Jewish women ex­plain Jewish mas­culin­ity

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - CONTENTS - • By RIVKAH LAM­BERT ADLER

It started out as a joke, a bit of black hu­mor, in re­sponse to out­rage over an event that fea­tured two rab­bis in Brook­lyn speak­ing about the role of the Jewish woman. The ti­tle of the rab­bis’ talk this past Au­gust was “The Great­ness of a Jewish Princess.” “It was just so ab­surd,” said Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll, co-founder of Chochmat Nashim, “the lat­est in a long line of men telling women what to do and how to be­have.” For Keats Jaskoll and her col­league Avi­tal Chizhik-Gold­schmidt it was the last straw.

In protest, Chizhik-Gold­schmidt, who is an ed­i­tor at The For­ward and a reb­bet­zin in New York, cre­ated a par­ody of the Jewish princess event poster that fea­tured the two women speak­ing about “The Se­crets of Jewish Mas­culin­ity.”

Ac­cord­ing to Keats Jaskoll, “The poster went vi­ral and peo­ple said, ‘You have to do this!’ Peo­ple were re­ally into it.” She came to see that an ac­tual event with this ti­tle and with two women speak­ers was ac­tu­ally a great way to get their mes­sage across, us­ing the com­mu­nity’s own cul­ture to make their point.

Once the an­nounce­ment for the Novem­ber 19 event in Tea­neck, New Jersey, went live, the feed­back, ac­cord­ing to Keats Jaskoll, was “phe­nom­e­nal! We had at least 20 peo­ple sign up the first day.”

The pair re­ceived an unan­tic­i­pated re­ac­tion from out­side the Jewish com­mu­nity. “The most interestin­g thing was what we heard from Mus­lim women,” she noted. “They said, ‘We should

do this for our com­mu­nity. Hi­jabs for men! Mind if we steal your ideas?’”

Keats Jaskoll came to un­der­stand that, “I have more in com­mon with re­li­gious Mus­lim women, as op­posed to men in my own com­mu­nity. That was the most sur­pris­ing out­come.”

At press time, more than 60 peo­ple were reg­is­tered for the event, which fea­tured meat and beer. “It’s very im­por­tant to feed peo­ple,” Keats Jaskoll noted.

More im­por­tantly, the Se­crets of Jewish Mas­culin­ity event gives Keats Jaskoll and Chizhik-Gold­schmidt an op­por­tu­nity to “dis­cuss the im­por­tance in the Jewish com­mu­nity for men and women to work to­gether.” Keats Jaskoll an­tic­i­pated “a lot of con­ver­sa­tion and women talk­ing about what they see is re­ally lack­ing in the Jewish com­mu­nity.”

She quoted a com­menter who ex­pressed re­spect for the fact that the two women staged an event with­out first ask­ing for rab­binic ap­proval. “You know, Shoshanna, I’m amazed. You didn’t wait for some­one to in­vite you. You just made an event and peo­ple are com­ing.”

To Keats Jaskoll, that feed­back was sur­pris­ing. “I was shocked at the com­ment. To me, it’s a nat­u­ral thing. There’s a need in the com­mu­nity and let’s do it. We don’t need to wait for other peo­ple to in­vite us and tell us it’s okay to speak. We don’t need a rabbi from Yeshiva Univer­sity who is half our age to say it’s okay.

“If you feel that there is some­thing to say, do it. We need ev­ery sin­gle per­son in this com­mu­nity who has some­thing to con­trib­ute to be speak­ing. We need ev­ery­one to make our com­mu­nity as good as it can be,” she en­thused.

This event is part of a larger speak­ing tour that Keats Jaskoll, in her role as co-founder of Chochmat Nashim, has un­der­taken to help spread the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s mes­sage. “Chochmat Nashim ad­vo­cates for a healthy Jewish com­mu­nity where women are seen and heard, where we speak about dam­ag­ing poli­cies in Or­tho­doxy and in Is­rael.

“WHEN WOMEN are not in­volved in pol­icy-mak­ing de­ci­sions, when they don’t have a seat at the ta­ble, women are harmed,” she elab­o­rated. “We work hard to show our is­sues have noth­ing to do with Jewish law. Women are being held hostage and no one is tak­ing it se­ri­ously enough.

“What are the is­sues that Ju­daism is fac­ing? How can we iden­tify them and change them with­out af­fect­ing what is sa­cred to us, with­out vi­o­lat­ing Jewish law?”

Keats Jaskoll em­pha­sized that the is­sues she and her Or­tho­dox col­leagues fight against have noth­ing to do with vi­o­lat­ing Jewish law. Of­ten, the is­sues re­flect dis­tor­tions of the law.

What Chochmat Nashim does in gen­eral, and Keats Jaskoll does when­ever she speaks in Jewish com­mu­ni­ties, is to help her au­di­ence un­der­stand their role in im­prov­ing things for the Or­tho­dox com­mu­nity. “Peo­ple want things to be bet­ter,

, but they don’t know what they can do. We show the is­sue, show a pos­i­tive ac­tion and give in­di­vid­u­als roles to af­fect change.”

