September 22, 2017

Ruach HaYam: Why We (Still) Need Queer Jewish Space

By Penina Weinberg

A few years ago I started a group in Boston aimed at providing space for LGBTQ Jews to gather for learning and worship in a way that would enable us to bring our full selves to the table.  We named ourselves Ruach HaYam, Spirit of the Sea, after the sea surrounding us in Boston, and for the sea across which Miriam and Moses led the children of Israel.  Ours was not a unique idea at the time, but as we are completing our fifth year at Ruach HaYam, I find it becoming harder, and therefore more essential, to find spiritual community dedicated to queer Jews.

As synagogues open up to LGBTQ Jews and make it apparently less necessary for groups aimed specifically at queer Jews, there is a tendency for queer congregations to become less relevant.  Many synagogues now attract queer Jews through LGBTQ outreach programs or through a greater tolerance of queer Jews (note the word “tolerance” – we’ll get back to that).  There remain specifically LGBTQ synagogues in larger cities, for instance Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in New York and Congregation Sha’ar Zahav  in San Francisco.  Yet in the Boston area, which is no doubt not unusual, the longtime LGBTQ Congregation Am Tikva founded in 1976, has had a falloff in membership. Nehirim, a national organization that provided programming and support for the Jewish LGBTQ community for nearly a dozen years shut down two years ago saying that its work was done.  As reported in the Tablet:

“The decision to close Nehirim highlights a significant shift in the American Jewish LGBT landscape. ‘When Nehirim began in 2004, there were a handful of LGBT synagogues, and only a few truly welcoming congregations outside major metropolitan areas,’ said Jay Michaelson, a Jewish writer and activist who founded Nehirim. ‘[Nehirim] met a pressing need for a place for LGBT Jews to build spiritual community together. In 2015, that need is no longer present outside the Orthodox community.’”

Despite what the Tablet reported, there is a problem. Tolerance and even acceptance is not the same as celebration. Allowing me in the room is not the same as understanding me.  And in fact, there are still many places where that most elemental of rooms, the bathroom, is closed or hazardous for my transgender and non-binary friends.  Wendy Chapkis, Professor of Sociology and Women and Gender Studies at University of Southern Maine, expressed it this way in a 2017 Portland Phoenix interview : “Tolerance doesn’t build community; tolerance doesn’t provide a mirror in which you can see yourself as fierce and fabulous. Queer space does that — and we’re losing those spaces…  We absolutely still need queer space. Gay-bashing and anti-trans violence is a very real threat in the streets.”    Wendy is talking about queer community, not necessarily spiritual community, but what she says is equally relevant for those who wish to be fierce and fabulous and unthreatened at the intersection of LGBTQ and religious identity.

When I was an active participant in the Nehirim community, teaching at two or three retreats each year, I absolutely loved the chance to learn and to practice ritual with other queer Jews.  My queer Jewish identity was celebrated, and the interaction with other queer Jewish seekers fed my soul and deepened my love and understanding of Judaism and diversity. I loved it so much that in 2013 I decided to create a retreat experience in the Boston area, modeled on the Nehirim program.  I did not know then that the Nehirim program was destined to fold, only that I wanted to have deeper connections on a local level.

I gathered a few local friends whom I had met at Nehirim women’s retreats and we founded Ruach HaYam in Boston.  Our purpose was to provide an ongoing and intimate way for local queer Jews to worship and study together.  We began with an annual retreat, we added one or two Shabbat lunch and learns during the second year, and by the end of the third year we added monthly queer Torah study sessions.  Our mantra from the beginning has been inclusion. We worship without a mechitza so as to make less observant Jews comfortable, but with acoustic music only in order to not to drive away those who are more observant.  We serve only kosher food at our annual retreats. We have put together our own inclusive siddur.  Our services and study sessions are warm, meaningful, collaborative, lead to deepening of friendships, and are simply fabulous. More than that, although Ruach HaYam speaks with a queer Jewish voice, we welcome persons of all gender and faith identities. As we complete our fifth year, I can proudly say that we include among our intergenerational members the newly Jewish, Jews by tradition, Christian, secular, pagan, and undeclared, those who are neurodivergent or disabled, with identities across the gender spectrum, including those who do not identify as LGBTQ.  We have evolved into a sort of havurah with two dozen people who come to at least one of our events during the year.

