When I was a sophomore in college I became a feminist. After a few women studies classes, I felt as though I had been given the answers to many unresolved questions. For instance, “Is sex an inherently emotional experience?” No, not necessarily. “How do I know what is right in this world for me?” Read the book Our Bodies, Ourselves and find the answers that lie within you.
That same year I met an Orthodox campus Rabbi. He gave me a card for a Torah-learning trip to Israel and my mind gave him a look like he was crazy. Long story short, I decided to go on that trip to Israel. Then I went on another one. After learning and experiencing so much, I began believing that there is a G-d who knows more than we do. The more I believed in this, the more women studies had a problem with me. In one of my classes, I tried to share the Torah perspective on gender roles. After I finished, the teacher responded, “Well, you do know that Judaism is a sexist religion, right? Eve was taken from Adam's rib.” I answered by saying that G-d actually created women as spiritually more intuitive than men. She responded, "Ah, I see, so Eve was taken from a really good rib".
All of a sudden, I was constantly being mocked and challenged. From intense criticism for my decision to “wait till marriage”, to condoms being handed out around me, to pressure to justify my reasons for not going out on the weekend, to being seriously asked if I felt "repressed" after spending time with an Orthodox Jewish family I love dearly--I felt completely attacked and misunderstood.
So I decided to do something about it.
A couple of weeks ago, I had to give a presentation in my senior culmination class for women studies majors. With a shaky voice, I told them that I am a growing-in-observance Jewish woman who felt excluded by feminist theory. In legitimizing the idea that casual sex is normal, feminism de-legitimizes those of us who believe sex is special. Insisting on making sexuality louder makes it harder for people like me to keep sexuality private and unique. I have been told that when I go to my Rabbi’s house for Shabbat—the Jewish day of rest from Friday at sundown to Saturday at sundown—that I am running away from the real world. But the real world makes it extremely hard to be spiritual. How do I remain spiritual when I can hear parties down the street Friday night? When I’m expected to be casual with guys and just have a good time? I do not feel as though I am running away. I feel as though I am not welcome. I feel unappreciated by a society that operates under a façade of acceptance—something I didn’t realize when I too was part of the feminist club. Now I see that if the open-mindedness were true, I wouldn’t be scared to tell people I am going to Jewish seminary next year and I wouldn’t feel so alone in my classes.
During the time I was presenting all of this to my class, I saw tears in many of my classmates’ eyes. The student who presented after me came to the front of the room crying, telling me how sorry she was for the experience I went through. Almost everyone came up to me at the end of class to tell me that they wished they had heard this perspective sooner. Another student told me, “Something happened here today”, and the rest of them agreed. So here I am! Making something happen. Proud for being myself-- finally.