October 22, 2021

Marcia Freedman’s Life Showed That Change is Possible

By Orly Nathan

Note: Marcia Freedman, a former member of the Israeli Knesset, and one of the founders of the feminist movement in Israel in 1970’s, passed away on Sept. 21, 2021. Best known for her activities related to reproductive rights and the elimination of violence against women, Freedman also tackled other controversial issues such as secret arms deals with Apartheid-era South Africa, legalization of soft drugs, teenage prostitution, incest, and breast cancer. She was one of the first to raise the issue of  LGBT rights and put it on the agenda of Israeli politics. Freedman, as a radical feminist, recognized very early on “the decisive role of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the development Israeli feminism,” as noted in her book, Exile in the Promised Land.

I am the Elaine Reuben ‘63 HBI Jewish Feminism Collections Scholar in Residence at HBI this semester and my research is focused on the Marcia Freedman archive in the Brandeis University Jewish Feminism Collections, one of the two sites to which Freedman bequeathed her private collections. The archive ranges from the start of her activity in Israel until the 2000’s. Freedman’s papers are also held at the Feminist Archive at the Research Center of ‘Woman to Woman’ organization (Isha l’Isha) where she was one of the founding mothers. It is part of a collaborative partnership with Brandeis. 

I came here to explore the history of Israeli feminism, or rather the “herstory” that is still unfolding, relevant and contemporary, and should be learned so that it will continue to inspire the ongoing feminist activity of today. Right now, my aim is to gain a deeper understanding of Freedman’s thorough, dedicated work and her ability to see clearly and soberly, even at that time in Israel when there were structures of oppression and exploitation in all spheres of life (especially militarism and nationalism).  My goal is to put Freedman, along with her friends in the “Movement for the Liberation of Women,” on the public agenda in order to bring about some of the changes they started.

Marcia Freedman, younger Born and raised in Newark, NJ, to Anne (Silver) Prince, a homemaker, and Philip Prince, a union organizer, Freedman always admired her father’s path and dedicated her memoir Exile in the Promised Land to her father, “whose example I have largely followed.”  She graduated from Bennington College in 1960, earned an MA in philosophy from Brooklyn College, and took part in the civil rights movement. She married Bill Freedman, a lecturer in English, and gave birth to their daughter, Jennifer. In 1967 the family immigrated to Israel, where Freedman taught philosophy at the University of Haifa. Her personal revolution occurred in 1970, after her father commit suicide. Following this personal crisis, Freedman’s depression and accumulated anger sent her back to the feminist books she had purchased in New York and hidden from her husband. In her book, Exile in the Promised Land, she wrote: 

Reading and studying “were not theoretical learning about a new social cause. It was about me, and my entire life was in question. Why do I do all the housework? Did I really ever choose to become pregnant? …. Why did I take on Bill’s name when we married… Why am I the only woman in the philosophy department? Why am I unable to finish my doctorate?… My friend’s Ph.D. document hangs on her kitchen wall, above the sink, where she can look at it each evening while she does the dishes. Such moments are historical markers of developing feminist consciousness.”

Freedman realized that anger is a rational response to oppression; that an imbalance of power determined her relationship with her husband, child, and colleagues at the university. She learned that like all oppressed peoples, women would have to resist and fight back, not individually but collectively. Slowly she began to gather around her a group of women, first in Haifa and later throughout the country, who shared her feminist perspectives and created the consciousness-raising groups that became the foundation of the women’s liberation movement in Israel in 1972.

In the post-war elections of 1973, the movement helped Shulamit Aloni, a left-wing champion of civil liberties, and her Ratz party (a forerunner of today’s Meretz ), known as the Civil Rights Movement, gain three seats in the Knesset. Freedman was third on the list (so was not considered likely to win a seat) and became an MK. She was chosen by Aloni, who in those years was the familiar public face of the new feminist movement. As a member of the Israeli parliament, Freedman was a voice of women’s issues and put a variety of topics which were violently silenced at the time (and even today) on the legislative agenda. It took her more than two years to make history when she convened the first Knesset session dedicated to domestic violence against women in 1976.

