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Isn't it pretty?

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Class Reflections

We had an interesting class last night. The topic was Feminist Therapy. I have written previously about my ideological struggle between Orthodox Judaism and feminism. I have yet to figure it out, and I know that once I become a wife and mother that struggle will probably get even more difficult as I attempt to adjust to new roles for myself, while at the same time trying to hold to those things that I find important outside the realm of the traditional gender roles that many within Orthodox Judaism espouse. I spoke to the class about what it was like trying to balance being an Orthodox Jewish woman and the values inherent within that life, and at the same time, going to graduate school, living in the modern world, and wanting to work outside the home, even when I have children. I acknowledged that I might feel very differently once that time comes, and I also acknowledged that I do see some truth in traditional gender role stereotypes, but again, that I struggle with it. What I didn't say out loud was that I kept thinking about the skirt I was wearing and realizing that, at least compared to many of my classmates, I'm not a feminist at all. Our class dicscussion branched out and touched not only feminism, but also other areas in which people are oppressed - by race, religion, culture. We broke into small groups to discuss - my group consisted of myself, the only male in our class who happens to be white, a white female, and a Puerto Rican female. We discussed our different orientations to racism and discrimination. I reflected a bit upon the fact that my life has changed so much in the years since I became frum. We had to fill out a questionnaire called the "Quick Discrimination Index" which was developed to show how much discriminiation you have internalized. There were questions on it such as "The majority of my friends are the same ethnicity as myself" and "I think it's valuable for my children to go to a school with a diverse population of students." My answers before I became frum would have been very different. I realized that my upbringing wasn't the typical Jewish one. The truth is, it wasn't that typical period. The white classmates in my group both grew up in suburbia and were not exposed to much diversity at all, though the male has branched out a lot since then. But the white female in my group really hasn't. I grew up with friends of all races, religions and cultures. My parents were extremely liberal and open-minded. I never heard a racial slur growing up. While I still espouse that open-minded philosophy, I can't say that I have such a mixed group of friends anymore. I still have a few non-Jewish, diverse friends, but the majority of my friends are other Orthodox Jews. While I know that's normal, it was, and has been, a transition for me. The other thing I kept thinking about was the fact that, in my classroom at my Catholic University, with no other Jews in my class, I do see myself as different. I see myself as "the Orthodox Jew" in the room. That has been my experience since I went back to school - in my undergraduate classes as well. There have always been a smattering of other Orthodox Jews at my school, but never another one in my classes. But what I found interesting was that I was trying to reflect upon the time when I wasn't Orthodox, whether that feeling of being a minority has changed and I feel more different now than I did then. The truth is, the answer is no. I went to a high school in which I was the only Jew - I stood out then, especially being in Alabama. When I was in elementary school, there were a couple other Jews in my school, but I was the one whose parents came to explain Hanukah to the class. I was always different and stood out. It hasn't changed, even as my attachment to Judaism certainly has. And while being different is hard, and it still is hard, I have always seen my Jewish-ness as something special and something that stands out, but doesn't have to stand in the way of getting to know others.

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