- Jewish Women Watching
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The Year: 1999
The Occasion: A conference sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York
A cadre of masked women, mouths taped shut, stand in silence outside the conference entitled "Changing Realities: The New York Jewish Community in the 21st Century." Protesting the glaring absence of women on the panel, they hand out pamphlets that read: "JCRC warns of imminent doom! 52% of New York Jews to disappear by Y2K!" Armed with caustic and critical wit, ample Jewish community connections, and the chutzpah to agitate the mainstream Jewish community, Jewish Women Watching bursts onto the public scene.
Jewish Women Watching is an anonymous activist group that began operations in the summer of 1999 to draw attention to the many discrepancies within the Jewish community—our community. We speak up against the community's hypocrisies, which include everything from the under-representation of women in leadership positions to the outrageous cost of Jewish day schools to the silence of the Jewish community on women's sexual freedom to the refusal to allow queers into the rabbinate.
Historically, our community has fought for justice—not just for ourselves but also for others. Over the decades, however, we seem to have lost our identification with and sympathy for the "other." We have become an increasingly closed and insular community, allocating our funds to the perceived emergency of Jewish continuity and to Christian organizations that publicly stand in support [End Page 89] of Israel, no matter their stance on other issues of historic importance to Jews, including separation of church and state and abortion. The Bush administration has quickened our move to the right by elevating the Republican voices within our community, which, if you look at the numbers, is still a small minority.
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The Year: 2002
The Occasion: Jewish leaders in bed with the Christian right
Across the nation, condoms turn up in thousands of people's bedrooms with the message to "Practice Safe Politics."
Somewhere along the way, something went horribly wrong. Whereas Jewish organizations used to regularly confront the likes of Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and Ralph Reed, in recent years those same organizations have been rushing to congratulate these anti-women, anti-gay, and anti-Jewish conservatives for their support of Israel. Thankfully, before Jewish values could be sold out to the highest bidder, JWW jumped onto the scene with our Strange Bedfellows project. JWW is the collective voice of angry Jewish women. We are trying to jostle the community out of its complacency, to embolden the voices on the margins to speak louder so that the center cannot continue to ignore us. Our anger is a part of how change is made. Our community needs radical pushers to allow for even moderate change to happen. JWW is here to point out the sexism and discrimination in our community and to call it unacceptable and sinful. Our tagline: Sexism is a Sin.
Our message has expanded over the years to include issues not just of sexism but of other discrepancies within the Jewish community. We are concerned by the assumption that heterosexual, wealthy, traditional, white people are the sole constituents and only possible leaders of Jewish communal organizations. We believe in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender access to the rabbinate; in sliding scale fees for synagogue membership and access to Jewish events; in safe work and domestic spaces for girls and women; in honoring the voices of secular and non-religious Jews; and in recognizing Jews of color. We believe people should be valued and respected for their opinions and ideas, not their available cash flow. And we believe in the freedom to dissent from prevailing political views put forth by leaders of the Jewish community.
The year: 2004
The Occasion: the Presidential election
Buttons and stickers proclaiming "We Are the Jewish Vote" turn up on windshields of cars in Reno, Nevada; at a conference in Paris; and in the hands of young Hillel students in New York.
Jewish Women Watching confounded the media's message that Jews would vote in overwhelming numbers to re-elect...