September 24, 2018

Fighting the Same Fights as Our Feminist Mothers

Some thoughts on sexual harassment and academic careers

By Gila Silverman

When the news broke that a well-known male scholar had been sexually harassing – and sometimes assaulting – female colleagues for decades, I was in the midst of cleaning out my mother’s home office. I was packing up her books on Jewish feminism, women in academia, and feminist pedagogy; sorting her notes from conferences and work groups on women’s connected ways of knowing, gender and moral development, and widowhood and social roles. She had often talked about how hard it was, especially in the early years of her career, to be taken seriously as a woman with a Ph.D. She had many stories about the men who ignored her ideas at meetings, and later promoted these same ideas, claiming them as their own. In the early 1970’s, she was invited to speak to a group of funeral directors in another state, who were interested in learning more about her research with widows. They later sent a letter to my father, thanking him for “allowing” her to be away from home. In her papers, I found a photo of her with a group of colleagues, sitting around a conference table. She is the only woman, and she is speaking, but most of the men are looking in other directions.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been immersed in reading the op-eds, emails, Facebook posts, and listserv discussions about harassment and gender and power in the Jewish and academic communities. I’ve been outraged, sad, confused, and physically nauseous, as we’ve learned – yet again and in such detail – about the multitude of ways in which women’s bodies, experiences, ideas, and careers have been undervalued, abused, dismissed, and belittled.

My own experience with this happened few years ago, as I was finishing my Ph.D and trying to figure out how to position myself professionally and intellectually. I scheduled a series of networking meetings with colleagues and thought leaders in my field. A colleague I had only met once or twice took the time for a long conversation, that was helpful and encouraging, full of praise for my work and my political bravery, but then veered sideways into sexual innuendo and offhand comments about extramarital affairs, went back to professional brainstorming and possible jobs and projects, and ended with a hug that was too close and too long for someone I barely knew.

I was grateful for his help, but uncomfortable. I knew that if I described our meeting, many people would have told me that I was misinterpreting ordinary behavior. Later, when I mentioned to friends that I had met with him, they confirmed my discomfort, telling me that he had a reputation for being “creepy” to women, and for verbally bullying female colleagues in public forums.

I never really followed up on our conversation, and I didn’t pursue the possible collaboration he had mentioned, though it seemed exciting and might have opened professional doors. I didn’t want to work with someone who made me uncomfortable and who had a reputation for treating women as something other than intellectual equals. I moved on.

Careers are built on a combination of skill and talent, education and opportunity, luck and determination, creativity and collaboration; they are not made or broken with a single conversation. But the Pandora’s box that was opened recently made me think about what might have happened if that day had gone differently. If I had felt more comfortable with him, would I have chosen to pursue the research projects he had suggested? Would I have made useful connections, had the opportunity to publish in higher-profile journals, been part of conversations I would have liked to be part of? And just as importantly, would I have had something interesting to contribute to those conversations, brought ideas and perspectives that weren’t otherwise represented?

I find myself wondering, how many women’s ideas have we lost to situations like these? What intellectual contributions have we missed because women’s insights were ignored or silenced or co-opted? What community-changing policies were never pursued because women walked away from professional situations that were uncomfortable or unsafe?

Building an academic career is challenging these days. The corporatization of the university, a political climate that under-values (and un-funds) education and research, and the rise in contingent positions have all been well documented. For many of us, there are the added issues of resume gaps that come from caregiving, and the constraints caused by complicated family situations. Now we can also publicly acknowledge what many of us knew in private, that there was another issue influencing our professional decisions. For far too many women, our complex professional calculations and negotiations had to include whether we felt safe with our colleagues, and how much sexual innuendo or unwanted physical contact was a deal-breaker. This is simply unacceptable. It has to change.

