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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The unexplored identity of Jewish women

Published: November 2, 2007
Section: Arts, Etc.

Everyday, we encounter new challenges and new questions that urge us to consider who we are and what we value. We are often forced to define our religion, political affiliations, sexual preference and other classifications in a simple word, two at most.

Yet, it is an unfeasible task to convey everything we believe ourselves to be in words that are not only limited in quantity, but in a language that disregards the spectrum that lies between the two extremes with which we are compelled to align ourselves.

It becomes even more difficult to define who we are when we must negotiate competing aspects of ourselves that when merged together load new meaning upon the individual terms.

For Jewish women, this is a challenge confronted on a constant basis. Few spaces and resources facilitate our search for what it means to be a Jew, be a woman and how to discern the relationship between the two. We are conditioned to think that if one attaches the title Jewish woman to herself, she has sufficiently conveyed her answers to both the religion and gender queries.

We view identity as a question rather than a conversation. We seldom acknowledge the need to express those identities and subsequently fail to establish avenues that cultivate the necessary discussion. Instead we join communities and view others within them as reference points through which we see ourselves.

However, holding fast to an established community often boxes us into pre-selected categories prevent us from pursuing individual journeys that transcend the titles of these groups.

When creating these social clusters, instead of clinging to people who possess similar beliefs and practices to us, we must take into account the common foundation that links us all rather then the protruding structure that unconsciously directs us further away from our center. Doing so will expose us to new options and an inclusive way of thinking that permits us to navigate a simultaneous individual and collective path.

While it may be a hard task to assume, I along with three other Brandeis students, Alison Shwartzbaum, Jess Kent and Etta King, will hopefully create a community that encourages the necessary conversation by not only celebrating the unity of Jewish woman but by attempting to understand what the significance of that unity is for each individual. We hope to accomplish this through a Jewish Womens Retreat open to any self-identified Jewish Women on the Brandeis campus from November 3 to November 4.

The mission of Kol Nashim: Brandeiss Jewish Women's Retreat is to bring together a diverse group of self-identified Jewish women from the Brandeis community to explore questions like what makes us women, what makes us Jewish, and how those identities materialize, converge and conflict.

We will develop a vocabulary, community and a safe space to delve into these issues, and through creative programming, various speakers and many conversations, we hope unite a group of people who often divide themselves as a result of how they interpret these two significant identities to embrace both similarity and difference and initiate dialogue and new relationships that will endure far beyond the retreat itself.

We hope that our retreat will encourage existing communities to initiate a new dialogue while also shaping the values of communities that have yet to materialize.

Editor's Note: Rachel Lewis is one of the coordinators of the Jewish Women's Retreat.