In the Brandeis archives, I have found the Freedman’s thorough notes and data on the extent of violence against women from the Women’s organization – WIZO and the Citizen Counseling Service. She published ads in all the newspapers and asked women to write testimonies about their husbands’ violence. The letters came in the dozens from all over the country and from women of all social classes. The descriptions were horrifying, but what mostly caused the women’s sense of helplessness was the disregard, contempt, disbelief and abandonment of the establishment, especially the police and the rabbinical courts. All of them described feelings of shame trying to hide the terror they lived in from their families. Most even wrote suggestions and ideas of ways to deter husbands from violence.

Marcia Freedman’s brilliant and brave speech in the Knesset was constantly interrupted by chauvinistic, offensive shouts, trying to deny the very existence of this widespread phenomena. The police minister said the police ‘couldn’t interfere in a married couple’s relationship’ and demanded that the issue be stricken from the agenda. But, Freedman gained a majority of votes in the Knesset so that her proposal was able to advance to the agenda of the Interior Committee. This was first public acknowledgement in Israel of family violence of against women.

In a news-obsessed country such as Israel, the commotion reached every household. As a young schoolgirl, it had a profound impact on my identity, views, and future activism. During the debate, Freedman and her colleagues presented recommendations for the proper handling of women’s complaints. One important recommendation – not yet implemented to this day – was the appointment of a female social worker to accompany the plaintiff women to court in domestic violence cases. 

Freedman was the first to propose the establishment of a shelter for battered women. Following the debate, the police created a special research team, and the subject was supposedly transferred to a special subcommittee, but there is no record of this subcommittee having ever met, and no report was ever issued. The government fell in February of 1977 and all the Knesset committees were dissolved with no further action. Freedman said in an article published in Ynet 2007:

 “My idea was to set up a shelter for battered women and show that the phenomenon exists, and not turn the shelters into places of treatment. In my opinion, the treatment should be separated from the fight against violence. Battered women should be given much better conditions than those they have in shelters.” 

Document from the Marcia Freedman archive

Courtesy of Brandeis Special Collections, Marcia Freedman papers

Freedman is perhaps best known for her role in promoting reproductive rights for Israeli women. One of the important events that Freedman initiated was a protest at the annual conference of gynecologists in 1976, titled “Ethical Aspects of Birth Planning.” At the Tel Aviv Hilton, 11 women protestors carried signs calling for legalizing abortion and giving women autonomy over their bodies. A gynecologist threw a pitcher of water at her, including the pitcher itself. Freedman said that the doctors opposed the liberalization of abortion laws and at the same time profited from performing illegal abortions. Police officers violently dispersed the demonstration.

Two opposing proposed laws were discussed at the time: a conservative law leaning towards religious leaders’ views, and another proposed by Freedman and Nitza Libai-Shapira, based on the U.S. Roe V. Wade model. Freedman prepared for the hearings as though defending a doctoral thesis. I have found her draft paper among the folders in the Brandeis archives. This is the a quote from the opening paragraph: Power, Ethics, and Abortion –  It would be misleading, at the very least, to discuss the ethical aspects of abortion without first considering the politics of female biology. … The arguments about abortion can only be understood in the context of its meaning to men and to women in terms of power…”

The conservative law proposal, that women could not have abortions without the approval of a committee, was eventually adopted with minor amendments, however in the long run the criteria became more flexible. Yet even today, Israeli woman do not have the right to decide, and they must face a committee with the authority to approve or deny abortion. Freedman advocated for free abortions without a committee decision, without conditions during the first trimester, and with support for women from social workers and medical professionals. 

