Fighting To Be Optimistic About 2017

I wanted the Sisterhood look at the year ahead to be a positive take on what’s in store for Jewish girls, Jewish women, and Jewish gender-non-conforming individuals. And it might have been just that, had I, a Jewish woman, not spent much of the past 24 hours blocking and reporting Nazi sympathizers for social-media harassment. Harassment, that is, of the anti-Semitic (think “lampshade”) and generic anti-woman (someone with a Nazi avatar doesn’t like my hair) varieties. My optimism level isn’t quite where it should be for painting a vibrant portrait of the year to come, where we the Jews who are not cisgender men are concerned.

There’s a systemic context to the harassment I describe: The so-called “alt-right,” aka white supremacists, aka white nationalists, neo-Nazis, or however else one wishes to classify these semi-organized racists and anti-Semites, has merged with the manosphere, or pick-up artist brigade, or men’s rights activists, or, again, whatever one is calling semi-organized sexists and homophobes these days. Jewishness and femininity — both marginalized traits even under the best of circumstances — are, in the contemporary United States, under attack.

Regardless of where you’d place Donald Trump himself in all this (who, we all now know the refrain, “Has A Jewish Daughter”), the fact remains that the preferred candidate of those who hate Jews, women and Jewish women won. A campaign that used an anti-Jewish “star” ad to call a female (but not Jewish!) candidate “crooked” and “corrupt” emerged victorious. This has given social permission to a segment of society that had, until quite recently, been easy to dismiss as fringe or trolls.

But as scholars of Jewish history will tell you, even when it was bad (except when it’s really, really bad), it wasn’t all bad. I will now do my darndest to transition to a less despairing note.

I don’t do predictions, but I’ll offer some desires, as well as some reasons to be hopeful:

My hope is that the Jewish feminist tradition lives on. I hope we fight for justice as Jewish women. We should do so in solidarity with other marginalized groups. That is, we should notice sexism and anti-Semitism, but also other forms of bigotry that don’t impact every Jewish woman personally. We should remember that other forms of bigotry do impact many Jewish women. Not every Jewish woman is shielded by actually being Sheryl Sandberg, let alone Ivanka Trump.

We should also – and this may be more controversial – set aside the handwringing over whether the paler among us are white. (And I say this as one who has obsessed over this with the best of them.) Also, the more progressive of us should remember that right-leaning Jews also fear anti-Semitism, and that this fear – and not (just) comfort in their whiteness – is behind some admittedly troubling (to me, at any rate) political alliances.

Most of all, though, we should celebrate achievement. Below are a few Jews whose accomplishments I admire and give me hope as I anticipate admiring them going forward:

There are a number of scholars and writers, Jewish-identified in one way or another, whose work I find especially impressive. One who comes to mind is Aliza Luft, an Assistant Professor of Sociology at UCLA. Luft uses her scholarly expertise on Vichy France to help us understand what’s going on these days in the States. Author and journalist Rebecca Traister has offered brilliant insights on the role of gender in the 2016 election.

While I heard about her more recently, I’m incredibly interested to follow the career of attorney Carrie A. Goldberg, who represents victims in so-called “revenge porn” cases.

Though I, personally, am secular, I hope we continue to see progress and justice coming from observant Jews of all religious movements, and via Jewish religious observance. I’ve been particularly impressed by the work of Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance executive director (and Forward 50 recipient) Sharon Weiss-Greenberg, who advocates for feminism with the orthodox community. And I admire the courage of Rabbi Becky Silverstein, the transgender Conservative rabbi who speaks out against the transphobia he witnesses in the Jewish community and beyond.

It is important even for the secular to remember that religion is not limited to religious intolerance. As Jews, observant or not, we (by definition) fail to meet Christian conservative values. You know, what with the whole not being Christian thing. This can make life scary for us, especially at moments in history when religious minorities are getting even more scapegoated than usual. But it can also be liberating, and make all of us — again, even the more traditional — well placed to fight for justice for all.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy edits the Sisterhood, and can be reached at bovy@forward.com. Her book, The Perils of “Privilege”, will be published by St. Martin’s Press in March 2017.

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Fighting To Be Optimistic About 2017

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