I am now back in my own home, unpacking my mother’s books and papers and adding them to my own library. As I’m putting away 30 years of books by and about Jewish women, I am struck by how much has changed for women since the 1970’s and how much has stayed the same. I keep coming back to Susannah Heschel and Sarah Imhoff’s recent op-ed, Where are All the Women in Jewish Studies, in the Forward, detailing the glaring exclusion of women from high-profile scholarship in Jewish Studies. I have been thinking about Rachel Kadish’s beautiful recent novel, The Weight of Ink, and the lengths her fictional 17th century female scribe must go to in order to pursue a life of the mind; I find myself questioning if we are really so different from her. I am grateful to the women who are now speaking truth to power, after silently carrying these stories for years. And I am pondering all of the complicated ways in which gender has affected my own professional trajectory.

For now, I can’t quite connect the dots between all of these things. I can only sit with my sadness and my anger andmy frustration. I can only hope that, because of the actions of so many brave women and good men, things will someday be different.

Gila Silverman, a 2017 HBI Scholar-in-Residence, is a research associate at The Hadassah-Brandeis Institute, Brandeis University, and a visiting scholar at the Arizona Center for Judaic Studies.

 

Pledging Safety in High Schools Regardless of Sexuality and Gender: The Eshel Pledge

By Lily Fisher Gomberg

Lauren Grobois loved her experience at SAR High School. She loved her teachers and the curriculum, and got along with her classmates well. So on June 12, 2018 when she shared a video testimony imploring SAR High School (among other Modern Orthodox high schools) to take the Eshel Pledge, “It wasn’t me against SAR, it was more me talking to an organization that I know listens to people and also is very caring,” said Grobois, SAR High School, Riverdale, NY class of 2014 and Brandeis University, class of 2019.

The Eshel Pledge is an explicit promise to LGBT+ students that there will be no expulsion, bullying, or reparative therapy, and full inclusion, support, and open admission at Modern Orthodox high schools. Grobois said that her motivation for sharing the pledge on social media was partly to bring attention to the pledge at SAR, but also because “I wanted queer people on my Facebook feed to see that I stand with them, and I stand with this Eshel Pledge, which is important because a lot of times queer students don’t necessarily feel like they can come out in Modern Orthodox spaces, because, even though most of their friends and most of the people around them are so welcoming and so okay with them coming out, nobody really voices that opinion.” Grobois says that she didn’t know anyone who was out of the closet in high school, but she does know of past classmates who have come out since. She also notes that since she graduated, “other students have come out, and the administration has been really great to my knowledge. In general, they’re really welcoming and I think that they understand the situation, but they have not taken this pledge… it’s important that they do.”

The pledge is now being promoted by Eshel, an LGBT+ Jewish advocacy group, but it was not directly developed by Eshel but by Micha Thau, class of 2017 at Shalhevet High School in Los Angeles, CA. Thau wrote in his 2016 article in Jewish Journal that he waited two years in “anxious fear” to come out of the closet at Shalhevet. When he did come out, his experience was much like that which Grobois described, his school and classmates were more accepting than he had expected. After a summer fellowship with Eshel, he decided to sit down with  Shalhevet Head of School Rabbi Ari Segal to create a pledge that would let LGBT+ students know that Shalhevet would accept them. Rabbi Segal even wrote a public article about inclusion of LGBT+ folks in Orthodox schools.

Shalhevet ’07 alum and Brandeis doctoral candidate Benjamin Steiner noted that “it’s probably a bold move for them [Rabbi Segal], and I applaud it.” The pledge was adopted 10 years after Steiner’s graduation from Shalhevet, but he believes that it’s emblematic of Shalhevet’s inclusivity and openness to hearing students opinions. When asked why he believed the pledge wasn’t created sooner, he said that the timing wasn’t right in 2007, “it’s sad that they didn’t have it till now, but I wouldn’t fault them for it.”

The pledge was met with enthusiasm at Shalhevet, and Eshel has decided to take it national. An Eshel representative said that the pledge is timely because “in the past two years, acceptance in the Orthodox community has grown, and schools’ policies don’t necessarily reflect that… this is authentic to orthodoxy. The alumni really believe in this, and we’re just organizing it. The students want this.” Now, Eshel is calling on students, alumni, and parents who have connections to Modern Orthodox high schools to create video testimony and ask their school to take the Pledge. Actually taking the pledge is an end goal, but the immediate goal of these videos is to create dialogue about inclusion and LGBT+ issues in the Orthodox community.     