In her 40s, after Freedman left the Knesset, she divorced her husband and publicly came out as a lesbian. Back in Haifa, with other feminist friends, she got busy. In addition to the first shelter for battered women, they opened a feminist center and bookstore, “Kol Ha’isha”.  Books, Freedman recalled, “were a very central tool for promoting feminism in Israel.” Some of the books were later found to be tagged under “Sex” in Steimatzky, Israel’s leading bookstore, she said. 

In 1977, Freedman co-founded the Women’s Party that ran in the Knesset elections, but did not win any seats. The platform of the party in English and Hebrew can be found in the Brandeis Feminism Collection and the Feminist Archive at the Research Center of ‘Woman to Woman.’

Freedman came back to the United States in 1981 and settled in Berkeley, CA. She returned to Israel for extended stays from 1997 to 2002, helping to co-found the Community School for Women, which offered courses in women’s studies and employment skills to underserved women, and was involved over the years in a wide array of social and political initiatives in U.S. and Israel, including Bat Shalom and Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, a pro-peace group that merged into the J Street lobby in 2010; and the Gun Free Kitchen Tables (GFKT) Coalition, working for stricter gun control in Israel. 

A year ago, at a Zoom meeting, Hannah Safran asked Freedman how she sees the past 50 years. Freedman replied: “I’m 82. Looking back, I feel grateful. I had an interesting life, I had a meaningful life, I had a very good life.”

May Her Memory Be A Revolution

Learn more about Nathan’s work on Marcia Freedman papers in the Brandeis Feminism Collections during her seminar, She Knows: Using the Brandeis Feminist Collection Archives to Explore the History of Israeli Feminism, on November 1 at 12:30 pm EST. Please register for this event. Zoom links will be sent at least 24 hours prior to the event via email.

Orly Nathan is the Elaine Reuben ‘63 HBI Jewish Feminism Collections Scholar in Residence. She is an Information professional and a feminist activist. She is the chief information specialist of She Knows (Yoda’at).” at the Samuel Neaman Institute at the Technion.

Elaine Reuben, Brandeis ’63, is a member of the HBI Board of Advisers. 



Bene Appetit – Cuisine of Indian Jews

By Esther David

 When my book ‘Bene Appetit – Cuisine of Indian Jews,’ was published by HarperCollins, readers wanted to know why I decided to write it. My answer is very simple. There are 5,000 Jews in India, down from about 30,000 at the peak in the mid-1950s and 1960s. When a community decreases in numbers, its traditional food starts to disappear. With this book, I have tried to preserve the heritage of Indian Jewish cuisine because food is memory and culture. Food is connected with the bonding of families and communities. Food is part of our childhood. 

The Jewish community has been living in India since 75 CE and comprises a tiny but important part of the population. Many Jews settled in India after fleeing coastal areas of what is now Israel after the fall of King Solomon’s second temple. They sought  to avoid persecution from the Greeks. I used the word ‘Bene’ in the title of the book, as it means ‘Children of Israel’ in Hebrew. 

There are five Indian Jewish communities – the Bene Israelis of western India, the Bnei Menashe Jews of Northeast India, the Bene Ephraims of Andhra Pradesh, the Baghdadi Jews of West Bengal, and the Cochin Jews of Kerala. Despite living in different corners of India, they are still bound by the common thread of food and religion. Over the years, members have stuck to the dietary laws and integrated Indian habits with their customs, leading to some unique ceremonies and rituals that have been passed down from one generation to another. However, with modernization and immigration, many of the traditions and recipes are fast being forgotten, hence the need to preserve them. 

My narrative began as a journey to the five main centers of Indian Jewish life. This all became possible when I received support from HBI for the project in the form of 2016 HBI Research Award to study Indian Jewish food traditions. Since most Jews who came to India were fleeing persecution, they came to India through different routes and settled in different regions; choosing coastal areas. It was fascinating to note that Indian Jews of these five regions have different facial characteristics. When I photographed them, they became like a kaleidoscopic collage of contrasts and colors. Yet, a common thread bonds them together —  their belief in Jewish traditions, rites, rituals, lifestyle and the dietary laws. I also discovered how Indian Jews preserve their food customs in a multicultural country like India, which has diverse food habits. 