What makes Ruach HaYam work, I believe, is that we have succeeded in creating a community that celebrates and welcomes each identity, whether solid or in formation.  Each person is welcomed in their full and fierce self, not just tolerated. The text study I teach is full of nuance and ambiguity, and as such, we offer a soft space in which to be vulnerable and in transition.  In an era of crystalizing political doctrine, we have a community in which to share “I don’t know” and “I can see many sides.”   When we held our retreat on November 12, 2016, I thought that perhaps people who had been devastated by the election results would stay home and lick wounds.  Instead, we had a full turnout of compassionate souls who learned about journeying to ourselves (Torah Portion Lech Lecha), and who cried and laughed together while we held sacred space for a day.  If ever there was proof of the need for celebratory, not just tolerant, queer Jewish community, this was it.

I am particularly pleased that Ruach HaYam is co-host for Spiritual Sisters: A Poetry Reading by Lesléa Newman and Joy Ladin.  Joy was one of my first teachers at Nehirim and had a significant impact upon my queer Jewish journey and upon my valuation as a teacher for careful listening, story-telling, and compassion for students.  Through the years I have arranged readings for Joy, attended her talks and poetry readings, and attended Shabbatons which she has headlined locally.   The poetry reading by Joy and Lesléa, however, is Ruach HaYam’s first collaboration with HBI, and I hope not the last.


Penina Weinberg, MJLS Hebrew College ‘09, is an independent Hebrew bible scholar whose study and teaching focus on the intersection of power, politics and gender in the Hebrew Bible. She has run workshops for Nehirim and Keshet and has been teaching Hebrew Bible for 10 years. She has written in Tikkun, founded the group Ruach HaYam, where she teaches a monthly queer Torah study, and is president emerita and webmaster at her synagogue. Weinberg is a parent and grandparent.

Finding a Lost Cuisine: The German-Jewish Cookbook


By Gabrielle Rossmer Gropman

I just finished a large batch of ‘krokerle’ from The German-Jewish Cookbook. When chopping the hazelnuts, I automatically went to my mezzaluna, called a ‘wiegemesser’ in German, that antique wood-handled steel half-moon knife that chops expertly. Halfway through this exercise I realized – “Wait a minute, why am I not using my Cuisinart?” Why, indeed?

Most likely, co-authoring this book with my daughter, Sonya, and immersing myself in the history of this cuisine, I connected to the time and place where these cookies originated, where Cuisinarts didn’t exist yet. Besides, the mezzaluna satisfies with a sense of control over each chop.

The recipe comes from one of our favorite elders, Herta Bloch, and we recount in the cookbook the not so successful first time we made them together. She was 92 years old at the time and we visited her small apartment in Washington Heights, N.Y.

We are here to learn how to bake Krokerle – the untranslatable name alone piqued our interest. It is a cookie that is unique to her German-Jewish family, though we could see it resembles the numerous spicy German cookies that are eaten during the Christmas season. It was baked by her mother and exists in Herta’s archive of family recipes.

 We are surprised, and find it hilarious when Herta says, “I have never made these cookies before.” We are here to learn from the wisdom of an old master, only to discover it is her first time! On second thought, we realize it is great, as is adds to the living quality of the food that the “old timer” is learning to make her mother’s recipe for the first time, because of our visit.”

Eventually, we perfected the recipe with Herta’s daughter Marion who learned from her grandmother.  The expertise on this particular recipe appeared to skip a generation. While we didn’t learn the best way to make the krokerle that day, we still learned so much from Herta’s fluid movements in the kitchen and from her knowledge of the deep traditions of the culture we were exploring. She was both a traditional and modern woman all at once. She worked alongside her husband, Alfred, in Block and Falk, their kosher butcher and sausage shop until it closed in the mid 1990’s. Everyone in the community came there to buy sausages and smoked meats.