One current Brandeis student who prefers not to be named recalls that at their Modern Orthodox high school “there was one basically one queer student, and [there were rumors that] they were asked to leave the school if they were going to be out.” They cite this perceived lack of acceptance as a reason why they personally stopped identifying with Orthodoxy. This alum is glad that the pledge is gaining momentum now, and hopes that many schools will adopt it. They are not surprised, however, at the timing in which the pledge is gaining momentum because LGBT+ issues have been “picking up momentum outside the Orthodox community for a long time, [and the pledge is] pretty much in line with how we’re progressing in queer issues… [but] Orthodoxy is always last”

The Orthodox Union didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment on this issue, but they did publish a statement two years ago when gay marriage was legalized in the United States. The statement is expressly anti-gay marriage, saying that marriage is defined in Judaism as a “relationship between a man and a woman,” but also “that Judaism teaches respect for others and we condemn discrimination against individuals.” The statement also expresses strong feelings that the civil liberties of gay marriage should not infringe on the religious liberties of any group which cannot or will not support gay marriage. In the context of the Eshel Pledge, this seems to fit in. The pledge does not ask schools to perform marriages, only to include, support, and protect their LGBT+ students. For Steiner, the most important part of the pledge is the promise of no bullying in the face of “gay expression,” and he says “I would think that even the OU would not want bullying.” Additionally, an Eshel representative pointed out that “the pledge was crafted very carefully to avoid halachic issues” and “what we’re asking is for them to say that a child expressing their identity is not a reason to be bullied or to have to leave the school.”

When asked about the future of the pledge, Grobois pointed out that “most of who this pledge is trying to improve is institutions that are basically there, and just need a bit of a push… the schools that aren’t going to accept it aren’t even the target.”

At this time, Shalhevet High School is the only school to have taken the pledge. Eshel says that there are “several schools interested in the pledge, but none have committed.” If you have a connection with an Orthodox high school, and you would like to sign the petition or make a video in support of the Eshel Pledge, please visit http://www.eshelonline.org/pledge/.

Lily Fisher Gomberg is the summer blogger for Fresh Ideas. She is a rising junior at Brandeis University.

Lehavdil? Distinctiveness and Fluidity in Personal Status Change

By Sylvia Barack Fishman

One of my favorite aspects of Jewish tradition is its recognition of diverse experience. Judaism differentiates between Sabbath and weekday—lehavdil bein kodesh lekhol, and even between Sabbath and holiday levels of holiness—lehavdil bein kodesh l’kodesh. Judaism also differentiates between different kinds of personal status—single, married, engaged, etc.

Sylvia Barack Fishman

Jews, like other societal groups, create memorable ceremonies to mark an individual’s passage from one kind of personal status to another—circumcisions, bar and bat mitzvahs, mikvah immersions, weddings, divorces, mourning rituals.

Human beings do seem to benefit from ceremonies demarcating personal status. Ceremonies ratify profound transitions, whether joyous or sorrowful.  Where such a ceremony does not exist—for example the lack of a Jewish ceremony to celebrate the birth of a child—many complain about its absence.

But there is a downside to personal status categories and demarcation ceremonies. Personal experience may be much more fluid and less defined than the lehavdil categories imply.

Gendered traditions that separate men’s and women’s status in traditional Judaism, for example, have become more fluid in recent decades. Jews studying sacred texts—once a gendered role confined almost exclusively to males—now include girls and woman as well. Jewish communal and religious leadership and public prayer include females in many congregations. In these and other instances, the fluidity of the human experience rather than categorical distinctions between people is the compelling principle.

The personal status transition uppermost in my mind today is the move from full-time employment to a status of “retirement.”

