I read Shoshanna Keats-Jaskoll’s recent post on the rotten state of Orthodoxy with interest. It was an excellent article that described a lot of very real problems that need to be addressed. I also read the recent response in which the writer’s only statement seemed to be “the problems are not as bad as she makes them out to be.” That one made my stomach turn. So now it’s time for my response.
The only thing I didn’t like about Shoshanna’s article was the despairing tone. By nature, I’m a more positive type of person who tries not to give up hope. Even when I’m in the glooms due to real problems, I try to put on a brave face and stay positive. I don’t blame her for that despairing tone- the problems she described are very real with no easy solutions and when that writer tried to minimize them, he only revealed himself as part of the problem. That doesn’t make things easier.
Instead of trying to combat the despair by saying that “the problems are not as bad as she makes them out to be,” I’m going to try to combat that despair from the other side.
There are so many people out there in the realm of Torah Judaism who do understand that these problems are there and they’re trying to do something about them.
Out there on public platforms, many using social media, we have Rabbi Yakov Horowitz who is speaking and writing to raise awareness of sexual abuse and teach prevention.
We have Asher Lovy, a survivor of vicious abuse who, instead of wallowing in victimhood, became a leader of ZAAKAH and lobbied successfully for the Child Victims Act which gives survivors a better chance at justice.
We have Elad and Rivka Nehorai who are creating venues to allow Jews to think outside the box and express their creative sides.
We have Ann Koffsky, founder of the Frum Women Have Faces campaign to help give women our faces and our voices back.
We have writers and speakers like Dr. Leslie Ginsparg Klein, Avital Chizhik Goldschmidt, Merri Ukraincik, Shira Lankin Sheps, Rebecca Klempner, Kylie Ora Lobell, Rochel Lazar, and others who are making themselves heard and making sure that these issues don’t just go away.
We have Judge Ruchie Freier who never intended to be a fighter/crusader, but who reaches out to at-risk Jews and who founded Ezras Nashim to provide better emergency care for women.
Outside of social media and public platforms, we have the example of my shul and community in Kew Gardens Hills, Queens, NY. My shul offers high-level Torah learning for women and welcomes teaching and other leadership tasks from women. On Simchat Torah, they put up a mechitzah and allow me to lead women’s dancing during Hakafot.
There’s also the community response. I write for a local Jewish newspaper in Queens and I wrote a few weeks ago about the issue of erasing women. There was a response saying that the paper should stop publishing such articles. The response to that was fast and furious. While there were a few who disagreed with my stance, most were supportive and agreed that the issue of erasing women is a serious one that demands attention and mustn’t be silenced. We even heard a wonderful shiur by psychologist Daniel Hoffman, PhD, who spoke about the psychological harm for men and women caused by erasing women.
In the middle of this frenzy over my writing about erasing women, someone asked me why I don’t just forget about what other people think and just write whatever I want to write. I answered by saying that it’s not just about me. I have my mom, my mother-in-law, my sister, my sister-in-law, my daughter, and my niece. They don’t deserve to be erased or silenced. I also have my husband, my father, my father-in-law, my brother-in-law, my sons, and my nephews who don’t deserve to be infantilized or demeaned as if they’re incapable of being mentschen. I know that Shoshanna and the other writers, speakers, and activists mentioned above have their own families and friends and motivations for this.
My point is that yes, there are those problems in Orthodoxy. Those problems are serious and we may not all be able to fix them entirely. But remember the teaching of “Lo Alecha HaMelachah Ligmor V’Lo Ata Ben Chorin L’Hibatel Mimena.” Maybe we can’t fix these problems entirely in our lifetimes, but we can and must do our share to help. Shoshanna is definitely doing her share. And so are the other people listed here and so many others. We are not alone and we mustn’t give up. If we’re part of the solution, then we need not despair.