Sonya, Gaby Gropman

Sonya Gropman (left) and Gabrielle Rossmer Gropman

So, here is our new cookbook. We wrote this book to preserve and document the cuisine of a nearly vanished culture.

In a wonderful review this week in Tablet Magazine, Leah Koenig wrote, “It is hard to overstate the importance of a book like The German-Jewish Cookbook, which the Gropmans hope to have translated into German. It captures a lost moment in time, elevating a rich history and culture that, within a generation, will have almost no one left who experienced it.”

Koenig captured our myriad reasons for writing. When I go back to Germany, the Jews of German origin aren’t there anymore. The history of the expulsion is there, but what came before is not. This was something we needed to do.

Gabrielle Rossmer Gropman, Brandeis ’59, is the co-author, with her daughter Sonya Gropman, of the The German-Jewish Cookbook: Recipes and History of a Lost Cuisine, published in the HBI Series on Jewish Women.




It Takes a Community to Say Kaddish, Especially as a Woman

By Gila Silverman

Everyone who says kaddish for a parent for the full 11-months required by Jewish tradition has stories. Most people have at least one story of being welcomed at a synagogue far from home, feeling supported in their grief by the strangers in the minyan. But for women who say kaddish, there is also another kind of story. Most of us have at least one story of feeling uncomfortable or excluded, of a time when we were forced to confront the deep gendering embedded in Jewish tradition.

For me, ironically, that story happened at an academic Jewish Studies conference.

Mid-way through my year of saying kaddish for my mother, I was attending the Association for Jewish Studies annual conference and I noticed that both egalitarian and “traditional” minyanim were on the schedule. As a single mother, saying kaddish every day was not feasible, but I had made a commitment to say kaddish two to three times each week. I was glad to see that I would be able to fulfill my obligation while traveling to attend the conference. I was also curious – what would minyan be like in this academic setting? Who would show up? Would anyone show up?

I had breakfast meetings in the mornings, so I could not attend the shaharit minyan, but at the appointed time for minhah, I left a session and made my way to the designated minyan room. Disappointingly, only three people showed up for the egalitarian minyan – all of us looking for a place to say kaddish. Several men wearing kippot were standing in the hallway, trying to gather people to make the “traditional” minyan, and they kindly invited us to join them in the room next door. I explained to them that I was saying kaddish, and asked if that would be a problem for anyone. I knew that some Orthodox men would not want me to say the kaddish out loud, and I knew that if I joined their minyan, I would do so in a way that respected their minhag. They welcomed me and said that was more than fine.

But when we entered the room, I realized that a floor-to-ceiling black curtain had been set up as a mehitzah, enclosing the “women’s section” from three sides (with the back wall of the room as the 4th side). I wanted to respect the more observant expectations of this minyan, but I also knew that I could not say kaddish while standing behind an opaque curtain that separated me completely from the community that would say “Amen”. Feeling slightly queasy, I quietly asked those who had welcomed me if I had to sit behind the curtain, and asked if they would feel comfortable if I sat in the back of the “men’s section”. With their agreement, I quietly pulled a chair out from behind the curtain and sat in the back corner of the room. The other woman who was also saying kaddish did the same. Although we received several confused glances, no one said anything to us, and when we stood to say kaddish, I thought I felt a collective nod of understanding and support in the Amen’s that answered us.

I left the room shaking slightly, realizing later that not only had the male mourner not needed to clarify that he could be there, but that he was also asked to lead the service, while I – if I had not spoken up – would have davenned invisibly behind a thick black barrier. Outside of that room, these men and I were peers and colleagues, sharing our scholarship and debating ideas at a professional meeting. But inside that room, I was clearly not equal.