My years both as the Co-Director of the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute (HBI) and as the Joseph and Esther Foster Professor of Contemporary Jewish Life in the Near Eastern and Judaic Studies Department (NEJS) at Brandeis have been years of intense privilege. I use that term not as it is commonly used today—a kind of pejorative aimed at persons obliviously enjoying unearned entitlements—but rather in its traditional Jewish understanding. The Hebrew word for privilege, z’chut, as it is used in classical Jewish texts is not just being fortunate in obtaining something of value. Z’chut also implies having responsibility for something; it is connected to the doing of good deeds as well as to receiving benefits beyond what one’s own good deeds would entitle one to.

It was a privilege to work with Prof. Shulamit Reinharz in the creation of what came to be known as the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute (HBI). I am grateful to Shula for her generosity, warmth, energy, and vision, and I treasure our work together. It makes me happy to think of HBI thriving now in the capable hands and dynamic vision of Dr. Lisa Fishbayn Joffe and an amazing staff. The wonderful Board of HBI has guided us well. Diane Troderman was our first HBI Board Chair, traveling from the Berkshires to attend weekly HBI staff meetings. Our board chairs and board members have been central to our development, including our current devoted chair, Dr. Phyllis Hammer. I look forward to seeing HBI’s new accomplishments unfold.

Similarly, from the start of my NEJS career, I have been privileged to work with colleagues who were excellent role models as well as true helpmeets, enablers and partners. I learned sociology of American Jews from the master, Prof. Marshall Sklare of blessed memory. Jonathan Sarna was NEJS departmental chair and my mentor in my critical early years. My Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies (CMJS) colleague Prof. Len Saxe generously helped me strategize logistics and scientific complexities. The current NEJS department chair, Jonathan Decter, is an exemplary scholar, administrator, and colleague. I have great confidence in him and our generations of young NEJS scholars going forward. My HBI and NEJS colleagues are an astonishingly nice, menschlech, and interesting group of people. It has been a z’chut, a privilege, to work with them.

I was privileged to work with outside colleagues on a series of compelling research projects on Jewish communal life. The first of those associations was with the American Jewish Committee’s Drs. David Singer and Steven Bayme, a relationship of more than three decades beginning with my intermarriage project, in which I analyzed interviews with 254 Jewish and non-Jewish men and women in intermarried, inmarried, and conversionary marriages. I was privileged to write articles and chapters with my cherished and much-missed Israeli colleague Charles Liebman, of blessed memory, with the Jewish Theological Seminary’s Jack Wertheimer (may he live long and prosper), and with the prolific scholar Steven M. Cohen. All my co-authors and research associates have been energetic and fearless; they don’t mind writing about challenging findings. Those relationships have added much richness and dimension to our lives. Not least, it was a privilege to work with my students, helping them find subjects that ignite their passions, helping them develop critical skills, to launch and develop their careers.

My colleagues at NEJS and HBI created a lovely, elegant—and very much appreciated–celebration to mark my change of status from full-time Brandeis employee to Emerita NEJS Professor and HBI Co-Director.

That change of status, however, falls into the category of a fluid, rather than sharply distinguished lehavdil. I look forward to continuing with both the compelling and meaningful work and the deep friendships that made my years at Brandeis such a privileged environment. I hope to continue writing about American Jewish sociology, life, culture and literature. I have already begun to spend more time painting—a lifelong passion that was largely confined to the summer months during the decades of my academic career. I expect that I will also continue teaching. This fall I’ll be initiating an adult education class for HBI and Me’ah Select: “Herstories: Changing Portrayals of Women in Jewish Literature.”

Thus, employment versus retirement status is not a lehavdil bein kodesh lekhol situation. I am not leaving my Brandeis interests behind. Instead for me (and many others) retirement is a condition of fluidity, far closer to the distinction implied by lehavdil bein kodesh l’kodesh. As Emerita, I hope to be privileged to transition from one holy space and time to another.

Sylvia Barack Fishman is the Emerita Joseph and Esther Foster Professor of Judaic Studies
and the former Co-Director of the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute.