One of the uniting features of the Jewish Indian cuisine is the adherence to dietary law, much like many Jews of the diaspora. Jews do not mix milk with meat dishes and keep separate vessels for both. As yogurt is made with milk, and ghee (clarified butter) is used almostly daily in Indian homes, many Jews are vegetarians. It is also hard to find kosher meat due to a shortage of shohets (kosher meat slaughterer). Indian Jews have derived ways and means of using the correct regional ingredients to make festive food. Each community has a different culinary method, which is influenced by regional Indian cooking along with a distant memory of their country of origin. 

I observed that each community had a different way of following the dietary law and rules of kashrut in their food habits. Yet there is a common thread which links each Jewish community to the other. Indian Jews who eat meat follow the law by not mixing dairy products with meat dishes. They have fish with scales and a taboo on pork. With meat dishes, they prefer to end their meals with fruit. As a substitute to dairy products, Indian Jews use coconut milk to make curries and sweet dishes. 

 Most Indian Jews live close to bodies of water, which influences their cuisine. They live around sea-shores, lakes and rivers and have a preference for fish and rice. Before, Indian Jews took to the urban way of life and moved to cities, they were farmers and owned paddy fields, along with coconut and banana plantations. The Bene Israel Jews were oil-pressers, but did not work on the Sabbath and were known as ‘Saturday-Oil-People.” They settled in Maharashtra near the Arabian Sea. In Gujarat, Jews settled along rivers. Cochin Jews chose the Kerala coastline. While Baghdadi Jews first arrived in coastal Surat in Gujarat, they moved to Mumbai and eventually settled in Kolkata, along the Hooghly River in west Bengal. Bene Ephraim Jews chose the seashores of Andhra Pradesh, while Bene Menashe Jews of Mizoram and Manipur chose lakes and mountains. 

An important factor of Indian Jewish cuisine is that many festive and ceremonial foods are made by the women at home or at the synagogue, under the guidance of a woman who knows the recipes. For example, kosher wine is not available in India so dried-grape-sherbet is made for shabbat and festivals. The sherbet, (see recipe below) a traditional recipe for the end of Shabbat or Yom Kippur, is typically made with the women soaking black currants in a vessel of water and washing them, while the men crush, strain and bottle the sherbet. Men also tend to offer glasses of sherbet to the congregation at the end of the Shabbat or Yom Kippur prayers.

Challah was available at a Jewish bakery in Kolkata for Baghdadi Jews, but not elsewhere. So, Indian Jews tend to make flat bread or buy freshly baked white bread or buns. More recently, some women have learned to bake their own challah. In the same way, Indian Jewish women make flat-bread matzo for Passover along with charoset from dates and other ceremonial foods.

 Indian Jews are proficient in English and regional languages, but chant their prayers in Hebrew. Since most Jews have immigrated to Israel, those remaining celebrate festivals together at the synagogue or at a rented hall and eat together like one big family. 

To learn more about the recipes and customs of Indian Jews, read Bene Appetit which is available online or from your local bookseller. 


Grape Juice Sherbet Recipe (traditional at the end of Shabbat or Yom Kippur prayers)


500 grams (two generous cups) dried black seedless grapes 

One liter water

Sugar to taste (optional)


Wash the dried black seedless in a colander until clean. Soak them in a bowl of water from early morning to late afternoon (seven to nine hours). Then process in a mixer, strain through a thin muslin cloth or fine mesh strainer, bottle and refrigerate. 

At sunset, the sherbet is poured into a goblet for the Kiddush prayers. The person who says the Kiddush sips sherbet from the goblet and passes it to a family and friends present. Sometimes, smaller shot glasses are filled with sherbet for guests. The sherbet stays fresh in the refrigerator for two days. Indian Jews make this sherbet because kosher wine is unavailable. 