The next afternoon, the same thing repeated. This time there were only two of us for the egalitarian minyan, and we quickly again joined the traditional one. Once again, with a nod at those who had welcomed me the day before, I moved a chair out from behind the thick curtain and respectfully and quietly sat in the back corner. This time, the other female mourner wasn’t there, but there were several Orthodox women. They came in, looked at me, looked at the curtain, and went to sit behind the curtain, leaving me alone in my corner. This triggered such mixed feelings – I completely respect their right to pray in whatever place they feel most comfortable, and yet I also felt abandoned by those who could have supported me. There were more men that day too, and – based on their dress and davenning style – more of a range of observance. I received more confused glances, although again no one asked me to move. I realize now that those women and men may have thought that I was intentionally violating the norms in order to make a political point. But that was far from my truth. I simply wanted to honor my mother, in the presence of community, as required by Jewish tradition.

I felt uncomfortably self-consciousness – whether from my own internalized perceptions and fears, or because of the looks I received, I can’t say. I felt like an interloper and an outsider, instead of a member of the community. When it came time for kaddish, I very quietly joined in and then quickly left the room. One of the men who had so warmly welcomed me the day before came after me, to tell me that they would be doing ma’ariv in about 15 minutes, if I wanted to come back. He must have seen the confusion on my face, because he added, “I know you’re saying kaddish, so I wanted to make sure you know that we’re also doing ma’ariv.” I mumbled something about having to meet a colleague, and walked away, but his small gesture almost brought me to tears. He could not have known of my inner turmoil at that moment, but he recognized the importance of what I was doing and wanted to help make it happen.

As an anthropologist, I’m trained to look for the layers of cultural meaning hidden in even the smallest social encounter. There is so much hidden and revealed in this story, so many different ways I could interpret it. What struck me most at first, was my own visceral and embodied reaction – the nausea and shaking that accompanied my decision to move my chair and to stand in that room of men, as I honored my mother’s memory by reciting the kaddish out loud. Later, as I thought more about what happened, and collected more stories from other women who chose to take on the kaddish obligation, I reflected on the social issues underlying this experience.

Previous generations of Jewish feminists, including my mother, fought for the right to say kaddish. While in most American Jewish circles, we have won this fight, we have yet to change the social structures that make that kaddish possible. Most minyanim are at times when parents of young children are getting them off to school, or making dinner and dealing with after-school activities, homework and bedtime. Because these home and parenting activities are still primarily women’s work, this makes daily attendance at minyan, which is required to say kaddish, particularly complicated, if not impossible.

In addition, most members of the liberal American Jewish denominations do not see daily prayer as a religious obligation.  Many non-Orthodox synagogues do not have a daily minyan and finding an egalitarian minyan in which to regularly say kaddish presents another layer of challenge. Where I live, in Tucson, Arizona, for example, there are 10 congregations, but only one that has an egalitarian daily minyan where I could say kaddish. And there too, like at AJS, there were often days when not enough people showed up to make an egalitarian minyan possible. At AJS, it was the Orthodox men who showed up to daven, the Orthodox men who already had the siddur app downloaded on their phones, who came prepared to lead a service if asked, and who knew that it is their obligation to show up for the minyan – both for their own religious observance and to ensure that the minyan is complete for those who need it.

I learned many things during my year of kaddish. I learned that Judaism provides a rich and beautiful set of rituals to guide us in our grief. I learned that we never stop missing those we love, and that Judaism reminds us – through kaddish and yahrzeits and yizkors – that remembering them is an integral part of continuing to live. And I learned that we need each other.  Like so many Jewish traditions, saying kaddish cannot be done without a community. We need others to say “Amen” to our kaddish, and we need others to make the minyan in which that kaddish can be said.

As women, and as Jewish feminists, we, and our allies, have a responsibility to be there for each other. Those before us demanded the right for women to say kaddish, and to mourn our dead in the full way prescribed by our tradition. Now it is up to us to make sure that it is possible to do so without feeling uncomfortable or unwelcome. We need to make sure that egalitarian minyanim are available everywhere – in our own communities and in the places we visit. We need to show up, with an egalitarian siddur downloaded on our phone, prepared to lead a service if asked, and know that it is our obligation to ensure that the minyan is complete for those of us who need it.

Gila Silverman is a 2017 HBI Scholar in residence. A cultural anthropologist working at the intersections of religion, medicine and healing, she is currently affiliated with the Department of Religious Studies and the Arizona Center for Judaic Studies.


