- Class Words
For the first several years of Bridges, there was an editorial collective—the Core Editorial Group, the "CEG." The CEG worked to edit the journal and make decisions about its direction. We met, more or less, annually, and then worked through mail, phone, and eventually email to share ideas and information. At one of our early meetings, the issue of class was raised, and the effects of that weekend's discussions reverberated in the CEG and the journal.
In the Beginning
At the time I joined the collective (1991), I was the only person with a working class background. It was hard to feel isolated in that way, especially in a group I felt so connected to in other ways, as a Jewish feminist.
And at the time I wondered why that was a big deal. Although looking back at it now, it seems so obvious to me that I was having the classic reaction that people who find themselves in the majority have about people who are in the minority. What confused me even more at the time was how self-definitions and outside definitions didn't always seem to match because as I understand it now, "class" isn't just about how much money you make, and it's not just about the type of job you have, and it's not just about your upbringing, and it's not just about whether your family has any assets... really, it's an amalgam of these.
I think some of the initial challenges to dealing with class issues in Bridges were similar to the challenges I faced in dealing with class in other situations. When we first [End Page 91] started addressing class issues, there was some pushback—individuals saying, my family wasn't "rich" and we had money issues too, so why isn't it the same for me? As a feminist Jewish group, ideally everyone wanted to address classism, but exactly how was a question we'd have to continually deal with. There were some obvious places to go—addressing classism as it related to power and privilege in our own editorial group and how it impacted what went in the journal.
When the idea of discussing "class" within the Bridges editorial group came up, I was confused. To me, class was a structural way to understand society, from a sociological or political science point of view. It didn't have any real meaning to me, except that I knew that I was "middle class." But the alternative to being middle class, in my mind, was to be rich or poor—and what did that have to do with Judaism, or feminism, or Jewish feminism? I felt this way even though I knew that one of the things my grandfather liked about the Vilna of his youth was that it was a "working man's town."
That was one of the things that was hard. People were well meaning, but I wasn't a sociological study, I was a real person and a Jew and a feminist and I wasn't from the past.
It's ironic in some ways for Jews to wonder what class has to do with them because, to me, there are so many things about class that are particular to Jews. There are so many assumptions and stereotypes about Jews and money and jobs, etc., just as there are about other ethnic and racial groups in the U.S.
At the time of the Bridges meeting where we discussed class issues the most intensively, I had a neighbor who had grown up as a sharecropper, one of 16 children. And yet when I knew him he was a skilled tradesman at Ford, he owned two houses, he owned several cars, and he had a business on the side. On the one hand, income wise, he was definitely middle class, and had much more income than me. On the other hand, I could choose to work at a poorly paying non-profit because I knew that, in a pinch, I could get a helping hand from my...