HBI Thanks Founding Board Member, Janet Zolot

By Amy Powell

When Janet Zolot announced her retirement earlier this year from the HBI Board of Advisors, it was truly the end of an era for HBI. Zolot, an original board member, has been here for the entire 21-year journey. More than that, she was an integral part of HBI’s founding.

To Zolot, getting involved in Jewish women’s causes came naturally. It was part of her upbringing. Her mother was president of the Philadelphia chapter of Hadassah and her father was president of the Beth Sholom Synagogue in suburban Philadelphia, the only synagogue designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

“I grew up in a world where everyone was involved in doing things for the Jewish community,” said Zolot. “My mother was so positive about her Hadassah involvement that I went to the meetings and ended up as president of Philadelphia Hadassah with 37 groups and 10,000 people. It was quite a responsibility.”

It was during her years as National Hadassah vice-president that Hadassah formed the National Commission on American Jewish Women, an effort to find out what was known about Jewish women. Chaired by Brandeis Professor Shulamit Reinharz, who later became the HBI founding director,  the group tried to answer questions about what concerned American Jewish women, if they felt like part of the Jewish community, if their Jewish identity, Judaism or Israel was meaningful to them and how to address their concerns, strengthen their connections and bring greater Jewish meaning to women’s lives. “It was a really exciting, forward thinking time for National Hadassah,” Zolot noted. The Commission hired Brandeis Professor Sylvia Barack Fishman, who later became HBI’s co-director, to oversee the research.

When the research was to be presented for the first time in public at the General Assembly of the Jewish Federation, Zolot feared that no one would be interested.

“There were 22 concurrent sessions at our time slot and I was about to have a nervous breakdown, thinking no one would come. We had a decent sized room and to my surprise, we had to start bringing in extra chairs. There were over 250 people there and it was really a thrill, just amazing,” Zolot said.

At the time, Shirley Kalb was Hadassah’s director of strategic planning, and Zolot described her as “a brilliant woman who knew everyone in the Jewish community.”  Zolot remembers sitting in Kalb’s New York office with Reinharz and discussing the results after this initial reception. They all believed that too little was known about Jewish women and so much more was needed. Reinharz suggested that they form a research institute to learn more and the result was the founding of the International Research Institute on Jewish Women, (which later changed its name to HBI) at Brandeis University in January 1997. Established with a generous grant from Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America Inc., the IRIJW represented a bold venture for both Brandeis University and Hadassah. It was a natural fit for Zolot, who had been involved from the beginning to continue with HBI, bridging gaps between the Hadassah and HBI.

“Academia had not been part of my life after college and I found it extremely stimulating, Shula had a magical touch, Sylvia brought her unique interests and capabilities and the meetings were always an intellectually stimulating experience. We felt that we were accomplishing something worthwhile.” Zolot said.

Some of the early programs included learning more about Jewish women from Arab lands. The research was presented at the Hadassah National Convention, then replicated in communities through Hadassah chapters. Other programs on Queen Esther and on Jewish fertility issues were researched at HBI and shared through Hadassah.

HBI Director Lisa Fishbayn Joffe said of Zolot, “We are so grateful for the enormous impact she has had on HBI.  She was part of the initial group at Hadassah that initiated Voices for Change and generated the vision and resources for HBI.  In my new role, I often meet women from Hadassah groups around New England who tell me about the excitement of working with Jane on this. She has also been a supporter of many of our innovative programs including the program to bring Scholars in Residence from the former Soviet Union, that has now created a steady pipeline of applicants. Her enormous wisdom will be missed.”

Leslie Gaffin, the current liaison with Hadassah on the HBI Board, said, “Jane has been a pillar of support and knowledge for HBI.  I want to thank her for all the help she gave me as I assumed a board position. Her wise counsel and depth of understanding always led to creative solutions. She was certainly a great role model for me and I am sure for many others. I wish her good health and satisfaction in all her future endeavors.”

