwing volunteer hours and money at the issues are helpful, but not the only answer. By presenting alternative modes of “service learning”, where instead of “serving” someone we are understand the complexity of the issue and then taking action, we can better prepare our students for justice work in the future.

While we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, I think we need to re-educate ourselves as teachers on what it is to work within systems that oppress and disenfranchise others. If we can reexamine our own role and our power with a critical eye, we will be able to better pass it on to our students. Then instead of service learning, maybe we will be doing “Social Justice Actions”. Social Justice Action allows for both time spent learning and in the field. It pays attention to root causes of educational inequity, hunger, ableism, consumption issues, etc and also encourages interaction with communities facing these issues in a meaningful way for both the visitors and local experts. Rooting this idea in Jewish values and lessons is easy—tikkun olam means repairing the world, not just putting band-aids on decades old issues.

If we allow ourselves to try something different, to wrestle with ideas that make us uncomfortable, and then pass those along to our students, I have no doubt that the next generation of Jewish learners can change the world. 

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Ode to Queen Ann

I prefer the Queen, thank you
With her fishermen and crafters
Try not to love the off season
Because that’s when the Queen quiets
The harbor coated in white fluff
Dogs free to run and greet one another with impunity
No need to leash (although the sign says to)
Warm pubs with dice games and restaurants that consider you family
The Queen loves the quiet

But when it’s warm she’s beautiful too
Alive with sandy toes and saltwater taffy making
The sails launched and St Peter celebrated
Greasy poles, lobster traps, and frozen drinks
Her ocean crashing up against her shores, eliciting joyful giggles from her children
The evenings thick with aloe on sunburns and frozen drinks to cool foreheads
The Queen loves the sound of her season

Yeah
I’ll take the Queen instead

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My JOIN Story

On Monday, June 24th I was honored to be one of 15 graduating fellows from the year-long JOIN for Justice Jewish Organizing Fellowship. The graduation, or Siyyum, was a beautiful evening of stories–laughter, triumph, struggle, and journeys. Each fellow shared 90-second stories to demonstrate learnings or growth from the year. My story, found below, was inspired by my amazing trip with a group of teenagers through the South with Prozdor, the high school of Hebrew College, where I work as the Director of Programming and Initiatives.This story is dedicated to them, to our beloved van Delilah, and most of all to the spirit of the Civil Rights Movement that followed us throughout our trip:

————

I learned the true meaning of the word Dayenu on the floor of a hotel room in Birmingham, Alabama.

As I led a group of teens on a trip to learn about Jewish heritage in the South, I yearned for their exploration of Civil Rights history to open up a conversation about race, class, and privilege in America–and particularly where they fit into the story.

Dayenu, from our Passover liturgy, means “it would have been enough.” And while on the floor of that hotel room, in the midst of intense discussion with seven high school juniors, I learned what it means to feel like the world has given you so much that you can’t really stand it anymore.

Just getting to take the trip, Dayenu.

The voices of my JOIN cohort rang in my head while we traveled, challenging me to address tension and discomfort head on. The other fellows reminded me to push with gentle force, to challenge my own assumptions and in turn those of my teens.As the days progressed, I found myself pushing my students, asking them questions about their preconceived notions of the world–which to this point, had been pretty sheltered in some of the wealthy suburbs of Boston.

The experience we had, Dayenu.

When a student began to compare oppression of Jews in Europe and that of African Americans in the United States, I interjected, and challenged the group to stop drawing this parallel line that I hear too often in Jewish communities.. “Too often we get in the business of comparing who had it worse,” I said. “It’s probably not productive, and it is most certainly not a fair equation.”

The conversation that followed on that hotel floor would have been enough. An exploration of our shared histories, tears of discomfort and fear,some angry words, some calming ones, and inevitably more questions than answers. The sheltering walls that had kept these suburban teens from fully grasping the world around them started to crumble and fall.

Dayenu.

The floor of that hotel room in Birmingham reminded me that I believe in the power of teenagers. And I believe that the most fundamental of organizing principles we learn in JOIN–holding tension and creating agitation–are central to my work helping them grow into leaders who will change the world.

And again all I can say is Dayenu. Dayenu. Dayenu. This is more than enough.

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