Esther David is a Jewish Indian author and illustrator, and part of the Bene Israel Jewish community of Ahmedabad. Her 2008 book, Shalom India Housing Society, was published in the Reuben/Rifkin Jewish Women Writers Series, a legacy project of HBI and Feminist Press. Her novel, The Book of Rachel, received the Sahitya Akademi Award for English Literature in 2010. She received a Hadassah-Brandeis Institute Research Award in 2016 for this research. 


Welcoming a New Year: A Note from the Director

This week, we begin another year of new and unexpected challenges. While we may be disappointed that we again need to adapt our plans to the exigencies of covid, there is no denying the exhilaration many of us feel to be back on campus in person and together virtually through our many new online forums. 

HBI remains committed to our mission of supporting and sharing research at the intersection of Jewish Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies from a broad inter-disciplinary perspective. This term, we will welcome a new cohort of in person, hybrid, and virtual scholars in residence: Marla Brettschneider on Jewish feminist political thought, Ayelet Brinn on gender, mass culture and the rise of the American Yiddish press, Julia Phillips Cohen on Middle Eastern and North African women’s work in the modern era, Adam Ferziger on the phenomenon of women’s daf yomi study, Noya Rimalt on abortion policy in Israel, and Orly Nathan on the impact of Marcia Freedman on Israeli feminism. They will all share their work in the institute seminar

Last year, we held 40 online events, attended by 4,000 people from around the world. Highlights of our public programs this fall include the launch of the Sandra Seltzer Silberman Conversations Series, HBI Research Associate Tamar Biala and Yael Kanarek speaking on the HerTorah Project and HBI Research Award Recipient Judy Batalion discussing her new book, The Light of Days: The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters in Hitler’s Ghettos. Stay tuned for details of a special opportunity to meet with Batalion for the Friends of HBI

All of this work is made possible by financial support from donors and friends. Contributions fund research positions, research awards, student internships and public programs. I want to thank all of those whose generosity has made this possible and I would like to recognize our Friends of HBI who have made sustaining annual gifts of $180. If you would like to be part of this effort, please consider making a fall gift to HBI here or becoming a Friend of HBI.

Wishing you a year of good health, warm relationships and meaningful engagement with stimulating new ideas. 

Lisa Fishbayn Joffe 

The Shulamit Reinharz Director of the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute


Reclaiming A More Inclusive Yiddish

Editor’s note: The HBI Research Award program awards grants annually to support research or artistic projects in Jewish women’s and gender studies across a range of disciplines. In 2021, HBI gave out 16 awards totaling $62,000. This is one in an occasional series on past research award recipients and their ongoing work. 

By Alec Weiker

What if we are missing whole aspects of Yiddish-Jewish life because we are not looking in the right place? What if the exclusion of certain Yiddish-Jewish narratives served to exclude those who may have been there all along?

These are some of the questions that Zohar Weiman-Kelman (who goes by they/them and she/her pronouns) is asking. They are part of a group of academics challenging the way that Yiddish is characterized and studied in the modern Jewish world. HBI granted Weiman-Kelman a 2021 Research Award to complete research focusing on both the published and unpublished work of  Yiddish poet Celia Dropkin. They plan to analyze this work through a combination of different methods including poetic analysis, philology, and sexology. This methodology hopes to serve as a path to “understand[ing] what happens to us as readers when we read [her poetry] and what it meant to use that erotic imagery in the time of writing.”

Weiman-Kelman notes that Yiddish, often is either treated with contempt or relegated to a specific cultural role associated with nostalgia, humor or the family. These narrow and heteronormative confines of Yiddish fail to take into account the dynamic nature of Yiddish language and culture in 20th century America. Yiddish was not only a facet of early Jewish family life, but played an important role in the political, cultural and sexual lives of Jewish Americans. Thus this conception of Yiddish does more to “erase rather than to reveal,” they said.

“We’re covering especially radical histories, political histories and queer histories. It is a really important way of adding nuance to historical accounts and then also adding nuance to present politics,” they said. 