Keats Jaskoll left for the US on Novem­ber 16. Be­sides the Se­crets of Jewish Mas­culin­ity event, she has stops in seven com­mu­ni­ties and a num­ber of Jewish schools. By the time she re­turns home to Beit Shemesh, she hopes to have reached 400 or 500 peo­ple with her pas­sion and mes­sage.

She is al­ready plan­ning another tour for May 2020, and she and Chizhik-Gold­schmidt have been asked to of­fer the Se­crets of Jewish Mas­culin­ity pro­gram in Is­rael.

In all that she does, from so­cial me­dia ad­vo­cacy to speak­ing tours to work with Chochmat Nashim, in­clud­ing the reg­u­lar pod­casts she does with fel­low Chochmat Nashim co-founders Anne Gor­don and Rachel Stomel, Keats Jaskoll fo­cuses on high­light­ing the is­sue of “eras­ing women and why it’s dam­ag­ing.”

In an opin­ion piece Keats Jaskoll pub­lished in The Times of Is­rael in 2017, she wrote, “This prac­tice be­gan in the most in­su­lar Or­tho­dox com­mu­ni­ties over the past two decades, and has now be­come the dom­i­nant prac­tice of Or­tho­dox publi­ca­tions, to the great dis­may of Or­tho­dox women ev­ery­where.

“En­tire mag­a­zines are de­void of women. There are chil­dren’s books, text­books, comics, and ad­ver­tise­ments in which no moth­ers and no daugh­ters are rep­re­sented. Beau­ti­fully il­lus­trated Shab­bat zemirot book­lets have grand­fa­thers, fathers and sons; there are no grand­moth­ers, moth­ers or daugh­ters. I even have an il­lus­trated Megillat Es­ther sans Es­ther.”

She ti­tled the op-ed, “Who needs rab­binic lead­er­ship? A call for Or­tho­dox or­ga­ni­za­tions to heed the voices of the women they can­not see.” In it, af­ter in­clud­ing mul­ti­ple ex­am­ples of the ex­tent to which eras­ing women has changed the cul­ture, she calls on rab­bis to put a stop to it.

“With­out ques­tion, this pol­icy of re­mov­ing nearly all im­ages of women and girls from Or­tho­dox publi­ca­tions alien­ates Jewish women from those who rep­re­sent To­rah. To be clear, the same women that the OU [Or­tho­dox Union] and RCA [Rab­bini­cal Coun­cil of Amer­ica] re­spect for their place in tra­di­tion, find them­selves ex­cluded by the ex­treme changes to that tra­di­tion, and can­not all re­main com­mit­ted to views that, in fact, are not tra­di­tion.

“I urge the es­tab­lished Or­tho­dox lead­er­ship, in the form of the ven­er­a­ble in­sti­tu­tions of the OU and the RCA, to take a stand against this dam­ag­ing prac­tice of dis­ap­pear­ing im­ages of mod­est Jewish women from Or­tho­dox publi­ca­tions, and stand up for the dig­nity of Jewish women.”

IN HER pre­sen­ta­tions, Keats Jaskoll speaks about how this is­sue of eras­ing women has ex­panded way be­yond the most in­su­lar Or­tho­dox com­mu­ni­ties. “In Is­rael, it hap­pens be­cause we all live to­gether and busi­nesses here want [to avoid of­fend­ing their Or­tho­dox clients.

As a re­sult] banks and health clin­ics don’t pic­ture women. It af­fects ev­ery­one in the coun­try.”

Ac­cord­ing to Keats Jaskoll, eras­ing women has es­ca­lated to a mat­ter of life and death. “We see that haredi [ul­tra-Or­tho­dox] women, who are most erased, have higher death rates from can­cer. They don’t know what mam­mo­grams are. They are trained not to speak about their body parts. Women’s health is not dis­cussed in the haredi me­dia.”

Re­gret­tably, it’s not only a prob­lem in Is­rael. “We get letters from Eng­land, Aus­tralia and the US from women who are say­ing ‘I see this hap­pen­ing in my com­mu­nity.’”

In another The Times of Is­rael post from just two months ago, Keats Jaskoll forthright­ly an­swered those women who say that they would never want to have their pic­tures on dis­play in pub­lic.

“It’s not about you and it’s not about me,” she wrote. “It’s not even about faces on posters at all. It’s about women being seen and heard so that our needs are met, so that our con­cerns are heard, so that our dis­eases can be named, so that our health mat­ters, so that when we are abused it’s an out­rage, so that when we voice is­sues peo­ple lis­ten, so that our opin­ions count. This doesn’t hap­pen if we are in­vis­i­ble, if we are si­lenced.”

Re­spond­ing to her crit­ics who claim that she is shin­ing a light on what should be an in­ter­nal is­sue, she an­swers boldly and with­out equiv­o­ca­tion, “To me, peo­ple who are more wor­ried about peo­ple see­ing our dirty laun­dry than clean­ing our own laun­dry are not my au­di­ence.”

(Pho­tos: Laura Ben-David)

CHOCHMAT NASHIM founders (from left) Rachel Stomel, Anne Gor­don and Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll.

KEATS JASKOLL speaks at a Chochmat Nashim event in Jerusalem.


THE PAR­ODY poster that ac­tu­ally be­came an event; it was a re­sponse to ‘The Great­ness of a Jewish Princess,’ a talk given by two rab­bis.

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