Zolot said she felt so proud of the feature story that appeared in Hadassah Magazine, HBI, A Pioneer in Gender Studies, on the 20th anniversary of HBI that she began to consider her retirement. “Now that we have passed our 20th year I feel that it’s time for me to retire from the HBI Board. I was present at creation when Shula, Shirley Kalb z’l and I met in Shirley’s office. I was skeptical but between Shula’s enthusiasm and Shirley’s determination I was swept up in the momentum that proceeded nonstop. It’s been an enriching experience to have been part of the years of innovation and growth and I wish for continued success in the future.”

Amy Powell is the assistant director of HBI.

Meet the 2018 HBI Gilda Slifka Summer Interns

By Lily Fisher Gomberg

Every summer, HBI welcomes interns from across the country and world who complete original research related to the HBI mission of fresh thinking about Jews and gender worldwide and support the work of scholars affiliated with HBI and Brandeis. During the eight-week program, the interns also attend educational lunch sessions with scholars, visit Jewish sites of interest in the Greater Boston area including Mayyim Hayyim, and a walking tour of Jewish Boston. The Gilda Slifka HBI Summer Internship is supported by a generous gift from Gilda Slifka. Meet the 2018 interns and their work.

LILY FISHER GOMBERG is a rising junior at Brandeis University with a major in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies and minors in Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies and History. This summer, she is working on a project about what makes erotica and erotic writing Jewish, and what impact Jewish erotica has on sexuality education for Jews. Gomberg is also the blog assistant at the HBI’s blog, Fresh Ideas,  so keep an eye on the blog for more of her thoughts on Jewish women and gender. After her graduation, Gomberg plans to work on medically-accurate, halachically-acceptable sexuality education programming for pluralistic Jewish day schools, and then attend Reconstructing Judaism to become a rabbi and engage in pastoral counseling. Gomberg hopes that her internship at HBI will give her more depth of understanding of the specific issues facing Jewish Women in an academic sense, and she can’t wait to learn with everyone at HBI.

REBECCA HERSCH is a rising senior at Brandeis University with majors in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies and Sociology, and a minor in Religious Studies. She just returned from a semester abroad in Cape Town, South Africa. This summer, Hersch will begin research on her senior thesis. She is studying the ways that feminist and gender perspectives structure interfaith dialogue, especially in the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, and organization that builds bridges between Jewish and muslim women, and she is seeking to reconsider interfaith dialogue from a feminist perspective. She will also be working with Jenny Sartori of the Jewish Women’s Archive (JWA) on a revitalization project of the online Encyclopedia of Jewish Women at the JWA. After she graduates, Hersch hopes to become a professor of sociology, and study the intersection of Jewish studies with sociology.

NAIMA HIRSCH just completed her third semester at Hunter College with majors in English and Elementary Education and a minor in Women and Gender Studies. This summer, she will follow a passion for poetry that she has had since the age of six. At HBI, she will work on a poetry chapbook with poems about the different ways that she interacts with her identities as a Jew and as a woman. She is excited to explore the ways in which her other identities fall into these categories, and to continue to write poetry. Hirsch will also work with Penina Adelman of the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis on her fictionalized family memoir titled Rebels in the Family. She is currently researching the experience of steerage passengers traveling from Russia to Ellis Island, to help Adelman write about her family’s experience on that voyage. After university, Hirsch hopes to attend rabbinical school, as well as work with Klal Yisrael and teach Torah to children.

LAURA KATZ is a rising senior at Brandeis University with majors in Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies and Theatre Arts, and a minor in Creativity, the Arts, and Social Transformation (CAST). This summer, she plans to research Jewish women and poetry, and analyze Rachel the Poetess’ poetry through the lens of feminist texts and theory. Laura believes that this is important because poetry can save the lives of women, so she believes writing poetry to be a great feminist act. Also at HBI this summer, she will work with Dalia Wassner, a research associate at HBI, on her project Mariana Yampolsky’s Mexican Art: Captured Moments in Latin America’s Socialist Landscape. The project focuses on the Mexican renaissance that occurred after the revolution, and especially on photographer Mariana Yampolsky. It is especially important to Katz because she just returned from a semester abroad in Latin America. After her graduation, Katz hopes to become a reform rabbi and use the pulpit to talk about social issues and to harness the power of the Jewish community. As a rabbi and Jewish educator, Katz also hopes to involve theatre/creative arts skills to help people reconnect with their Judaism.

