BY EDEN FARBER / AJT CONTRIBUTOR //
“Isn’t it difficult,” said the man sitting next to me on the airplane, “to reconcile modern feminism with Orthodox Judaism? Like, they don’t really go together.”
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He brought this up having noticed my JOFA (Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance) bag and notepad; I was flying home from their 8th International Conference.
“Sure it is.” I replied. “That’s what JOFA is for.”
My conversation with the unaffiliated Jewish man who happened to sit next to me on the airplane is just a glimpse of the seemingly paradoxical goal that JOFA has.
Judaism and feminism. Tradition and innovation. Halacha (Jewish law) and modern culture. This is the world in which I live—and it’s a confusing one.
Luckily, it’s also a world full of strong and inspirational Jewish leaders, and I had the amazing privilege of spending a weekend with them all.
The JOFA Conference was buzzing with excitement. It began with a Saturday night arts festival entitled “Wine, Women and Song.” Based on the conference’s theme, “Voices of Change,” all the performances were about women’s voice being heard.
The night began with myself and some other high schoolers performing our own poetry at an Open Mic—a very empowering experience. A band sang about misunderstood women like Lilith; Jewish A Cappella groups performed beautifully; Ofir Ben Sheetrit, a religious girl who was suspended from her school in Israel for singing, performed and had a Q&A.
Her story, which I wrote about in a previous column, was extremely powerful.
“Everyone needs to follow their passions,” she responded, when asked if she felt like she was betraying her community by performing, “and mine is music.”
With the Saturday night arts festival coming to an end, the entire conference was energized and inspired, ready for a full Sunday of sessions and speakers.
It was a day I’ll never forget.
The conference began with an Opening Plenary with speakers from all different levels of affiliation with JOFA—current leaders, founding members, college fellows, and more. It would be silly to characterize the panel as perfect, but no other word comes to mind.
Every speaker spoke with power and conviction and the room roared with excitement. We have done so much; we have so much to do.
Walking out of that room, I felt on top of the world, surrounded by leaders and role models I felt like an ant but the biggest, strongest, most courageous ant you’d ever seen – a part of something huge and world-shaking.
Sessions varied from topics of halachic innovation to social justice. Some key titles were: “Fertility and Jewish Law,” “Green is the New Black: Women and Money,” “Breaking the Chains: Making a Difference in the Agunah Fight,” “Here, Queer, and Machmir: Orthodox Life in the LGBTQ Community,” “Feminist Influences on Halacha,” and many, many more.
It was easy to see that every person, conversation and session was going to shape the very future of religious progressive life. This is a community that came together from every corner of the world to have these conversations about change.
With these conversations often happening so far away, it’s sometimes hard to be so passionately committed to them. But now I feel rejuvenated, recommitted and re-energized to the goals of Orthodox feminism.
JOFA Conference 2015. See you there.
Atlanta’s Eden Farber, 16, was recognized in the Jewish Heritage National Poetry Contest of 2010 and has published op-eds and poetry in Modern Hippie Magazine and the NY Jewish Week’s Fresh Ink for Teens section.