The past year has been a dramatic whirlwind of change and uncertainty for Americans, and for American women in particular. A year that began with the largest protest in modern history — led, organized and overwhelmingly attended by women — ended with earth-shattering conversations about the harassment, abuse and systemic inequities faced by women across industries, classes and cultures that have continued into 2018. As the anniversary of that landmark march approaches, many Jewish women are asking, “What’s next?”
In Jewish life, 2017 was also punctuated by remarkable literary accomplishments. For starters, “The Sacred Calling: Four Decades of Women in the Rabbinate,” which celebrates the role of women rabbis in Jewish life, received the National Jewish Book Award. Last year also marked the 10th anniversary “The Torah: A Women’s Commentary,” a seminal work that elevated female and feminist thought in mainstream Jewish Biblical scholarship. And with so many challenges confronting our society, these books might well be instructional as we contemplate how to move our society closer to one that reflects and prioritizes our central values of justice, compassion, and love for all people.
Of course, each one of us must decide how to dedicate our energy toward causes that speak to us. But as 2018 begins, I offer a partial vision for the progress Jewish women should envision in the year ahead.
Firstly, in 2018 we must do more to address the epidemic of sexual harassment and violence throughout American life, including within the Jewish community. We’re starting off on the right foot: Reform rabbis are responding to the needs of their individual communities, and at a macro level, the CCAR has appointed a task force to examine the experience of women in the rabbinate and recommend potential appropriate actions. Jewish women should not be satisfied until everyone within our community — and all communities — are free to live and work and pursue their dreams without threats of harassment or abuse, and without fear of retaliation when they speak out about these horrific acts.
But in 2018, we must also look beyond the synagogue doors. This year must be one of justice and safety for our immigrant brothers and sisters. We must demand that Congress enact a DREAM Act to protect the hundreds of thousands of young immigrants currently threatened with deportation, even though the United States is the only home they know. These young people — whose lives hang in the balance thanks to President Trump’s shortsighted decision to rescind DACA — deserve protection, peace of mind, and a pathway to citizenship. Beyond the DREAM Act, we must push for comprehensive immigration reform, a marker of compassion, human dignity, and our commitment to the rule of law. Jews must remember our Biblical imperative to welcome and protect the stranger and put those words into action to support those living in the shadows.
There are more vulnerable among us who need protection in 2018. The health and wellbeing of our children is under attack like never before. For months, Congress has dithered and delayed in its imperative to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which provides desperately needed health care to millions of children across the country. Congress has also threatened health insurance for millions more Americans by repealing the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act and failing to enact legislation to stabilize the Affordable Care Act’s marketplace exchanges. Instead of finding new ways for Americans to pay more for worse health care, our lawmakers should set their sights on a system that provides affordable, high-quality care to all people. In addition, with Congress planning votes on new abortion restrictions this month, Jewish women must speak out about the importance of reproductive freedom and the imperative right allowing us to make decisions about our own bodies in consultation with trusted medical professionals.
There will inevitably be new challenges and crises that arise in the coming months; this is just a small sample of the issues where we can focus our attention to help create a more equitable society. If we adhere to the traditions of our faith and the values that undergird our nation, we can make 2018 a year of true progress on all these important issues, and the year where women moved closer than ever to full, true equality in all aspects of American and Jewish life.