Clear Water, Clear Thinking

By Elana Luban

When I first heard about the annual Gilda Slifka summer intern’s trip to Mayyim Hayyim, I wasn’t quite sure what could be groundbreaking or ideologically feminist about a mikveh. My first two mikveh trips shaped my life and my Jewish identity. But since I was seven years old, I’d only been to a mikveh to kasher dishes, and the trips didn’t feel very special.

This trip was entirely different.

As a two-time convert to Judaism — I had a Conservative conversion at the age of four and an Orthodox conversion at seven, both with my mother — I realized I had not, since early childhood, come near a mikveh designated for conversion.

Years have passed since I took those life-altering steps into the clear waters of the mikveh; I have questioned and re-questioned my identity as an ultra-Orthodox Jew, turning to Modern Orthodoxy and several other branches of Judaism (along with brief periods of time doubting whether religion held any validity at all) to try to understand Judaism and my relation to it.

Elana Luban at Mayyim Hayyim.

From the minute I entered the garden surrounding the beautiful Mayyim Hayyim building, it occurred to me that this very well might be a place that would play a part in my search for the form of Judaism that felt truest. I also realized that this was a place whose aim was to make visitors feel completely at ease, both physically and spiritually. Leeza Negelev, the Associate Director at Mayyim Hayyim and our guide for the day, showed us into the building, gave us a warm welcome, and sat down with us to learn about the Biblical and historical contexts of mikveh-related practices.

Although I had always known that water was a central symbol in the Torah and Judaism, it had not occurred to me that in the story of Creation, God’s presence is described as “resting over the water,” even before the rest of creation takes place. Negelev went through many other similar examples with us, demonstrating that water was always at the heart of our tradition, from wells serving as meeting places for our matriarchs and patriarchs, to Moses’ strong connection with water which finally culminates in his ability to perform the miracle resulting in our people’s freedom.

Then, first in pairs and later as a group, we went into more depth in our study of niddah and the mikveh itself. Tahara, traditionally (as well as in my own experience), has always been translated as “ritual purity” or “cleanliness,” but as Negelev explained to us, is translated at Mayyim Hayyim as “ritual readiness” since the process of niddah has nothing to do with physical cleanliness at all, but rather with the passage of time. In addition, we delved into the verses discussing “zav” and “zava” (female and male discharge) and the differences in how the text addresses men and women. Then, we studied the troubling obligation for men not to “come close” to their wives during the niddah period — the woman seeming to hold no responsibility for herself — yet the final verses state that if laws of niddah are transgressed, both the husband and wife will be “cut off from Israel.”

We discussed how different Jewish women feel empowered by mikveh rituals, seeing this commandment and this environment as a “women’s space.” Other women women feel oppressed by these laws, and still others have reclaimed this ancient custom in a way that allows them to feel spiritually invested in it. We spoke about the diverse groups of people welcomed at Mayyim Hayyim, those identifying with the LGBTQIA community as well as same-sex couples who wish to access the unique spiritual opportunity that niddah offers, and we discussed the choice of some male same-sex couples to whom the biological processes requiring niddah obviously don’t apply but who recognize the unique opportunities of appreciation and rejuvenation and create symbolic niddah-times of separation.

As we learned, I had been feeling a mounting sense of inspiration, but I think it reached its peak when we entered the beautiful sunlit mikveh rooms, each containing one clear pool, with stone channels leading outside to allow rainwater to mix with the pool-water. Blue sky seeped in through skylights and large windows and gave every part of this area an airy feel. Even the texture of the wood and stone inside made the interior feel like a part of nature.

I walked up to one of sunlit pools and knelt down to touch the water. It was as clear as I wished my beliefs about Judaism could be. Flipping through the pages of the pamphlet we were given, looking at plaques and paintings on the walls, talking to the other interns about the meaning of everything we saw, I felt an old sense of spiritual connection come back again. But as often happens, old feelings don’t return unless a new depth has been added to them. For me, this new component was Mayyim Hayyim’s priority of inclusion — in their own words, petichut (one of Mayyim Hayyim’s Seven Principles of Common Purpose): “Access and availability for all Jews and those becoming Jewish. Mayyim Hayyim strives to be inclusive of those who wish to learn and/or immerse, regardless of sexual orientation, physical/developmental ability, or background.”