One aspect that common discourse about Yiddish forgets is the interesting and meaningful aspects of Yiddish culture on the margins of society. “The narrowing of Yiddish also stood in or created a narrowing of what being Jewish was in America,” they said. One place to start expanding the interesting and meaningful aspects of Yiddish culture is with Dropkin.

A Yiddish poet from early 20th century America, Dropkin published only one book of poems in her lifetime: In Heysn Vint (In the Hot Wind). Included are poems that transgress normative sexuality, poems that express anger and passion, and poems that embody unmitigated sexuality and eroticism. Despite Dropkin’s work representing a rich trove for those studying Yiddish culture, the Jewish world has long been hesitant to engage with her work and the realities of Yiddish sexuality. Much of Dropkin’s other unpublished work remains unstudied. Zohar Weiman-Kelman is striving to change that. 

This research on Dropkin is part of a larger book-project tentatively titled (Un)Archiving Yiddish Sex. They are focusing not only on taking pieces out of different archives of Yiddish history, but working to create a broader archive of Yiddish sexuality. “I think of [this] as an archive at the connection of body, language and history,” they said. In this way, Weiman-Kelman hopes to explore the body of Yiddish culture that has been forgotten, yet can be incredibly significant for modern Jewish readers, especially Jewish outsiders.

They note that studying and analyzing queer history and deviant sexualities becomes an important project not just for queer people, but for Jews as a whole largely due to Jews’ unique historical circumstances in America. For Jews, the issue of Jewish continuity remains an everlasting question: how do we perpetuate Jewish existence? While for some the answer is simple, Weiman-Kelman has spoken about how the study of Yiddish can present an alternative model of continuity especially for queer Jews for whom biological reproduction is not an option. When we study and pass on pieces of Yiddish and Jewish culture, like that of Dropkin, we drive the process of cultural transmission, achieving a powerful and queer form of Jewish continuity. 

Another important function of this project is that it illuminates the fact that Jewish sexual outsiders have been around all along, but their legacies were left behind. Studying queer and deviant culture in Yiddish can allow for those in the Jewish community to see themselves in the Jewish past and therefore the Jewish present. “It’s less the case now, but for a good number of years, mainstream institution Judaism was not un-homophobic and even very inhospitable to even people still alive,” Weiman-Kelman said. The realities of queer and Jewish sexuality serves as an important tool towards reclaiming that past.

Dropkin’s transgressive poetry fits into this larger project. Weiman-Kelman notes that Dropkin came to their attention due to the incredibly powerful erotic voice that she uses. “For anyone in general and for women in particular to express anger, sexuality and violent sexuality, pain and pleasure, the things that are written all over her poetry, is quite unusual.” Dropkin, who unapologetically and beautifully wrote and embraced sadomasochistic and deviant sexuality, was “no more marginalized than other women poets.”

Thus, Dropkin’s poetry remains a uniquely useful cultural artifact. It not only contains important information about the time period and society in which she was writing, but is still pleasurable for modern readers today. Weiman-Kelman sees Dropkin’s work as “timeless, it is both direct in its address and expression, and is both raw but also very poetically sophisticated.” The poem below “Suck” shows Dropkin’s playing with questions of sexuality, pain and pleasure while also engaging in a vivid and sophisticated way with Christian imagery.

Poem from a translated selection of poems from “The Acrobat

While Weiman-Kelman sees this project as being important on its own merit, they also hope that the exploration of forgotten, or erased, Yiddish histories is only the beginning of a lot of examination and work needed to be done in the Jewish community.

They hope that a reclamation of Yiddish can serve as a model that pushes us in the community to reflect on other aspects of the Jewish life and the relationship between the mainstream Jewish community and minority Jewish groups. They want folks to see this project and ask “what else haven’t we been told? What else has been erased or stolen from us in terms of our history and what could be the significance of tracing other histories, be it Sephardic or Mizrachi histories, other histories of Jews of color, other things happening between the boundary between Judaism and other religions and cultures?” They emphasized, “It is really important to not stop with Yiddish.”

