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The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - THE VIEW FROM IS­RAEL

IWORK ON my lap­top. It’s my of­fice. My kids might say it’s my life, and last month, when it stopped work­ing, it cer­tainly felt like an emer­gency. As I work, it sits on the ta­ble be­side the mail that has piled up; the pa­per­work that is in var­i­ous stages of be­ing ig­nored; and a lo­cal cir­cu­lar that I nor­mally don’t al­low into my home. Like nearly all lo­cal pub­li­ca­tions in my home­town, this one doesn’t print images of women (hence the ban). Ev­ery once in a while, though, this pol­icy leads to a level of ridicu­lous­ness that begs to be shared. This time, it is an ad­vert for free gy­nae­col­ogy emer­gency ser­vices… with an im­age of a boy hold­ing a teddy bear. (If I couldn’t see the hu­mour in this, the in­san­ity of it would make me crazy.)

My lap­top fixed, I’m back on­line, which means back on so­cial me­dia — my other of­fice. My Facebook feed pro­vides a stark — and wel­come — con­trast to the cir­cu­lars of the neigh­bour­hood. There, re­li­gious women are any­thing but erased. In fact, they use so­cial me­dia to ex­press them­selves; un­fet­tered, un­cen­sored — and it’s fan­tas­tic.

There is the new Facebook group of re­li­gious women who have started a grass­roots ef­fort to “put the women back in” re­li­gious pub­li­ca­tions. Their let­ters and ar­ti­cles are ap­pear­ing at a fu­ri­ous pace in var­i­ous pa­pers and blogs. One by one, they ex­press their dis­may and pain at the ab­sence of women like them in pub­li­ca­tions geared to them. They have come out in I’m notic­ing more and more videos of women talk­ing To­rah force, so to speak, to ask pub­li­ca­tions to al­ter their poli­cies. The mini vic­to­ries they see in re­sponse to their cam­paign keep them go­ing strong.

There is a gor­geous in­ter­view with Ilana Kur­shan, who stud­ied the Daf Yomi — a daily dou­ble-sided page (fo­lio) of Tal­mud, for seven and a half years — and wrote a mem­oir on how her stud­ies in­ter­twined with her life. She be­came one with the tal­mu­dic lessons, see­ing them everywhere and ap­ply­ing them to be­ing a Jew and a mother in the mod­ern era.

I’m notic­ing more and more YouTube and Facebook-Live videos of women talk­ing To­rah. In these videos, they dis­cuss the weekly To­rah por­tion or Jewish ideas they’ve en­coun­tered, and present their thoughts to any­one who wants to hear them. Peo­ple are lis­ten­ing.

Also go­ing round is a video of two women singing a popular song cre­ated from the Seli­chot prayers that Jews say in the time lead­ing up to the High Holy Days. One held an in­fant while the other played the key­board, as they sang and swayed, im­bu­ing the new tune with their pas­sion for the an­cient words.

There is Ruchie Frier, the first Cha­sidic Jewish wo­man elected as a civil court judge in New York State, who uses her po­si­tion of power to call out the ills in her com­mu­nity, es­pe­cially the hor­ri­ble prac­tice of deny­ing girls a school, which she claims leads di­rectly to their sui­cides as a re­sult of the re­jec­tion (70 in less than a year by her count).

There are Facebook fo­rums, where women and men de­bate fun­da­men­tal con­cepts of Ju­daism, and those where peo­ple come to­gether and col­lab­o­rate for change.

There are the Jewish women of In­sta­gram, who use the vis­ual medium to sell prod­ucts, ser­vices, style, or ideas, who raise chil­dren while build­ing busi­nesses and oth­ers who use their feeds to high­light Jewish women past and present as a way of di­rectly coun­ter­ing the grow­ing censorship they see.

It’s a strange di­chotomy for me. And I find my­self in the mid­dle. I live in a place where women are in­creas­ingly cen­sored, yet I work in world where their pres­ence is ex­pand­ing.

So­cial me­dia has cre­ated an en­tirely new world with a tremen­dous reach where one can in­flu­ence con­ver­sa­tions and per­cep­tions, chal­lenge con­ven­tional wis­dom and ques­tion tra­di­tional nar­ra­tives. It en­ables those whose voices are rarely heard to gain an au­di­ence and find oth­ers who share sim­i­lar needs or val­ues with whom to col­lab­o­rate.

The cir­cu­lar is now off to be re­cy­cled for a higher pur­pose and the pix­els on my screen glow as bright as ever — a thou­sand shekel re­pair later. Go­ing into a new year, I pray that this is a metaphor of things to come, that the prac­tice of hid­ing, cen­sor­ing, and sham­ing will be tossed aside in favour of images, wis­dom and in­sights of re­li­gious women who slip past bar­ri­ers to be brightly seen and heard. May it be so.

Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll is a writer and ac­tivist

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