I learned on this trip that Judaism can be different, it can be accepting — even in its most ancient traditions. To me, that was really important.  Until recently, I had not heard the words “pluralistic” or “egalitarian” in Jewish contexts, and Mayyim Hayyim was the first place where I had heard “egalitarian” used in the context of something as fundamentally Jewish and Halacha-rooted as ritual immersion. It was an important moment to realize that Mayyim Hayyim or Judaism can be accepting of anybody who wants to participate, that they are offering privacy and respect for what can be an extremely personal experience. I’m used to lots of rules — after all, that’s the kind of community I was raised in — but I got to witness the reclaiming, the taking ownership, of this one. The only thing that surprises me is that this sort of mikveh is a fairly rare phenomenon. I have no doubt that many communities, both in the United States and Israel, would benefit from experiences like the one Mayyim Hayyim has to offer.  

My only hope is that I’m able to hold on to this inspiration.

Elana Luban  is an HBI Gilda Slifka summer intern and a junior at Stern College for Women.

Meet the 2017 Interns

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 2017 interns and their work.

GabyBucayGabriela Bucay is a recent graduate of Yale University in New Haven, CT where she majored in Fine Art with a concentration in painting and printmaking. At HBI, Bucay will engage in a creative project exploring Jewish attitudes towards cosmetic surgery as a gendered practice. Bucay hopes to respond to rabbinic commentary which disproportionately allows for and encourages women to make surgical alterations to their appearance but forbids men to do the same on the grounds that cosmetic surgery is a “feminine practice”. Bucay is also interested in the modern representation and or erasure of women’s “Jewish” features in popular culture.
Born in Mexico City and raised in San Antonio, Texas, Bucay has grown up with a strong interest in Latin American Jewish communities and their diasporas. Through her work with Dalia Wassner, Ph.D, she will research this topic, focusing on the life of Mariana Yampolsky, investigating the artist’s ties to her religious and national identities. Though born to Russian Jewish immigrant parents in Chicago, Yampolsky moved to Mexico City and joined the socialist movement, going on to become one the nation’s most notable photographers of indigenous groups. In her spare time, Bucay enjoys dancing, traveling, and baked goods.

ruthfertigRuth Fertig, originally from Bloomington, Indiana, just graduated from Brandeis University. She will be making aliyah, moving to Israel,  in August 2017 and plans to serve in the IDF. At Brandeis, Fertig completed an independent major in Gender and Social Policy and a major in Music through a Cultural Studies track. This summer she is doing a project on independent Israeli pornography –“homemade/indie” pornography being made currently, which features more marginalized groups. Since the Internet has allowed anyone to create, produce, and distribute pornography and provided greater access to greater variety, there has been a rise in gay male porn, and most of Israeli porn and cinema work seems to focus on machismo masculinity. Fertig is interested in examining how the Internet allows greater representation and access, and looking at the representations of gender and masculinity in modern “indie” pornography from the perspective of Israeli film studies and Jewish sexuality. She is also working with Janet Freedman, Ph.D. on two projects: helping Freedman write a pamphlet for the Academic Engagement Network on feminism and Zionism, as well as making a crowdsourced glossary of terms that are commonly used by activists and the meanings they are given by activists. In her spare time, Fertig loves to sing, draw, and watch movies and television, confessing to a bit of a film habit. She especially loves to see showings of  old/indie/experimental films in old theaters, and admits there’s a part of her that wants to drop everything and spend the rest of her life writing about audiovisual media.