Alec Weiker PhotoAlec Weiker is a rising sophomore at Georgetown University and a 2021 HBI Gilda Slifka Intern. 






Zohar Weiman-KelmanZohar Weiman-Kelman, a recipient of a 2021 HBI Research Award, is a senior lecturer in the department of foreign literatures and linguistics and holds the Blechner Career Development Chair in East European Jewish Culture at Ben-Gurion University. Their first book, Queer Expectations: A Genealogy of Jewish Women’s Poetry, was published by SUNY Press in 2018. (Photo credit: Neomi Itzaky)


Meet the 2021 Gilda Slifka Summer Interns

By Alec Weiker

Shanie Kalikow

Shanie Kalikow photoShanie Kalikow (she/her/hers) is a rising senior at Pitzer College where she is studying religion with a focus on gender and politics. She is passionate about social justice, mutual aid and direct action that hopes to establish voluntary and reciprocal sharing of resources within communities for the shared good. She is also active in organizing her school’s abolitionist collective, which works towards achieving justice for incarcerated people, and doing other community organizing work. Kalikow will be assisting Dr. Jillian Stinchcomb, the Florence Levy Kay Postdoctoral Fellow in the Near Eastern and Judaic Studies Department at Brandeis University, to continue her research on biblical accounts of the Queen of Sheba and how she is remembered from Jewish, Christian and Muslim perspectives. Kalikow’s independent project will be studying universalist and particularist tendencies in ideas of Jewish Liberation, using the Exodus story as a guiding framework to examine the prospects of Jewish “liberation” in 20th century America. Through this research, Kalikow hopes to gain a better understanding of liberation theory and to learn more about academia and the research process. She also plans to integrate what she has learned in HBI into her abolition work. 

Noa Kipnis

Noa Kipnis photoNoa Kipnis (she/her/hers) is a rising junior at the University of Virginia studying Political and Social Thought looking at the intersection between politics, history and other fields of study. She is passionate about talking and learning about political and social issues, particularly on the international level. Kipnis will be assisting HBI Director Dr. Lisa Joffe as she conducts research on a 2015 law in the UK that prevents coercive behavior between partners and how it can be used on behalf of agunot. Kipnis is excited to use this opportunity to learn how to do legal research. She is also passionate about advocating for inclusion within the Jewish community, and to that end, she will be conducting an ethnographic study on the inclusion of Jews of Color in campus Hillels in Southern schools. Kipnis looks forward to conducting research under Dr. Joffe and the opportunity to study Judaism as a culture and its intersections with political and social issues today.

Victoria Lisek

Victoria Lisek PhotoVictoria Lisek (she/her/hers) is in her final year of a three-year program at University College London where she pursues a degree in Hebrew and Jewish studies. Lisek hopes to become an academic someday and sees her summer at HBI as the perfect opportunity to be surrounded by scholars and to do original research into a topic not covered by her degree. For her independent research project, Lisek will delve into the representation of the self and self-care among Orthodox women as a case study on the integration of secular cultures or concepts in Orthodox Jewish communities. She hopes that this research can shed light on the different ways that religious and secular communities interact with the “self.” She is also grateful for the opportunity to assist HBI Director Dr. Lisa Fishbayn Joffe in her comparative study of Orthodox Jewish schools in the US and UK. This study will examine the extent to which schools comply with legal education standards, as well as considering gender’s role as an influence in compliance. Lisek looks forward to the prospect of being able to collaborate with and learn from the numerous other passionate scholars and interns this summer.

