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  • Discovering Jewish Feminism a Generation Apart
  • Alicia Ostriker (bio) and Alana Suskin (bio)

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Alicia Ostriker:

Alana, As soon as I read Clare's message I thought of you. We could tell each other about how we discovered ourselves to be feminist Jews—and/or what being a feminist Jew means to each of us? Certainly we should start by identifying ourselves as cousins!

Alana Suskin:

It's funny because I have a hard time remembering if I was ever not a feminist. My mother had all your books on our shelf and also the poetry of Marge Piercy and I was reading those long before I had any idea what they were really talking about.

AO:

So you got your feminism with your mother's milk, like healthy antibodies? It was just there all the time? Did you identify yourself as a Jewish feminist when you were young? Were you different from other females of your generation, when you were young? Were there ways it showed itself to you that surprised you, or your family, or your friends? I am so fascinated by the difference between my generation and yours.

AS:

I don't know if I'm typical of my generation—how many girls my age had mothers reading Marge Piercy and Alicia Ostriker?

I recall stories about my mother's parents, which included my grandmother being the first woman in the area to learn to drive, [End Page 194] but also how my grandmother had a knipple where she put money aside, and when my mother wanted to go to college, and my grandfather didn't want her to, she moved out, and my grandmother made sure she had enough extra money so she could do it until my grandfather came around.

I was always argumentative—I think that's my natural personality. I belonged to a Reform synagogue growing up, so mostly I didn't really have any sense of there being things I couldn't do. It was only when I got to middle school that I started noticing that for example my friends, who mostly belonged to the Conservative shul in town, weren't able to have Saturday morning bnot mitzvah. In high school at our Reform shul (which I had asked to attend after bat mitzvah) the new rabbi managed to really irritate me by informing our class that women should have at least four children to replenish the racial coffers after the Holocaust. As I recall it (hard to know what myths we fill in post-hoc, but as I remember it...) I asked him, "What, and are you offering to stay home and raise them for us?"

I don't actually recall how that discussion turned out, but I'll bet it was not pretty.

So although, I don't think that I would have identified myself as specifically a Jewish feminist, I didn't have any doubt that I was a feminist.

What about you? It must have been so much more difficult in your generation, and there were—I imagine from what I've read—so few other women to band together with. Being a feminist must have been like deciding to, oh, I don't know, move to the beach and busk for a living.

AO:

I love the story about you and the rabbi. Well done! Argumentativeness is one of my characteristic traits too, but I don't remember ever having that much chutzpah with an authority figure when I was a kid. But your talking back was so very Jewish. Think about characters like Abraham, Moses and Job.

Abraham challenges God about destroying Sodom and goes on to bargain with him—"Shall the judge of all the earth not do justice?" The Bible is wonderfully inconsistent. It supports rebellion as well as obedience. So Jewish feminism gets a head start in Torah.

As for myself, I came late to Judaism and late to feminism and even later to their convergence. I was raised third-generation atheist socialist Jew. Unlike your father, my father never became involved in any Jewish community, nor did my mother. We didn't do the holidays...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1558-9552
Print ISSN
1046-8358
Pages
pp. 194-199
Launched on MUSE
2011-06-04
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived 2012
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