ARIELLA BECK LEVISOHN is a rising senior at Brandeis University, with majors in Biology, Health Science Society and Policy, and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies. She just returned from Copenhagen, where she spent a semester abroad for Health Science Society & Policy. This summer she will begin work on her senior thesis in the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Department, which will be on sexuality education in Modern Orthodox high schools. Her research at HBI will focus on finding the existing literature and interviews. In the fall, she plans to conduct original interviews. This project is inspired by her high school senior independent project about how her school, Gann Academy, taught sexuality education. She is currently working with a teacher from her high school on a follow-up project for the women’s minyan at Gann Academy. This summer, she will also work with Rabbi Benjamin Samuels of her home congregation, Shaarei Tefillah, on his project Is this Baby Jewish? Rabbinic Law Examines Assisted Reproductive Technologies. The project, which is about assisted reproductive technology and halachic responses, is a perfect intersection of Levisohn’s interests in women’s health and fertility and Judaism. After she graduates, she hopes to work in public health for several years before going back to school for a joint degree in public health and medicine.

SAMANTHA PICKETTE is a Ph.D. candidate at Boston University in the American Studies department, with strong ties to the Elie Wiesel Center for Jewish Studies. Her dissertation is about stereotypes of Jewish women in 20th-century American literature and film, and this summer she plans to write the third chapter. That chapter will focus on three novels written by Jewish women in the 1970s which work to undermine the definition of the “Jewish American princess” and the “Jewish mother” that Philip Roth established and thus give Jewish women a voice. The three books that she will focus on are Sheila Levine is Dead and Living in New York by Gail Parent, The Launching of Barbara Fabrikant by Louise Blecher Rose, and Fat Emily by Susan Ries. This summer, Pickette will also work with Brandeis Professor Sylvia Fishman on her project The Intersection of Gender and Jewishness in The New Wave of American Jewish Writers, which is a series of articles, organized thematically, on younger American Jewish writers who are writing about Jewish topics. After she completes her PhD, Pickette hopes to become a professor to combine her love of reading, writing, and researching with her love of teaching.

ALI SENAL just graduated from Muhlenberg College with majors in Jewish Studies and Theatre, with a concentration in Acting. At HBI, she will continue work on a photostory of Orthodox synagogues based on location of mechitza, and mapping performance of religious identity in Orthodox women. To make her project more accessible, she plans to create a website, as well as short write-ups of pieces of the project. This summer, Senal will also work with Brandeis Professor Laura Jockusch on her project A Victim of Her Time: The Lives of Stella Goldschlag – Gestapo Informer and Holocaust Survivor. This project will ultimately be a memoir of Stella Goldschlag’s life through trials, and argue that Goldschlag was convicted because she was Jewish, because she was a woman, and because the testimony against her was emotional testimony from victims. Senal will contribute to the project by finding literature, and by transcribing the non-German testimonies against Goldschlag. This fall she hopes to work as a Jewish professional, and in the near future she plans to go back to school for a master’s in Jewish studies and a doctorate in performance studies.

ELENA SILESKY just completed her second of three semesters as a master’s student at Brandeis University in the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies program. She is beginning work this summer on her thesis, which will be an oral history of the Sephardic Jewish community in Seattle, WA focusing on the role of the Sephardic women in the community in maintaining traditions and roles. Silesky grew up in this community, although not Orthodox, and she is excited to learn more about the third-largest Sephardic community in the United States. She will also work with Hadassah-Brandeis Institute Director Lisa Fishbayn Joffe to build a class called Jewish Feminisms and Legal Theory. Once Silesky completes her master’s, she hopes to return to Seattle and work either with a non-profit organization or continue with academia.

Lily Fisher Gomberg is the summer blogger for Fresh Ideas. She is a rising junior at Brandeis University. 

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