Nesya Nelkin

Nesya Nelkin PhotoNesya Nelkin (She/her/hers) is a rising senior at Brown University studying history and Judaic Studies. She has wanted to do research at HBI since she took a class on gender at Brandeis one summer during high school. Nelkin is passionate about gender and Jewish studies and is looking forward to being surrounded by other students and scholars in the field. She is excited to develop her research skills while assisting Brandeis Judaica Librarian, Dr. Rachel Greenblatt as she compiles a source list of non-male Torah voices. Nelkin and Dr. Greenblatt hope that this source list can be an important step to addressing the lack of these voices in the field of rabbinic study in the past. For her own research, Nelkin will be completing one part of a larger project, focusing on women’s synagogues in late medieval Ashkenaz this summer.

Hannah O’Koon

Hannah O'Koon PhotoHannah O’Koon (she/her/hers) is a rising senior at Brandeis University majoring in English. This summer she is excited to start work on her research which she will continue for the rest of the academic year. O’Koon’s independent project this summer will investigate the Kindertransport Kinder who came from Germany to Manchester through the lens of food, specifically the gendered relationship to food. O’Koon believes that food is an important agent through which the grief and trauma of being forced to leave home can be understood. In the same vein, O’Koon will be continuing her work from the last few semesters in assisting Brandeis Professor ChaeRan Freeze to create a compilation of primary sources regarding Jewish food traditions and practices from early Rabbinical times to modern times all understood within its relationship to gender. O’Koon is excited to expand her research into Jewish food this summer and hopes that this continues to illuminate Jewish people’s past, present, and future.

Paige Plucker

Hannah O'Koon PhotoPaige Plucker (she/her/hers) is a rising junior at Georgetown University studying Theology with a minor in Jewish civilization. Plucker, who lives in Memphis, Tennessee, often uses letter writing as a tool to maintain connections with those in her life. For her project, she plans to conduct a case study on Orthodox women living in Memphis, specifically their view and observance of modesty. Plucker notes that despite Memphis having one of the largest Jewish communities in the South, it is at times overlooked and merits more study. As Plucker converts to Judaism, she hopes that this project will help her learn more about and also develop a strong relationship with this unique Southern Jewish community.  She will also be assisting Northeastern University Professor Emerita, Debra Kaufman in revisiting and updating her work on the post-Holocaust identities of Orthodox women. Plucker looks forward to using this summer to explore her interests within Judaism, while also improving her research skills by working under the mentorship of respected academics.

Bella Ryb

Bella Ryb PhotoBella Ryb (she/her/hers) graduated from Georgetown University with a double major in English and government and a minor in theology, and will be attending Stanford Law in the fall. Ryb is very involved in political organizing and is also an avid equestrian. At HBI, she hopes to use this summer to engage with her interest in Jewish studies and theology. Ryb will assist Dr. Alex Kaye, Assistant Professor of Israel Studies in the Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis University, in his research on the Jewish “exile” and “diaspora” by looking at female perspectives on these concepts. For her research, Ryb will look at how cultural ideas and stereotypes of the Jewish mother have served to reinforce matrilineality in the contemporary American context. Ryb, who has grown up surrounded by various Jewish traditions, appreciates the inclusivity of HBI and looks forward to contributing her multidimensional perspective to the intellectual work being done at HBI.

Alec Weiker

Alec Weiker PhotoAlec Weiker (he/him/his) is a rising sophomore at Georgetown University studying Culture and Politics with a minor in Chinese. He is also interested in journalism and writes for two newspapers on campus. This summer, he will be assisting HBI Assistant Director, Amy Powell, on HBI’s Fresh Ideas Blog. He looks forward to the opportunity to talk with and interview the academics who are working with HBI to conduct groundbreaking research. For his independent project, he will be conducting research on the phenomenon of the dybbuk in Eastern Europe and its relationship to gender and sexual difference in Yiddish culture. Weiker hopes that looking at folklore and tales can reveal things about those who wrote and passed them on that more commonly written texts cannot. Overall, he looks forward to exploring his interests in gender and Jewish studies, and the opportunity to learn from both the scholars and other interns at HBI.

Alec Weiker, an HBI Gilda Slifka Summer Intern, is a rising sophomore at Georgetown University. 

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