Lindsey Jackson is a doctoral student at Concordia University in Montreal, in Religious Studies with a research focus on contemporary Canadian and American Jewish practice. She is writing her dissertation specifically on Jewish parents who are choosing not to circumcise. She also holds B.A. and M.A. degrees from Concordia in Religious Studies. During her time at HBI, Jackson will complete an article on brit milah in LindseyJacksonpopular culture and submit the article for publication. She is also working with Professor and Rabbi Jane Kanarek of Hebrew College to examine a portion of tractate Arakhin, as found in the Babylonian Talmud. This research will contribute to the production of a complete feminist analysis of Arakhin for inclusion in the Feminist Commentary on the Babylonian Talmud, an ongoing scholarly project conceived by Professor Tal Ilan, of the Freie Universität Berlin. In her free time, Jackson likes to run, do yoga, learn to cook vegetarian foods in creative ways, travel and spend time with her dog, Riley.

ElanaLubanElana Luban is a junior at Stern College for Women, part of Yeshiva University in New York, where she is majoring in psychology with plans to become an occupational therapist. At HBI, Luban works with Amy Powell, Communications Director, as a blog assistant for Fresh Ideas from HBI. Her blogs will be based on prior and ongoing experiences within the Jewish community, coupled with new material from research and interviews, and the activities of the HBI Gilda Slifka Summer Internship to develop blog articles with themes that lie at the intersection of gender and Judaism. For her independent research project, Luban, a Jew by choice, plans to create a piece of art by researching Jewish conversion and personal accounts of female converts to Judaism. Her art piece will reflect identity confusion and resolution central to the experiences of female converts. Even in her free time, Luban enjoys writing including poetry, short stories and articles for the Yeshiva University newspaper. She also loves playing guitar, especially the Russian songs which are such a large part of her family culture. Luban’s entire family emigrated from Russia, but she was born in the U.S.

ginamalagoldGina Malagold is a third year doctoral student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst studying Spanish. She holds at B.A. in Spanish literature and an M.A. in Latin American Studies from the University of Wisconsin Madison.  At HBI, her independent project is to examine Jewish community in Mexico, in early the 20th century, specificaly Sephardic and Ashkenazi encounters. She is also working with  Dalia Wassner, Ph.D. to research Mariana Yampolsky and her role in socialist circles in Mexico. Yampolsky was an important photographer, but there is little published on her. Malagold will start intitial research on Yampolsky’s role as transnational Jewish woman. In her spare time, Malagold dances salsa and flamenco, runs and enjoys cooking Argentine food. She also taught Spanish composition and language at UMass and worked as a Spanish oral historian at the Yiddish Book Center’s Wexler Oral History Project in Amherst, Mass. Next semester, she will be a visiting member of the faculty at the University of Granada. Her family is from Uruguay.

JulieSharffJulie Sharff, from DeLand, Florida, is a rising junior at Florida State University. Sharff is majoring in Religious Studies and minoring in History/Herstory. While at HBI, Sharff is researching Yentl the Yeshiva Boy by Isaac Bashevis Singer as an example of Yiddishkeit’s creation of the potentiality for a queer culture in Judaism. She will be looking into the ways that Yentl/ Anshel performed gendered roles ultimately identified as neither male nor female. Sharff will use Mishnaic texts that set precedent for “typical” female behaviors and compare the ways that Yentl either portrays these standards or contradicts them. Sharff is also working with Penina Adelman, M.A. MSW, researching her fictionalized memoir by collecting information about the intersection of women and the early Hasidic movement in Eastern Europe. In Sharff’s free time,  she is reading the Harry Potter series for the first time. She also loves playing with dogs and eating popcorn but not at the same time.

Noaem Shurin is a rising junior at Brandeis University majoring in Afro and African American Studies and minoring in Legal Studies while still considering an Economics major. She will research different methods of sex education in private Jewish educational institutions and try to compile a sex education pamphlet that is both blunt and kosher. Because private schools don’t always have to abide by the state rules of sex education that are usually stricter than Shurin believes they should be, they often don’t use that freedom to help their students. Shurin is also working with Professor Joyce Antler on the completion of her book on Jewish women’s experiences in radical feminist movements of the 1970’s. In her  free time, she likes debate and is on the Brandeis Debate Team,  practicing some evenings to be ready for fall.

Prepared by Elana Luban, HBI blog intern and Amy Powell, HBI Communications Director. 

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